October 27, 2016

A Quarterly Publication of Rivers Alive

Please Submit Your Final Cleanup Tally as Soon as Possible!

Thanks to the efforts of our organizers and volunteers, Rivers Alive is having another successful year! So far in 2016, 80 cleanups have engaged almost 3,500 volunteers to remove over 180,000 pounds of garbage from Georgia’s waterways, and there are still many more cleanups scheduled throughout the remainder of the fall! In addition to removing trash, these cleanups have helped to educate citizens across the state about water quality issues. Help us continue raising awareness about water pollution by submitting your final cleanup tally! Reporting your collected trash allows us to quantify your impressive efforts and develop a better picture of the overall condition of our waterways.

Use the completed data sheets from your cleanups and/or estimates, if necessary, to submit your final tallies! Please log into your account using the Rivers Alive Registration Page. On the 'Before You Begin' tab, check any of the categories that describe your cleanup in order to be considered for a 2016 Rivers Alive award. 

Each year, we send the final cleanup tallies from September and October cleanups to our partners at Ocean Conservancy's International Coastal Cleanup. They use this information to produce a report on the trash collected around the world during these months. The 2016 Trash Free Seas Report showcases the data from cleanups in 2015. Last year, Georgia ranked third among U.S. states in number of volunteers. We need to send in Georgia's contribution soon to be included in the next report! If your cleanup was in September or October, please submit your final tally by Thursday, December 1st.

Please don't hesitate to contact us if you have any questions about registering your cleanup  or submitting data at 404-651-8517 or

Do You Have T-shirts Left Over From Your Cleanup?

Please return extra shirts to the Rivers Alive state office so we can distribute them to other cleanup organizers who can use them for upcoming events! We can also use any leftover organizer or volunteer data tally sheets from your cleanups. Our address is 2 MLK Jr. Dr. SE, Suite 1462 East, Atlanta, GA 30334. If you have any questions, you can always reach us at or 404-651-8517

Living Shorelines in Coastal Georgia
By Jan Mackinnon, Georgia DNR Coastal Resources Division

One of coastal Georgia’s most treasured features is its vast estuaries containing miles of tidal waterways and thousands of acres of marshes.  Nourished by the Atlantic Ocean and freshwater from rivers and aquifers, these estuaries are habitat for wildlife and perform functions such as flood abatement and pollutant sequestration. A common characteristic of the estuaries from St. Marys to Savannah is the 6-9 feet tides that inundate them twice daily. Wind-driven and astronomical high tides can exceed 9 feet in amplitude.  These large tides set our state apart from others in the Southeast and, while vitally important to the ecology of our estuaries, result in daily movement of vast quantities of water. This movement frequently causes erosion along the shorelines of tidal waterways and marshes.

Historically, sea walls, vertical bulkheads and rock revetments have been the tools used by man in this never-ending struggle against the forces of nature. However, these methods, while often effective, can alter the ecology of the estuaries by interrupting the natural transition between upland and water.  Almost a decade ago, staff with the Coastal Resources Division began exploring alternative erosion control designs that use plants and animals as allies in the fight against erosion. What better way to engineer a natural resource than with the organisms that naturally occur there? ​

Living Shorelines are novel engineering approaches to provide alternatives to conventional armoring methods typically used to protect uplands from erosion. Living Shorelines use bioengineering in combination with native vegetation plantings to enhance wetland habitats.  Living Shoreline structures mimic natural shorelines, preserving habitat for aquatic plants and animals.  They also allow for animal access in the critically important boundary between upland and aquatic habitats.  

The eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica), besides being a tasty part of our seafood diet, is an amazing ecosystem engineer.  Living oyster reefs are one of the most important habitats within our estuaries. In Georgia, oyster larvae settle in clusters on hard surfaces, favoring those with high calcium content such as the shell of other oysters. Where salinity conditions are suitable for oyster growth, bags of recycled oyster shells are often included as part of a Living Shoreline project. The oyster shell bags help absorb wave and water movement energy. Once colonized by living oysters, these bags become a living oyster reef providing habitat for terrestrial and aquatic animals.  These clusters form a natural breakwater deflecting wave and tidal forces and, thus, reducing erosion. Spartina alterniflora, or smooth cord grass, is another component of Living Shorelines.  This plant serves as the biological glue that holds our Georgia marshes together as its root systems stabilize the soft sediments preventing them from being carried away by moving water. When flooded by the tide, smooth cord grass provides habitat for a multitude of animals ranging from clapper rails to redfish to shrimp. 

