Donors Gather for an Evening of Education: Nature Based Economic Development

Co-hosted by Stewards of the Georgia Coast and the Communities of Coastal Georgia Foundation, the Conservation Donors Roundtable has become an annual tradition in the Golden Isles.  Roundtable hallmarks include an audience between 45 – 50 people, great fellowship and food, and an exploration of the intersection between private philanthropy and major conservation opportunities and challenges.  In each of the first three programs, speakers focused on conservation of iconic coastal wildlife. The 4th Annual dinner event, held in September at Musgrove Retreat and Conference Center, broke new ground with a look at nature-based economic development and, in particular, the construction of walking and bike paths across Georgia’s coastal region.

2019 keynote speaker Ed McMahon, the Charles E. Fraser Chair on Sustainable Development and Environmental Policy at the Urban Land Institute, presented the audience with a fundamental question:  should new development shape the character of the Georgia coast or should the character of the Georgia coast shape new development? Choosing the latter clearly implies choosing development that celebrates, preserves, and enhances the region’s cultural, natural, and community resources and, in particular, the coast’s distinctive landscapes.  This approach is often termed asset-based economic development and, more specifically, nature-based economic development.

McMahon highlighted successful communities across the country where leaders chose this route.  Common characteristics include the cultivation of a sense of place, distinctiveness, and quality of life for residents and visitors alike, in large part, by investing in historic town centers and outdoor amenities like walking trails and bike paths and protecting and enhancing nearby natural resources like parks, waterfronts, and other natural assets.  In a perfect segue to the evening’s second speaker, McMahon closed by observing that walking is the most popular form of outdoor recreation nationally. In fact, walking trails and bike paths have risen to the top of community amenities most sought by homebuyers (April 2014, National Association of Realtors/Homebuilders).

The Roundtable’s second speaker was Brent Buice, South Carolina & Georgia Coordinator for the East Coast Greenway, a non-profit organization working to connect 15 states and 450 cities and towns from Maine to Florida with an uninterrupted safe walking and biking route.  Not surprisingly, the proposed path through Georgia features the length of Georgia’s coastal region.  The good news is that nearly 100% of the proposed route is under public control.  The challenge:  most of the community level planning, fundraising, and construction needed to bring the coastal path to life is yet to be done.  That said, examples of high-quality bike paths already exist in coastal Georgia and they provide a foretaste of what’s possible.  Buice noted that where Georgia trails do exist, local communities have documented an uptick in visitors and business income attributable to people who are interested in getting off the interstate to experience nature at less than 70 mph.  From paths on St. Simons Island to recently constructed paths in Camden County, one can imagine the impact of having a path that connects the entire region and communities in between.  Private philanthropy will play a pivotal role in bringing that dream to fruition.

Following the tradition enjoyed by previous Roundtables, Georgia DNR’s Wildlife Conservation Section was well represented when Jason Lee provided an update on wildlife conservation in coastal Georgia.  Finally, the evening closed with a coastal donor speaking very personally about her philanthropic commitment to coastal Georgia born of her love of the outdoors and, in particular, her fondness for paddling the creeks and waterways of the region.  Marsha Certain, MD makes her home in Darien, Georgia where the Altamaha River is always in sight and a kayak is always near.  Marsha’s philanthropy and volunteerism merge with her service on the board of the Nature Conservancy in Georgia.

To be reminded that Georgia’s coast is an environmental gem, all a Roundtable participant had to do was gaze out of Musgrove’s windows onto the saltmarsh at sunset. Our coast’s biological, aesthetic, and cultural richness deserves nothing less than our best efforts in stewardship and philanthropy.

To learn more about Stewards of the Georgia Coast’s efforts to support sustainable development, green infrastructure, ecotourism and smart growth, please review our 2019 Coastal Conservation Project List. From The Nature Conservancy’s living shoreline pilots at Wormsloe and Harris Neck to the Georgia Conservancy’s sustainable community planning in Brunswick, there are great opportunities to get involved.

Capsized Vessel Endangers Marsh and Coastline Habitats

In 1879 the salt marshes east of Brunswick inspired Georgia poet Sidney Lanier to compose “The Marshes of Glynn,” a poem later memorized statewide by generations of Georgia schoolchildren. Undoubtedly, many of these children had never seen the marshes for themselves. But they carried with them Lanier’s vivid description of a day in the life of the marsh and his deep reverence for creation.   Unfortunately, since September 8, 2019, a great monolith has interrupted Lanier’s sweeping vista of the marshes bordering St. Simons Sound. The M/V Golden Ray, a 656-foot long car carrier, departed the port of Brunswick with 4,200 cars aboard only to suffer a fire, lose stability, and capsize just off the southern end of St. Simons Island. The cause is still under investigation.

