The tupelo cathedral and giant cypress trees along Ebenezer Creek in Rincon are the kinds of natural monuments coastal environmental advocacy and conservation groups have been pushing to protect for decades.
The tannin-filled blackwater of the creek on Monday played host to a group of environmental advocates from 12 organizations who showed a small media gathering an example of what their new initiative will seek to preserve with a new approach — one of collaboration.
The Georgia Coast Collaborative, or GCC, was announced Monday in Rincon as a way for organizations that always communicate, but often operate independently of each other, to come together with a common vision.
In the face of a sea level expected to rise from a half-foot to 2 feet by 2050, a land consumption rate expected to outpace population growth by seven times and a population in coastal Georgia expected to double in the coming decades, Megan Desrosiers, president and CEO of Brunswick-based One Hundred Miles, said now is the time to adopt a single vision for environmental advocacy on Georgia’s coast.
“Our response needs to be greater than it ever has been before,” Desrosiers told the crowd gathered at New Ebenezer Retreat Center.
The collaborative’s mission is to work toward shared goals and to envision a future where awareness and celebration of coastal resources and citizen participation encourages leaders to take action that results in improved quality of life and conservation for future generations.
The effort began in 2015. The 12 members of the collaborative are: One Hundred Miles, Alatamaha Riverkeeper, St. Simons Land Trust, Satilla Riverkeeper, Center for a Sustainable Coast, Savannah Riverkeeper, The Georgia Conservancy, Ogeechee Riverkeeper, GreenLaw, The Nature Conservancy in Georgia, the Southern Environmental Law Center and the Georgia-Alabama Land Trust.
They plan to focus on four primary goals — protecting, connecting and enhancing environments for coastal plants and animals to adapt to sea level change; maintaining thriving working landscapes and waterfronts that support sustainable production of food and fiber for communities; cultivating opportunities for people to enjoy special places and historic communities along Georgia’s coast; and promoting economic development that respects natural environments and preserves character of coastal communities.
The third of the four-part goal was a reason for choosing Ebenezer Creek and the retreat center in Rincon for the collaborative’s launch. Gen. James Oglethorpe gave the Lutheran Salzburger family the land where the retreat center sits and where the creek flows. The township of New Ebenezer was then founded in 1736 as a place of religious freedom where each family was given a town lot for their home, a two-acre garden plot and a 50-acre farm outside of town. After being captured by the British in 1779, the Jerusalem Lutheran Church built in 1769 became a British hospital and storehouse for supplies.
Alice Keyes, vice president of coastal conservation for One Hundred Miles, said the effort’s intention is to keep all groups more focused on the overarching goal and hopefully prompt more cooperation.
“We all share a vision for what our coast can be,” she said.
David Pope, St. Simons Land Trust’s executive director, said it only makes sense to create the collaborative. The various groups can act individually, but “we can’t be successful individually.”
Together, he said the 12 organizations cover all the bases — policy advocacy, program advocacy, land conservation and legal action.
His organization’s focus is land conservation on St. Simons Island, but by having a close working relationship with others that have a shared goal and vision, Pope said the work of the land trust “can have a lot more clout.”
Atlamaha Riverkeeper Jen Hilburn’s organization operates as more of a grassroots effort and conducts field work directly with residents and in places considered environmentally threatened. She may not be pushing to shape policy at the state and federal level in the same way as groups like One Hundred Miles or Center for a Sustainable Coast, but she feels her work can help their efforts.
“We bring the stories to the bigger issues,” Hilburn said.
The folks at St. Simons Island-based Center for a Sustainable Coast hope the collaborative will be a forum for all the groups to discuss the varying viewpoints on what issues to attack and how.
“Everybody can benefit if this becomes a true forum for discourse,” said center board president Steve Willis.
All the groups don’t always agree, which is OK, he said. For instance, he hopes to see more of a focus on the impacts of global warming and efforts to reverse it.
That may come in the future. For now, groups in the collaborative are planning to use their individual energies with a common focus on preserving Georgia’s coastline. They are not contributing to each other monetarily or paying dues, and the collaborative does not blanket endorsements of policies or procedures of its members.
It is simply an agreement to dedicate each organization’s efforts collectively to coastal protection in a way it hasn’t been done before.
The collaborative will work together each year to put out an annual “State of Coastal Conservation” publication in which each group will detail the work it has been doing and why. The 2017 publication was released Monday.