As majestic as they are, the royal tern seabirds and other migrating fowl that grace Georgia’s coastal skies are in trouble.
Their population numbers are slumping globally as threats from beachgoers, predators and even poachers disrupt their nesting grounds and food sources.
But there are things that can be done to help these globe-trotting birds bounce back — starting with educating the public, said Kelly Patton, an outreach coordinator for the environmental advocacy group One Hundred Miles.
“We’ve seen an increase in people wanting to get involved and learn more about coastal issues,” Patton said.
That’s why One Hundred Miles started its first-ever Naturalist 101 lecture series Thursday at its offices in downtown Brunswick.
“This is a way for people to become more knowledgable about our coast and become more of a naturalist,” Patton said. “We’re having lectures and field trips, and we’ve partneres with dozens of scientists, green businesses and leaders in the community.”
At its inaugural lecture, wildlife biologist Tim Keyes of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources spoke about shore and sea birds, and why their survival is critical to the coastline.
“I think the importance of migratory birds here on the coast is underappreciated,” Keyes said. “People don’t realize that if you plunk your beach chair down 10 feet from a nest, you’ll kill those birds.”
That’s because the parent birds are needed to incubate the eggs, and when people come too close, it can scare them away, leaving the eggs vulnerable to heat from sunlight or even predators, Keyes said.
Nesting birds also face threats from the high tidal range in the Golden Isles area, as well as variances in food supplies brought on by changes in the global climate.
“Climate change is leading to food not being around when the birds are there,” Keyes said. “That’s forcing them to fly farther, 100, sometimes 1,000 miles more.”
Birds won’t be the only topic One Hundred Miles hopes to tackle in its Naturalist 101 courses. Each month, the topics range from bees, sea turtles, beach ecology and barrier islands, amphibians and even sustainable fishing.
Each month, the lectures are paired with a field trip, including a boat trip through the Okefenokee Swamp, an air-boat tour of Sapelo Sea Farms and hives of the Savannah Bee Co.
“There really is so much to talk about,” said Patton. “So far, the reaction has been great. People have been really interested. For our first lecture, we were totally booked, and that’s a good thing.”
The lectures and field trips, which run monthly through November, have limited space, so Patton encourages people to make reservations by visiting www.onehundredmiles.com or calling 264-4111. While the lectures are free, there are minimal fees to help cover the cost of the field trips. Fees depend on the trip’s destination and range from $15 to $60 for people who are not members of One Hundred Miles.
Patton hopes the Naturalist 101 series will help people learn more about the coastal environment and become more motivated to work to protect it.
“One Hundred Miles has been around for about three years, and we really want to work on increasing the public’s knowledge of our 100 miles of Georgia coast,” she said.
For more information about the lectures or field trips, including a complete schedule and description of trips, visit www.onehundredmiles.org.