Fortunately, all crew members were saved. Now comes the hard part: removing the ship from the busy channel along with all its contents — especially around 300,000 gallons of fuel, diesel, and lubricants carried by the ship and the gasoline and oil in its cargo of automobiles. Removing the ship’s fuel is particularly challenging because it is lying on its port side rather than upright. Imagine trying to accomplish that for an average car, half-submerged, but with a fuel capacity multiplied thousands of times.

The St. Simons Sound Incident Unified Command, an interagency response team of federal, state, and local agencies along with marine service contractors, moved quickly to skim leaking oil from surface waters, to place booms to protect sensitive marsh areas from oil coming ashore, and to plug submerged vents which began leaking fuel out instead of taking air in.  Despite their best efforts, fuel has been spotted along more than 30 miles of marsh and coastline and there were reports of oiled birds.

Three weeks after the capsize, the scene on the north end of Jekyll looked normal that afternoon.  People walked their dogs and picked up shells.  Others had set up shop by the waterline. Lounging in folding chairs, they hoped the incoming tide would bring a bite on their fishing rigs. But instead of seeing the St. Simons pier across the water, their view was the dull-red antifouling paint on the ship’s keel, topped by the navy-blue livery of its hull.  A busy flotilla of vessels swarmed around the ship. At the St. Simons pier, tourists and locals alike gathered to gawk at the spectacle of the Golden Ray’s white flat upper deck.

At the pier, I overheard one woman tell a companion that she had heard they were getting ready to right the ship, so she had hurried down to watch. She has a long wait ahead of her. In the weeks following my visit, major fuel leaks continued to challenge the response team, not only from the standpoint of water and air pollution but also in cleaning up oil that the tides sent deep into the marsh. By the end of October, the decision was made that the ship could not be salvaged. Instead it will be sliced vertically like a loaf of bread, from the bottom up. Once freed, each slice will be carried away for scrap. In the meantime, seagoing excavating equipment strategically placed a blanket of 6,000 tons of Georgia granite beneath the hull to resist the twice-daily ebb and flow of the tide shifting the sands beneath it — to hold the ship where it rests in the shallows alongside the channel.

Depending on your perspective, it’s fortunate that there are engineering firms which have the expertise to deal with this situation. Thus far in 2019, this is the sixth major incident involving a car carrier somewhere in the world. But each accident has its own challenges, and it will be months before work begins. And once it begins, new threats will emerge for our coast.

The Altamaha Riverkeeper (ARK),  One Hundred Miles (OHM), and other local environmental groups responded quickly to the incident and continue to monitor the area from land, sea, and air. They have enlisted the expertise of UGA microbiologist Dr. Samantha Joye, an expert on the impacts of oil in coastal environments. She continues her work on the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Now her expertise is being put to use closer to home to document and analyze this situation as it develops. The local groups continue to share their findings in collaboration with the interagency response team.

“This disaster is a reminder that our communities need to be prepared when catastrophe occurs,” says Megan Derosiers, president and chief executive officer of One Hundred Miles. “Groups like ARK and OHM stand ready to monitor and react to unplanned events, but more importantly, they work every day with local and state government officials to ensure plans are in place to respond to and prevent these incidents. We all must remain vigilant and informed about the Golden Ray’s impact on our wildlife and environment, the businesses who rely on it every day, and the residents who value their connections to it in so many ways.” Fletcher Sams, the Altamaha Riverkeeper’s executive director, echoes this sentiment, “Without being alarmists, we are trying to make sure our community is kept whole through this.”

That community encompasses more than coastal residents. All Georgians have a stake in ensuring there is minimal impact to this coast that belongs to us all. Or as Sidney Lanier described it, “the length and the breadth and the sweep of the marshes of Glynn.”


The public may subscribe here for official updates from the St. Simons Sound Response; Click here for the Altamaha Riverkeeper’s map of oil impacts in the marsh.

