Ripple Effect

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Here’s a quick list of 20 things you can do now to protect our fragile coastline and waterways.  Pick one (or more) and make a world of difference both locally and on a global scale.  Photography by Michelle L. Morris. Compiled by Maggie Harney and Amy Paige Condon. 

1.  Recycle Oysters.

Hosting an oyster roast?  Take your empty shells the day after to one of these two local drop-off sites

where the Coastal Conservation Association will pick up the shells, cure them then reintroduce the shells at points along the coast to create future oyster beds.  Go one step farther:  If you have a little time on the weekend, help CCA members bag the oysters.  It’s a great way to give what you take.

2.  Clean it Up.

Worldwide, our ocean’s have become floating landfills, imperiling marine life as well as our own.  Make an immediate difference by joining any one of the year-round beach sweeps hosted by the Savannah-based nonprofit Clean Coast.  Barrier island cleanups are slated for Ossabaw Island on August 11 and on Blackbeard Island on October 13.  Or, think globally, act locally on Sept. 15, by joining hands with people across the world participating in the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup Day.  Last year, volunteers gathered more than 10 million pounds of trash from the earth’s shores.  Bring your gloves and trash bags down to the Tybee Island Pavilion and do your part to keep Savannah’s beaches clean.

3.  Go Forth and Compost.

Reduce the amount of trash you create by reusing lawn clippings, vegetable peels, coffee grounds, egg shells and newspapers as ingredients in your own free fertilizer.  Composting natural ingredients for spreading on your lawn and in your garden creates healthier, less eroded soil, which, in turn, acts as a buffer and filter for potential pollutants, such as stormwater runoff.   Compost also reduces your dependency on harsh chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides–all environmental hazards that can infiltrate our waterways and result in dead zones, like the one in the Gulf of Mexico.   To start composting, check out the Sierra Club’s how-to video. It’s a fairly simple recipe that makes a big impact on the planet.

4.  Dive Deep.

Join our local marine corps–the Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary Team Ocean Divers.  Team Ocean’s certified volunteer divers help with everything from hands-on research to marine debris removal.  Not certified? You can still help out at the sanctuary, where every Saturday volunteers monitor water quality for harmful algae blooms, which can deplete oxygen levels in the ocean, killing coral and causing wildlife and people to become ill.

5.  Save the Dolphins.

Did you know that each dolphin’s dorsal fin is like a human fingerprint–unique and identifiable?  This little factoid is but one of the lessons volunteers learn through research and training at The Dolphin Project, the only all-volunteer nonprofit organization in the nation permitted to conduct research on these savants of the sea.  Following a mandatory two-hour training course, volunteers will be in the water learning how to approach dolphins in the wild, conducting field research and dolphin counts and spreading the word about the Federal laws in place to protect our bottle-nosed brethren.  You can even adopt a dolphin through The Dolphin Project, and receive periodic updates on sightings. All adoption proceeds go toward public education and research.

6.  Sign Your Name.

Join 8-year-old Roswell, Ga., native Amie Koporc in her crusade to ban the mass release of balloons at weddings, birthday parties and other celebrations in the State of Georgia.  According to Amie’s online petition, “balloons can easily be mistaken for prey and eaten by animals. They are especially harmful in an aquatic environment because they look like jellyfish – a major source of food for marine animals including sea turtles, dolphins, whales, fish and seabirds. Attachments such as ribbons and string tied to balloons are a particular problem for land and sea animals as they can lead to entanglement and death.”  Virginia, Connecticut, Florida, Tennessee, New York, Texas and California have already banned the intentional release of more than 10 balloons in a 24-hour period.

7.  Be Water Smart.

Much of Georgia is experiencing drought conditions because of prolonged seasons of lower-than-average rainfall.  You can help alleviate the demands on water supply by taking a few quick steps: fix leaks and tighten faucets; convert to energy-efficient shower heads and take shorter showers.  Learn more about the small changes you can make that net big results HERE >>.

8.  Paddle and Pick-up.

While you’re out on the water in a kayak, canoe or boat, abide by the carry-in-carry-out philosophy … and help others do the same.  Follow the lead of the instructors at Sea Kayak of Georgia, who pack trash bags on their excursions and pick up what they see floating around that doesn’t belong in the aquatic environment.

9.  Move Your Feet or Buddy Up.

Give the climate and your waistline a break by taking a break from your car.  Walk or peddle to work, school or the store at least once a week.  You’ll increase your number of steps as well as reduce the amount of carbon emissions released into the atmosphere, which scientists consider a serious contributor to sea-level rise.  You can also minimize your carbon footprint by sharing rides with friends.

