UGA’s Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant launches sustainable tourism program for water-based tour guides in Georgia

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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – A first of its kind program has made its way to the Savannah waterways. 

The Coastal Awareness and Responsible Ecotourism program (CARE), gives people a chance to learn the best practices when it comes to water based activities in order to ensure the safety of wildlife in the area.

“A lot of our Georgia coast is very wild and difficult to access, so the folks who are accessing these sort of sensitive areas for migratory shorebirds are the very folks that can not only appreciate, but can potentially do the most damage,” said Katie Higgins, Marine Educator with UGA’s Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant.

The new program, launched by Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant and Manomet, Inc., aims to help educate those who spend their time out on the water as tour guides.

Georgia’s coast plays a pivotal role in the lives of many species, but most importantly, our barrier islands fuel the migration of shorebirds.

“A lot of the shorebirds are actually in decline worldwide, and some of the biggest issues for them on the Georgia coast are human imposed,” said Higgins. “It’s disturbances while they’re resting or while they’re feeding, disturbing these animals when they’re doing what they need to do.”

On average, over 300,000 different shorebirds call Georgia home each year due to our mild climate and geographical location.

“Many of these species, we saw a couple of whimbrel when we pulled up here, have traveled tremendous distances and really connect the entire hemisphere. So, understanding their stories and what it takes to protect these birds means that the local actions we take here can have implications across a whole stretch of the globe,” explained Abby Sterling, Director of the Georgia Bight Shorebird Conservation Initiative with Manamet.

The program’s first classes were offered last spring, with 17 individuals being certified in the four week program. Representing various tour companies up and down the east coast.

“Really working with guides means we kind of have a ripple effect, so teaching guides about what they can do to best not disturb these animals will touch more people than we can possibly do with just our individual actions,” said Higgins.

The program is free of charge and is funded by the coastal incentive grant through the Department of Natural Resources coastal recourses division.

If you’d like to learn more about the program or sign up for the next available course this upcoming winter, you can click here.

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