Sansavilla Bluffs by Scott Coleman

The Conservation Fund: Conserving Land Along the Altamaha

By Dorinda Dallmeyer

Known for creating conservation solutions that “make environmental and economic sense,” The Conservation Fund is one of many partners collaborating on land conservation in the Altamaha watershed.  Andrew Schock, the Fund’s Georgia State Director, explains how the organization works in the Altamaha Corridor. “The Fund is able to provide a dedicated source of bridge capital that allows us to quickly acquire threatened forests with high conservation value. While we own, restore, and sustainably manage these lands as working forests, we work with our conservation partners to raise the funds to permanently protect them. When we relinquish control, the funds we receive are plowed back into conserving more tracts.”

“The Conservation Fund’s purchase of the Sansavilla Tract, a 20,000-acre parcel with 12 miles of Altamaha River frontage, is a great example of how we work,” observed Schock.  “It provided the state of Georgia breathing room to put in place a permanent conservation plan.  In the interim, we were able to harvest timber and begin restoring the native longleaf pine forest.

As with many of The Conservation Fund projects, private philanthropy played a critical role. Schock explains, “The Knobloch Family Foundation made a substantial early commitment providing some of the needed acquisition capital and The Robert W. Woodruff Foundation helped significantly at the end to close the gap as the property was being transferred to the State.  We were able to work with the State and other partners, like The Nature Conservancy, to leverage these private funds with grants from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service ‘Forest Legacy’ program, state bond dollars, and funds from the Department of Defense.”

According to Schock, “Here in Georgia, and particularly along the Altamaha, we have a very collaborative and collegial land conservation community that works closely together. Coalition members may have differing motivations for being involved with conservation, and that’s fine. Regardless of the motivation, we’re working in common to achieve the same goal.”  Schock concluded, “Sansavilla is a wonderful success story.  Without the help of all our partners, the property would likely have been fragmented, leaving the habitat and watershed degraded, and public access for recreation eliminated.”

The Conservation Fund offers a variety of ways for donors to support conservation in Georgia and elsewhere. For more information, please see  For more about the Sansavilla Tract and the Gopher Tortoise Initiative of which it’s a part, see volumes 3 and 4 of Shoreline.

Photo by Scott Coleman

Water Trails by Altamaha RiverKeeper

Water Trails

By Dorinda Dallmeyer

If you want to experience the mighty Altamaha watershed firsthand, it’s now possible to paddle 443 miles on designated water trails from near the river’s headwaters east of Lithonia all the way to Darien. It’s not quite “from the summit to the sea” but a paddler can experience the journey that raindrops take from the Piedmont to the coastal marshes.

The Yellow River Water Trail runs for 55 miles south from Gwinnett County to Jackson Lake, where the confluence of the Yellow, South, and Alcovy Rivers that form the Ocmulgee has lain submerged since 1910. Below the dam, the Ocmulgee Water Trail extends for 250 miles to its confluence with the Oconee River just upstream from the Highway 351 bridge south of Uvalda.  Then the Altamaha Water Trail takes over for the final 137-miles jaunt to its delta.

It’s estimated that Georgia has more than one million paddlers who enjoy this form of home-grown ecotourism and the economic impact is significant.  According to the Georgia River Network, canoeing, kayaking, and rafting contribute $11.3 billion to Georgia economy annually. As a bonus, water trails often require lower implementation costs compared with other forms of economic development.

During the 2018 legislative session, the Georgia House of Representative unanimously passed a resolution voicing support for the Georgians who thus far have created more than 1000 miles of water trails statewide and encouraging the development of more opportunities for people to reconnect with Georgia’s rivers. And if that 443 miles leaves you wanting more, the Georgia Coast Saltwater Paddling Trail offers another 170 miles of paddling from the Savannah to the St. Mary’s.

For more information about Georgia’s water trails, please visit; for information about paddling the Altamaha River or providing philanthropic support to increase river access, contact Jen Hilburn at 912-441-3908 or Jen serves as the Altamaha RiverKeeper.

Photo by Altamaha RiverKeeper

Coastal Conservation Project List 2.0 Released!

When meeting with people new to coastal conservation, we’re often asked, “How can we help?” To answer that question broadly and responsibly, Stewards has released the second edition of its Coastal Conservation Project List, a curated menu of high priority conservation projects with strong leadership and immediate needs for private philanthropy. Nominations were solicited from more than 20 trusted conservation professionals currently serving on the Georgia Coast.  Projects were selected based on Stewards’ working knowledge of coastal conservation priorities and confidence in the leadership and organizations involved.

