An Interview with Ashby Nix Worley of Satilla Riverkeeper
Rivers Alive: First off thank you for taking the time to share your story with us. Your efforts to protect the Satilla River serve as a great example of the importance of hard work and community collaboration in our fight to keep our rivers clean. Can you start off by highlighting a couple of special facts that you would like to share with our readers about the Satilla Riverkeeper organization?
Ashby: Thanks for the opportunity and I’m glad to! The Satilla Riverkeeper organization was started in 2004 by a group of passionate river advocates who were concerned about the potential negative impacts various projects were going to have on their beloved and wild blackwater Satilla River. Since then, we have been actively engaged in advocacy, education and outreach to ensure that this unique blackwater stream is healthy now and into the future. We may be small (only a staff of 2) and cover a large 4,000 square mile watershed, but we have great partners and support that keep us going.
Rivers Alive: The role of Riverkeepers in the protection of what is arguably our most precious resource is one that cannot be overstated. Can you tell us a little about your journey as a Riverkeeper and what it all means to you?
Ashby: I had loved the Satilla River ever since I first paddled it nearly 10 years ago on a multi-day paddle trip. I was struck by its wildness and raw beauty and had made a point to experience it as often as possible. I was encouraged to apply for the open ED position in 2013 by a friend who knew I was passionate about the environment and wanted to become more engaged in activism in my community. While my background and education was in coastal ecological research, coming on board as the sole employee and serving as both the riverkeeper and executive director was a steep learning curve! There was a lot of learning to do regarding running a small non-profit, particularly regarding how to run a business and the fundraising component. But the thing that has inspired me to give my most and work hard for this river is the passion that our members, and the general public, has for the Satilla River. That combined with the dedication of those working in the environmental non-profit sector across Georgia to protect our waterways, is incredibly motivating. So, I see this job as yes, protecting the Satilla River for clean water and healthy communities, but also protecting it for the people who love it and the nature that thrives here.
Rivers Alive: So as the winner of this year’s Confluence award you guys have been recognized for having numbers and diversity in your partnerships. Can you tell us a little bit about your partners and how you have established and grown those relationships?
Ashby: We have fantastic partners in the Satilla watershed who simply love this river. From City governments, to local restaurants, to our local colleges, there are so many people who want to know what they can do to make their community better and their river cleaner. The Rivers Alive annual cleanup is the perfect way for us to gather and engage these various partners in an active, boots on the ground sort of way. It’s a day where everyone can make a difference, and the results are immediate and satisfying. Trash may be just one of the many threats to our Satilla River, but it’s a very visual one and a difficult issue to tackle. There is no quick fix, but the cleanups are important and we are looking at ways we can address this issue at the source through county waste management policies. This combined with a successful annual river cleanup that helps engage and educate our public and partners on the issue is the combination of approaches of what we hope will ultimately create a movement of change in the right direction to reduce trash in the Satilla River.
Rivers Alive: It is a fact that many hands make light work. Talk a little about your volunteers and how their efforts assist you in your mission.
Ashby: The Satilla Riverkeeper organization could not survive without volunteers. From a volunteer board of directors, to volunteers calling in water issues or concerns, to volunteer paddlers on our quarterly trips, to our volunteer water quality monitors, and of course volunteers for the river cleanup, they are KEY! It is so impressive what a change a group of people can make, and each time we have a cleanup, it’s incredible to see the results and the positive impact it can have on our river in both the short and long term. It’s empowering to them, and inspiring to us!
Rivers Alive: The three main themes of your mission statement include: Protection, Restoration, and Education. Can you talk about how Rivers Alive fits into that mission?
Ashby: Rivers Alive cleanup hits all three. The annual river cleanup helps protect the river from harmful waste and trash, which ultimately may impact your river experience, your fisheries, your water quality via microplastics, your property values, your marine life once it reaches the estuary and ocean, etc. The cleanup also helps to restore the river to a better state or natural condition. Finally, the cleanup helps to educate the public on the trash issue in our area and can help motivate individuals to make personal changes in their behavior or promote more regional changes such as waste management policies or increased enforcement of illegal dumping. Awareness of the connection between trash problems and their quality and health of their river is a huge aspect of why we conduct this cleanup each year.
Rivers Alive: Finally, do you have any successes and/or challenges that you could share with new cleanup organizers that may help them in their efforts to protect our waterways?
Ashby: Yes! We changed from having multiple cleanups a year to only 1 big one per year. This helped our small organization conserve our limited resources and put our efforts into one big and impactful cleanup instead of spreading ourselves thin with multiple cleanups each year. This may not be the best for everyone, but it was the right decision for us. Also, ask for help! There are numerous individuals, companies and groups who want to help, you just have to ask. They may be a great site leader, donate funds or help you advertise the cleanup. Also, advertise the cleanup! Find ways in your community to place it on calendars, radio PSA’s, newspapers, etc. Also, don’t forget to showcase the hardwork and results and give a public thank you to those who helped make it happen. This is important if you want the public to know your impact and if you want these key partners to join you for future events. Lastly, keep it fun! By keeping ours short and sweet, and providing a lunch, we were able to get a lot of people out and have a huge impact and enjoy a little comradery and celebration afterwards!