The S.C. Sea Grant Consortium has been awarded two grants of nearly $300,000 each to support community-focused projects that address marine debris prevention and removal. “Gullah/Geechee CREATE: Coastal Debris Removal Engaging Artists through Environmental Cleanups,” led by S.C. Sea Grant Extension staff and Gullah Geechee community leaders, and “The Lowcountry NETwork: Building a Coalition of Community Members, Shrimpers, Educators, and Conservationists to Remove and Recycle Marine Debris,” led by Extension staff from both the South Carolina and Georgia Sea Grant programs in partnership with the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, were selected through a competitive review process funded by the National Sea Grant Office through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The two projects are part of a national effort to cultivate Marine Debris Community Action Coalitions aimed at connecting communities with the research and education programs needed to address how marine debris negatively impacts ecosystems and wildlife, economies and communities.
“We are delighted to be collaborating with phenomenal partners on both of these community-based projects,” said Susan Lovelace, Ph.D., executive director of S.C. Sea Grant Consortium. “Exploring new ways to engage the public on the challenges and solutions to reducing marine debris brings fresh attention to the problem, as well as conservation of the natural resources that support our coastal communities so well.”
S.C. Sea Grant Consortium and leaders of the Gullah Geechee community will collaborate on an innovative project that turns marine debris into art, first by identifying marine debris hotspots and engaging the public through data collection at organized cleanup events. The project team will then connect with local artists to support the production of sculptures and artwork made from the locally-collected debris, which will be publicly displayed. Events will encourage environmental stewardship and showcase artistic contributions, marine debris mitigation education and cultural pride. “Gullah/Geechee CREATE” aims to enhance awareness of marine debris impacts through creativity and hands-on community engagement opportunities, partnering with the Gullah/Geechee Nation, Gullah Geechee Chamber Foundation and the Gullah Preservation Society to remove and transform debris removed from waterways along the South Carolina coast.
“I have personally been focused on engaging with numerous divisions of the U.S. government and with various sustainability, adaptation and resilience partners for decades in order to have them assist us in making the Sea Islands more resilient especially in the face of climate change,” said Queen Quet, chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation. “I am looking forward to engaging in the numerous projects that NOAA will be funding along our shoreline, especially the ‘Gullah/Geechee CREATE Debris Removal Project’.”
The “Lowcountry NETwork” is an expansion of the Trawl to Trash program, a successful multi-state initiative that encourages use of upcycled stow bags made by commercial shrimpers from nets that would have otherwise been discarded. This program engages the public through stewardship activities to prevent littering, as well as to collect and remove debris from waterways. The Trawl to Trash program also benefits commercial shrimpers by providing off-season income, while addressing the need for increased public education and outreach through prevention and removal strategies. The project team will coordinate with environmentally focused organizations to host volunteer-based marine debris cleanups and education-based outreach events, including “Trawl to Trash Maritime Days” in South Carolina, “Debris Derbies” in partnership with marinas and the boating community, establishing the Trawl to Trash Academy in Georgia and hosting workshops for adult learners. Funding also will support undergraduate students through the Community Engaged Internship program, and provide the opportunity for a graduate student to work with the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor to coordinate aspects of the cleanup events and education programming. Building on the existing partnership with the University of Georgia Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, this project will foster new collaborations across the South Carolina and Georgia coasts, including communities within the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, a federal National Heritage Area, to incorporate maritime cultural heritage and local ecological knowledge as it relates to environmental stewardship.
“We are excited to kick off the wide array of outreach activities as part of this multi-state program and continue collaboration efforts with shrimpers,” said Brooke Saari, Coastal Environmental Quality specialist, and Sarah Pedigo, Shellfish Aquaculture specialist, with the S.C. Sea Grant Consortium Extension program.
Both three-year projects will strengthen local partnerships and empower community members to learn about solutions and actively participate in preventing litter from entering waterways, removing marine debris and being stewards of coastal environments.