Projects have been grouped in the following categories: Advocacy & Outreach; Land Conservation & Stewardship; Sustainable Development; Watershed Protection; and Wildlife Conservation. While most are highly collaborative, a single point of contact has been provided for each project for use when donors would like more information or want to make a donation.

We hope you will download the Project List and look for conservation projects for which your philanthropy can make a difference. If you choose to support a project from the list, please note your association with Stewards of the Georgia Coast as it will help us assess the value and impact of this effort.

Altama Office

Coastal Conservation Project List 2.0 – Featured Project: Altama Conservation Gateway – Master Site Plan

($2,500 committed/$27,500 needed)

In 2015, The Nature Conservancy acquired 4000 acres in the Altamaha watershed, strategically positioned where the river meets the salt marsh in Glynn County—the historic Altama tract. Today, the property is owned and managed by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources as the Altama Wildlife Management Area with The Nature Conservancy as a permanent resident. In addition to the extraordinary landscape, Altama is home to historic buildings and other structures. Given the location of the property and the opportunity these structures represent, TNC plans to explore a restoration of the facilities and the possibility of using the buildings for management purposes, research and to anchor a coastal conservation center to be known as the Altama Conservation Gateway.

Altama is strategically located to become a Gateway for the Coast and a Center for conservation, land management and coastal resources education in the region. A Master Site Plan for the property and core building area is needed to engage stakeholders and donors in the planning process. The planning process would include but not be limited to assembling and digitizing information on the property’s natural, historical and cultural features; artist renderings of the project; formation of an advisory committee to assess historical structures, landscaping, public use and conservation issues related to the transformation of the property; conceptualization of programs outside of traditional conservation such as historic preservation efforts, cultural and artistic uses of the center, and a collaboration with the region’s robust tourism industry; and, an economic analysis that considers the cost to bring the buildings to usable condition, ongoing maintenance expenses, and potential for revenue generation. For more information or to make a contribution, contact Christi Lambert at 912-617-0143 or Christi serves as the Director of Coastal and Marine Conservation for The Nature Conservancy in Georgia.

View the Coastal Conservation Project List.

Photo by Scott Coleman

Sansavilla Conserved!

Protection of the lower Altamaha River began in 1968, piece by piece.  The pace accelerated in the last twelve years as federal and state agencies collaborated with non-profits and private philanthropy, investing more than $90 million to underwrite conservation easements and outright purchases.  The “missing piece,” a 19,500 acre property known as Sansavilla featuring 12 miles of Altamaha River frontage, is finally secure. A host of partners made it possible using a phased approach: The Conservation Fund, The Nature Conservancy of Georgia, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, and the Department of Defense.  Private philanthropy played a critical role with leadership from the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation and the Knobloch Family Foundation. A ribbon cutting was held on October 16 to mark the closing of the final phase.

First as a footpath and then as a ferry landing, for centuries Sansavilla Bluff has been a waypoint for people crossing the immense Altamaha River floodplain. Now the Bluff serves as the linchpin in a decades-long effort to safeguard and restore the lower Altamaha.

At Sansavilla, slash and loblolly “pines in lines” are being cut or thinned to restore the once-dominant longleaf pine forest and its understory plants. With prescribed burns every few years to control competing vegetation, the rich plant diversity will support greater numbers of a wide variety of wildlife, including the gopher tortoise.

As a keystone species — one whose presence in the landscape enables other plants and animals to thrive — tortoises excavating burrows for their own living quarters draw as many as 350 species of animal “tenants,” from tiny mites to indigo snakes and burrowing owls. As testimony that Sansavilla is prime tortoise habitat, 400 tortoises already make their home there. Now the tract also will serve as a refuge for tortoises relocated from construction and mining sites elsewhere within their range. Ultimately, conservation biologists expect up to 1000 residents when restoration is complete.

While few of us will live to see the longleaf seedlings at Sansavilla Bluff reach their old-growth majesty, conservation success stories are happening right before our eyes along the Altamaha. A unique collaboration focused on conserving and restoring this historic landscape will benefit generations of Georgians yet to come.

For more information about the Gopher Tortoise Initiative and the crucial role tortoises play in the native longleaf pine and sandhill ecosystems, please see “The Gopher Tortoise: A Catalyst for Conservation,” in the previous issue of Shoreline.

Ribbon cutting photo by Lance Cpl. Moreno; Sansavilla Bluff photo by Scott Coleman.