10.  Eat Mindfully.

When hunger strikes, choose one of the many restaurants in town that have joined the Savannah Ocean Exchange and have pledged to serve locally and sustainably caught seafood: Blowin’ Smoke, Leopold’s Ice Cream, Bistro 45, B. Matthews and Wet Willie’s.  You’ll be helping local fisherman and shrimpers make a living in the process.  Also consult the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch to help make informed choices when buying or ordering seafood.

11.  B.Y.O.B. (Bring Your Own Bags)

Paper or plastic?  Say “neither” next time you’re at the grocery store and bring your own reusable bags.  You’ll save yourself from trying to figure out what to do with mountains of plastic bags, which so often find their way to our waterways and the Atlantic Garbage Patch.  By using reusable cloth bags, you can reduce plastic bag consumption by more than 200 bags per year.

12.  Help the Marshes.

Our vast estuaries serve as more than the cradle to the ocean.  They filter pollutants from runoff so that our waterways remain clean; they protect the mainland from surges during hurricanes and tropical storms.  But, they need our help to maintain their health.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration offers helpful guides and resources on what you can do around your home, along the waterfront, on your boat and in your community to help protect the marshes.  Among NOAA’s easy-to-follow tips:

  • Clean your household septic systems every three years;
  • Dispose of paint, motor oil, used cooking oil and other common household chemicals at designated solid waste disposal sites;
  • Plant with natives.

13.  Stay Informed.

Knowledge is power, but in this day and age of information overload and echo chambers of shouting pundits, where do you go to get the basics?  Many groups in our area gather and distill the often perplexing mass of environmental rules and regulations by staying current on all things coastal.  The Ogeechee Riverkeeper keeps a keen eye trained on the health of our coastal rivers.  The Center for a Sustainable Coast, a nonprofit environmental education and advocacy organization, offers of clearinghouse for environmental laws, land use regulations and water resources protection.

14.  Celebrate our Rivers.

Head up to the headwaters of the Savannah River near Augusta, Ga. for the sixth annual Paddlefest, August 11, 2012, hosted by the Savannah Riverkeeper.  Enjoy the down-home celebration filled with food and entertainment as a spectator, or bring your canoe, kayak, handmade boat or paddleboard to compete.  You’ll learn so much more about the historical heritage and environmental importance of the 300-mile-long Savannah River than what we see from our stretch along River Street.  On Oct. 4, 2012, the Ogeechee Riverkeeper holds its annual River’s Rock Revival, with food and craft brews from Moon River Brewing Co. and music by Swamp Cabbage.

15.  Go Green in Your Yard.

In addition to composting (see No. 3 above), choose native plants tolerant of our coastal clime.  Native plants require less water and stand up to pests more readily, which reduces your reliance on chemical-laden fertilizers and pesticides.  If you are inundated with pesky critters (made worse by drought conditions), seek safe, eco-friendly alternatives to pest management.

16.  Go to the Movies …

… and help raise funds for the Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary.  This year’s Ocean Film Festival, Sept. 20-23, 2012, features a documentary about the incredible journey sea turtles take from the nest and back home again.  On Sept. 22, world-renowned oceanographer Jean-Michel Cousteau of the Ocean Futures Society will sign copies of his latest book, Explore the Southeast National Marine Sanctuaries, at SCAD’s Gutstein Gallery.

17.  Champion our Waterways.

Share your passion for Savannah’s rivers, streams and shores by helping to raise awareness at your homeowner’s association, Rotary club or church group about ways each individual or group can make a difference.  Or, make like Erin Brockovich and be on the look out for harmful or illegal activities that imperil our waterways.   Witness a disturbance in the marsh, such as someone illegally dumping in an undesignated area?  Report it to Savannah-Chatham County Metropolitan Police Department or the Georgia Department of Natural Resources/Environmental Protection Division.   For serious threats, such as oil or chemical spills, contact the National Response Center.

18.  Embrace the Darkness.

Every year, May 1 through Oct. 31 marks the return of loggerhead and Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles to our beaches, so that they can scoop out nests and lay eggs for a whole new generation.  When the hatchlings are ready to take their maiden voyages on the waves, they seek the sun, moon and stars to lead the way.  But street and house lights can confuse them, leading them away from the water and toward road dangers.  Even the light from television and computer screens can be distracting.   Help Mother Nature by turning off unnecessary lighting at night.  Learn more about sea turtles and the dark HERE >>.

19.  Don’t Flush Pharmaceuticals.

Have you heard the one about the fish that changed sex mid-stream?  It’s not a joke … it’s reality caused by pharmaceutical pollution in our waterways caused by people dumping expired medicines and drugs into sewage systems and the overuse of antibiotics in livestock, among other things.  By following these simple steps, you can turn the tide.

20.  Live Green.

Earn extra credit by making across-the-board lifestyle changes by following the National Geographic Society’s Green Guide.  From your choice of toothpaste to where and how you travel, you can improve your own health as well as the planet’s.