Anyone with an interest in learning about coastal Georgia’s natural habitats, wildlife and more will have an opportunity to do this week from the comfort of their home or classroom.
The annual CoastFest event, hosted by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Coastal Resources Division, will return this week in a virtual format due to the recent local spread of COVID-19.
“This will be our second year in a row doing virtual CoastFest,” said Tyler Jones, CoastFest coordinator for CRD. “CoastFest generally speaking, when we do it in person, is one of the largest outreach events that DNR puts together. Last time we did it in 2019, we had about 10,000 people there.”
Virtual CoastFest aims to maintain that educational experience in a way that’s mindful of the pandemic, Jones said.
But the event’s longstanding mission to showcase coastal ecosystems and the work that aims to protect the area’s natural resources remains intact, said Karl Burgess, assistant director at CRD.
“We’ve got a long history of doing this,” said Burgess, who said this year’s CoastFest will be his 19th to attend. “We’ve done this for 25 years now, and every year is always a new little challenge or a new opportunity to make it a little bit better. These last couple of years have obviously been challenge with COVID and trying to consider social distancing and that type of thing, but I really do want everyone to know that we at Coastal Resources at DNR here are really committed to continue our education and our outreach regarding the conservation of our coastal resources.”
This year, CRD staff paid special attention to ensuring the event will best serve local educators, parents and students. CoastFest will take place Tuesday through Thursday, and each day will include three events that will begin at 8:45 a.m., 10:45 A.M. and 2:15 p.m.
“The reason we timed it like that is we actually worked with the Glynn County School System to make sure that these livestream events started at a time that would be easy for teachers to be able to take advantage of it,” Jones said.
The target audience, he said, is local students. Events will include a virtual field trip about CRD’s new research vessel, the Reid W. Harris, a tour through the age and growth lab, a virtual educational beach experience, a lesson on artificial reefs, touch tanks and more.
“This is an opportunity to take a field trip basically but not have to leave your classroom,” Jones said. “There’s a lot of interesting work here that we do at CRD to conserve and protect our coast, and normally we try to get that message out at CoastFest in person. But this is an opportunity for teachers to tune in and let their students ask us questions, interact with our biologists and learn something new.”
Some of the programs also fit into the state’s curriculum standards, Jones said.
CoastFest will feature celebrity guest hosts this year, including 104.1 FM “The Wave” morning radio host Joe Willie Sousa, Keep Golden Isles Beautiful executive director Lea King-Badyna and Georgia Board of Resources member Nancy Addison.
The event is funded through a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and aims to further CRD’s mission to balance coastal development while protecting natural assets and recreational resources.
CoastFest introduces this important work to the community’s youth while allowing them to explore what’s happening in their own backyard.
“When we do it in person, there’s a lot of kids, believe it or not, who live in this area but have never been to the beach,” Jones said. “So CoastFest may be the first time they’ve been up close and personal to shrimp or horseshoe crab or fish and those types of things.”
Virtual CoastFest will create opportunities this week for students and community members to explore Georgia’s coastal ecosystem.
“I think the most enjoyable part of it is seeing the excitement in the children’s eyes when they’re learning some that’s in their backyard, whether it’s a critter that’s from one of our marshes or a fun little fact about the beaches,” Burgess said. “Those are always very enlightening, but it’s amazing to see how many times we have an opportunity to educate not just children but also adults that live in the coastal area that are unaware of the uniqueness and the gems that we have here.”
The livestream events will be featured online at www.DNRCoastFest.org. Each event will include a live question-and-answer session with CRD staff. Virtual attendees will be able to ask questions and interact using YouTube.