Georgia Barrier Islands Named a Landscape of Hemispheric Importance

While few Georgians may realize how critical our coastal zone is to birds throughout the Western Hemisphere, the birds know.

On November 1, the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve (WHSRN) announced the designation of a wide swath of Georgia’s barrier islands and marshes as a “Landscape of Hemispheric  Importance.” As the 100th site recognized for its importance to shorebird migration, it is only the third designated at the “landscape” scale. This new WHSRN Landscape comprises 79,709 acres of critical habitat including beaches and dunes, offshore sand bars, extensive sand and mud flats exposed at low tide, as well as salt marsh on the lee side of the barrier islands.

This Landscape supports 35 species of shorebirds during some part or all of their migratory cycle. To understand its importance, look at a few numbers. The Georgia Barrier Islands WHSRN Landscape supports more than 30% of the biogeographic population of rufa Red Knot, with approximately 23,400 of these birds resting and refueling during their southbound migration and 17,775 on the northbound return. The Landscape also supports large numbers of overwintering birds such as the Great Lakes breeding population of the Piping Plover, along with American Oystercatcher, Short-billed Dowitcher, and Black-bellied Plover. Attracted by the abundance of fiddler crabs, one of the largest gatherings of Whimbrel in North America assembles here to fatten up before departing for breeding grounds around Hudson Bay and in the high Arctic of the United States and Canada.

Georgia’s barrier islands are owned and managed by a diverse group of private and public entities, many of which have committed to the WHSRN designation. The Georgia Shorebird Alliance (GSA), a collaborative group of biologists, land managers, and organizations devoted to the protection of Georgia’s shorebirds, submitted the nomination. Commitment to the nomination comes from GSA members, including the National Parks Service (Cumberland Island National Seashore, Fort Pulaski National Monument), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Savannah Coastal Refuges Complex), and the privately-owned Little Cumberland Island, St. Catherine’s Island, Little St. Simons Island, and the Cannon’s Point Preserve and Musgrove Preserve on St. Simons Island. The Landscape of Hemispheric Importance also includes the Altamaha River Delta, previously designated in 1999 by WHSRN as a Site of Regional Importance.

Many of us cherish the opportunity to stroll Georgia beaches alongside flocks of small shorebirds, watching the “peeps” as they diligently patrol the swash zone for food. For more details about how these shorebirds stitch our coast into a web of vital connections stretching from the Arctic to Tierra del Fuego, please see

Photos by Brad Winn.

The Gopher Tortoise: A Catalyst for Conservation

When a conservation initiative protects an at-risk species and business and industry interests at the same time, it’s a win-win for Georgians across the board.  The Gopher Tortoise Initiative does just that.  Supporters for this collaborative effort include federal and state agencies, private landowners, non-profits, donors and business leaders from the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.  The consortium’s goal is to permanently protect 100,000 acres of gopher tortoise habitat across Georgia’s coastal plain, preventing Georgia’s state reptile from getting to the point of needing to be listed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service as an endangered species. Though early in the effort, the group is already delivering uncommon results.

The problem for gopher tortoises is habitat loss. Tortoise populations need large parcels of undeveloped land and only remnants remain of their native longleaf pine and sandhill ecosystems.  In the face of increasing fragmentation from development – roads, parking lots, and buildings – they can’t find sufficient burrow space or food and are more likely to experience risks associated with close contact with humans and their vehicles.  “They get pushed from the small patches of suitable habitat to the sandy roadsides of timberlands or agricultural fields,” explains Jason Lee, Program Manager for Coastal Nongame Conservation with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. “It is dire.  In 20-30 years they could be pushed out altogether from many areas…gone.”

The tortoises are considered a keystone species because their burrows provide shelter and refuge for hundreds of other species of animals, including the Eastern indigo snake, the gopher frog, and many small mammals, insects and birds. When the tortoise populations decline, so does the habitat of  many other plants and animals.

If the tortoise population was at the point of needing to be listed under the Endangered Species Act, significant regulatory requirements could drain energy, resources and enthusiasm from efforts to facilitate the species’ recovery. The Gopher Tortoise Initiative unites landowners, timber growers and businesses across the state to proactively enhance gopher tortoise populations and habitats.  The result is a powerful convergence:  everyone’s working together to prevent the listing.  What’s good for the gopher tortoise is good for landowners, businesses, and an entire ecosystem. If successful, they will also be conserving iconic habitats on a historic scale, demonstrating how tortoises, landowners, and industry can coexist.