Living Shoreline projects can also include plantings of native terrestrial vegetation such as muhly grass at the boundary of the intertidal zone and the upland. These plants help slow storm water runoff thus protecting the physical integrity of the Living Shoreline from landward erosion. These plants also offer aesthetic appeal to the landowner. 

Six pilot Living Shorelines projects have been built to date along the Georgia coast: two on Sapelo Island, and one at Little St. Simons Island, Cannon’s Point Preserve, Skidaway State Park, and Burton 4-H on Tybee Island. These projects cost less than a traditional approach indicating that Living Shoreline options may provide an economic benefit to property owners seeking to stabilize shorelines.  

The Coastal Resources Division continues to work with diverse partners such as The Nature Conservancy, Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve, the University of Georgia Marine Extension Service, and landowners to evaluate various Living Shoreline designs. The goal of this collaboration is to determine which designs are most suitable for the unique coastal Georgia environment and to monitor the ecological value of these techniques. For more information on Living Shorelines, please visit CRD’s website at or contact Jan Mackinnon at (912) 264-7218.


An Interview with Youth Activists Hannah and Angelica

Meet Hannah (8th grade) and Angelica (5th grade)! These two girls dedicate most of their time to giving back and trying to make the world a better place. They are both involved in various types of volunteer work, but the fight against plastic pollution is their biggest focus. In our interview with the two girls we asked them to share a little bit about their work.

Hannah, can you share a little about your journey being a youth activist? Where did it begin, when did you first hear the call, and where do you hope it all takes you?

Hannah: From a very young age, I was taught by my parents to treat others how I would want to be treated. That includes other people, animals and our earth. Since an early age, I realized that our daily actions have an impact on the environment.  I remember at age 4, I told my mom how people prefer plastic to reusable shopping bags. I told my mom that no one cared about the planet except us because no one had their reusable bags at the store.  I hope this journey takes us to a more sustainable world, where people use less single-use plastic products, such as plastic bags, bottles, and straws.  This will protect our environment, but will also protect humans and animals alike.  Hopefully in a few years, people will look back and say, “I can’t believe we used to use single-use plastics.”

Angelica, can you also share a little about your own journey being a youth activist? Where did it begin, when did you first hear the call, and where do you hope it all takes you?

Angelica: My journey began when I started doing creek monitoring with the Upper Etowah River Alliance.  I had been volunteering for them for a couple of years.  I also did creek cleanups and saw how much trash there was in our environment.  I first heard the call when I went to Hannah Testa’s plastic pollution presentation. I couldn’t believe that there were so many animals being hurt by plastic pollution and that there were islands twice the size of Texas made out of plastic floating in the ocean!  Hannah inspired me to spread her message.  I hope that by teaching kids about plastic pollution, it will help stop the problem someday.  I hope I can inspire other kids to take action, too.

Can you tell us more about your current mission and who you are currently working with in your efforts?

Hannah: My current mission is to make Forsyth County the greenest county in Georgia through education and awareness.  This includes educating businesses as well as schools to become more green by using less single-use plastic products and to recycle as much as possible.  I am working with restaurants to either switch to paper straws or implement a policy to not give out a plastic straw unless requested.  Statistics have shown that if restaurants don’t give out straws with every drink, about half of diners won’t ask for one, which makes sense since most people don’t use straws at home.  I also have worked with State Senator Michael Williams to make February 15, 2017 Plastic Pollution Awareness Day throughout Georgia.  My goal is to make people stop and think about single use plastic products.  I am partnering with a lot of environmental organizations such as 5 Gyres Institute, Plastic Pollution Coalition, Klean Kanteen, and Plastic Ocean Project, Inc., to name a few.  I am working with Ted’s Montana Grill, Aardvark Straws, and other businesses as well.  I am also partnering with my friend, Angelica, to bring awareness through our county. 

Angelica: My current mission is to educate kids about plastic pollution and inspire them to take action.  I truly believe kids can do great things and by working together I hope that we can help stop the problem.  I work with Morsbags to help get rid of plastic bags by replacing them with cloth bags.  I hand these out for free.  I hope to work with the Upper Etowah River Alliance to form an educational program, and I’m also trying to work with Publix to try and do a reusable bag promotion.  I hope to continue working with Keep Forsyth County Beautiful by educating the public about pollution and the ways they can help as citizens.  I will continue to help Hannah get her message heard!

How do you see the battle against plastic pollution being carried out at school here in North Georgia? Do you think the message is getting out there and if not how would you like to see it change?