With generous commitments of financial resources and expertise from founding team members including U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, The Nature Conservancy, The Conservation Fund, and conservation donors including the Knobloch Family Foundation and the Bobolink Foundation, the Gopher Tortoise Initiative is well on its way. “We are more than half way to our goal,” said Jason Lee. “Thirty six of the sixty five properties we have identified as suitable tortoise habitat are now under conservation easements or have been acquired fee simple. One of our most recent acquisitions, the Altama Wildlife Management Area, located on the coastal mainland along the south bank of the Altamaha River, currently has a population of 182 tortoises with room for the population to expand.  Another property just up river, Sansavilla, has 400 tortoises.”

“Our goal is to protect gopher tortoise habitat now, while lands are still available that can be managed to sustain healthy populations,” said Lee.  He explained that the investment we make today in protecting their habitat will eliminate the need for costly impact studies and mitigation that could be required in the future if the gopher tortoise is listed as an endangered species.  “We have a rare opportunity in that we have time to fix this,” he said.  “It’s good conservation.”

“The gopher tortoise habitat won’t recreate itself,” said Lee. “Management efforts will be necessary, such as prescribed burning, removal of woody undergrowth, longleaf pine tree planting, and restoration of native grasses, and there are costs involved with that.” The Gopher Tortoise Initiative includes the establishment of a fund that will be used to help cover the costs of habitat restoration.

Carl W. Knobloch, Jr., a philanthropist and major supporter of the Gopher Tortoise Initiative, who passed away in 2016, believed “the preservation of natural ecosystems is critical to the continued economic strength of the country, as well as the health of all Americans.”  The Gopher Tortoise Initiative presents the opportunity for donors, large and small, to invest in the preservation of a rare species and, at the same time, an entire ecosystem.  From co-investment in the Initiative’s land protection goals to operating support for the non-profit partners, there’s a place for everyone to make a meaningful contribution.  For a list of participating organizations, click here.

Private Philanthropy Fuels Applied Research at Wormsloe

A highly collaborative restoration effort is underway at Wormsloe, a historic plantation site on the Isle of Hope near Savannah, Georgia.  Entering its third year, the objective is to restore a native, maritime longleaf pine community and monitor effects of sea level changes on this rare habitat. Longleaf pine communities were once dominant across the coastal plain and they support a great diversity of plant and animal life, an estimated 100-300 species per acre.  This long-term restoration and research effort will inform future conservation taking place along the Georgia coast.

The project is funded by philanthropists Craig & Diana Barrow and the Wormsloe Foundation.  The Barrows are long-time donors to coastal conservation efforts and they’ve been particularly supportive of applied research – scientific inquiry designed to inform real-time conservation practices.  Craig Barrow observed, “As the ninth generation to own and live at Wormsloe, we have a very strong sense of stewardship. Diana and I believe that if Wormsloe is going to exist for future generations it has to be driven by research and education.”

Wormsloe’s longleaf restoration project has been made possible with assistance from the Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center, the Longleaf Alliance, and the Georgia university system. “It is a multi-disciplinary effort,” said Sarah Ross, Director of Education and Research for the Wormsloe Foundation. “The State Botanical Gardens of Georgia in Athens supplied us with 4,000 seedlings.  In addition, we collected seeds from native understory species on the nearby barrier islands of Sapelo, St. Catherines, and Little St. Simons.”  Jon Calabria, Assistant Professor at the UGA College of Environment and Design heads the restoration team.  Landscape architects from the Odum School of Ecology set up research plots to study seedling survival rates and the success of different native grasses in the understory. Students from Savannah Country Day School, whose science program partners with Wormsloe, planted left over seedlings on their campus.

“We are also using emerging research tools to create 3-D models to forecast the effects of changing sea levels on longleaf,” said Ross.  “With this research, we are getting the type of data that will enable us to ask and answer more sophisticated questions about the impacts of sea level rise.  This will inform and help guide conservation efforts elsewhere on the coast.”  Three years in, the project is coming along nicely.  “We’ve had our first prescribed burn and the seedlings are doing well,” reports Sarah Ross, “They are looking green and robust.”

This type of applied research and similar projects conducted at Wormsloe is a vital component of coastal conservation.  Lessons learned from these projects will inform conservation management practices, restoration efforts, and policy making.  The Barrows’ commitment of charitable resources to this type of research has great implications that extend far beyond the boundaries of their property.