Hannah: We are in the early stages of this long battle, but we are seeing positive actions taken.  For example, there are many schools in Forsyth County that are involved in the TerraCycle program, however this is just a small part of the plastic pollution battle.  Another indicator is that schools are becoming Keep Forsyth County Beautiful-certified as a Green School and green teams are forming and doing great things in schools across the County.  My school, Vickery Creek Middle School, is working with me to start an initiative to educate students and faculty about plastic pollution, and they are also implementing plans to increase the school’s recycling efforts. Plastic Pollution Awareness Day is also a key event to help educate schools about the dangers of plastics.  Ultimately, it would be great if we could implement an educational program in schools regarding plastic pollution and related environmental topics.

Angelica: I think the Upper Etowah River Alliance and Keep Forsyth County Beautiful are doing a great job educating and getting the public involved.  I have helped them teach at surrounding schools.  I think their message is being heard, but I think other kids that are not in the everyday public school system, could be more involved.  I’m trying to create a program just like Green School for those kids.  These kids would include those in private school, online school, homeschool, hybrid school, etc.

What would you say to other kids out there that are bothered by an issue but want to do more than just be bothered?

Hannah: You are never too young to change the world for the better. Ghandi once said, “You must be the change you wish to see in this world”, and this statement is so true because we do not have to wait for adults to wait for change, we can do it and we are proof of that.  I tell children, dream big, work hard, anything is possible.  Remember that we kids are just 25% of the world’s population, but we are 100% of the future.

Angelica: I would tell them to spread awareness about that problem and work with people to help them achieve their goals.  Kids can do great things, if we speak up and show people how bad the problem is.  As kids, we need to use the power of our voices, our words, and our actions to make the world a better place.

What would you say to the adults out there that are in positions of power at every level, city, county, state, etc.?

Hannah: Be a leader, stand up to do the right thing, and don’t be satisfied with the status quo.  Here’s an example of what I mean:  I was in London this summer and the government had implemented a fee on the use of plastic bags.  As a result, I hardly saw anyone using plastic bags, and a recent report shows that there was a 85% reduction in use of plastic bags, and the money raised from the fees were given to good causes.  As another example, France just announced they are banning plastic cups and utensils by 2020.  Several cities in the US have also implemented legislation that helps reduce plastic pollution.  Here in Georgia, the government is taking a big step by passing a resolution creating Plastic Pollution Awareness Day.

Angelica: I would tell them that there is a big problem with plastic pollution and that it ruins our environment.  Kids need their support to do something about it.  Every single one of us has the power to make better choices.  We need to educate the community more about plastic pollution and the effects it has on the environment, so that we as citizens can make the right choices.

Thanks to Hannah and Angelica for your hard work protecting our environment and future! If you would like to learn more about the initiatives these exceptional girls are leading, please check out their Facebook pages Hannah4Change and Super Science Kids

Sponsor Spotlight: Environmental Resources Management 

Environmental Resources Management (ERM) is a leading global provider of environmental, health, safety, risk, social consulting services and sustainability related services. ERM has more than 160 offices in over 40 countries and territories employing more than 5,000 people around the world.  The ERM Foundation was established in 1995 to enable ERM and its employees to provide technical, fundraising and volunteer support for non-profit organizations and social enterprises that share ERM’s commitment to creating a more sustainable and equitable world. The ERM Foundation focuses on areas that align with the professional expertise and interests of ERM employees such as low carbon development, conservation and biodiversity, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), environmental education, and empowering women and girls.

As Rivers Alive also exemplifies several of these initatives, it was a a natural fit for our Atlanta office staff to be active in Rivers Alive both personally and professionally.  ERM’s Atlanta office has supported Rivers Alive financially, through board member activites, and by participating in river cleanups.

 Major Corporate Sponsors

Georgia Power |  Oglethorpe Power  

 Golder Associates | Brown and Caldwell | Southwire Company

Additional Support From:

Environmental Planning Specialists | Enterprise Holdings Foundation | Jones Day 
Storm Water Systems | Alston+Bird | Shaw Industries | Black & Veatch | Sutherland
GE Power Systems | Georgia Association of Water Professionals
Anheuser-Busch | Burns & McDonnell Foundation

If you would like to sponsor Rivers Alive,
please find more information on our Sponsorship page.

Rivers Alive is a program of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division Outreach Program.        404-651-8517

The preparation of this newsletter was financed in part through a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under provisions of Section 319(h) of the Federal Clean Water Act of 1987, as amended.