first_imgBy Sydne Moodyand Dan RahnUniversityof GeorgiaOne of the perks of living on an island is easy access to thebeach. Naturally, people at St. Simons Island, Ga., weren’t happywhen health officials posted beach advisories banning swimming.Then 15 high school 4-H members decided to do something about it.And their efforts are not only helping officials understand theproblem but are attracting international attention.The problem started when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agencychanged the bacterial indicator for marine waters, said ElizabethCheney, beach water quality manager for the Coastal ResourcesDivision of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.New testCheney said the EPA began requiring tests for enterococcalbacteria instead of coliform bacteria. When the CRD changed itsweekly tests of the beach water to meet the new standard, theirreadings were sometimes high.Enterococcal bacteria are associated with human and other animalfeces. They can cause gastrointestinal and other infections. Noone knows why the levels are high, Cheney said. They weren’t evensure where the water on the beaches came from.That’s where the 4-H group came in. 4-H is the University ofGeorgia Extension Service’s youth development organization. WhenCheney called for volunteers to help run some tests, the group’s4-H advisor, Robi Gray, called her back.Eager volunteers”They had me come out and talk to them,” Cheney said. “And theyjust ran with it.”The club members, who call themselves the Sea Monkeys, set up anexperiment to trace the marsh water flow with oranges. Theywanted to know where exactly the marsh water behind the islanddrifted.Citrus fruit’s tough peel withstands the beatings of rocks andseagull beaks. The teenagers gathered 280 oranges and othercitrus fruits, many of them rejects donated by grocery stores.They painted the non-orange fruit with special wildlife-safepaint to make the fruit easier to spot in the water.The launchOn the ebbing high tide at 1:30 a.m. on Dec. 18, the grouplaunched the “Orange Tide” fruit in two places, Black Banks Riverand Postell Creek. They marked the Black Banks River fruit with ablack band.”Having to get up early and walk the cold beach was my leastfavorite part,” said 17-year-old Will Prince.Within a few hours, though, they spotted oranges between Landsendand East Beach. They found more Dec.22 in front of the King andPrince resort and the boardwalk on East Beach. They were stillfinding them Dec. 26 as far away as Sea Island.”Walking on the beach searching for the oranges and knowing I washelping my community was my favorite part,” said CharlesThompson, 15.Phase 2Now, the students will expand their test during the May 25 springtide, the highest area tide in the lunar cycle. But this time,the UGA Marine Extension Service will test the marsh water forenterococcal bacteria at the drop sites.Using Global Positioning System software donated by ESRI, thestudents will also put the data on orange locations into graphsand maps. They plan to use 600 fruits, too, and add anotherlaunch site in a larger marsh area farther into Postell Creek.A source tracking study proposed by UGA scientist Peter Hartelcould add another key to solving the problem by tracing theorigin of the bacteria.High hopesThe students’ project is one of nine accepted in the Earthbound3Challenge, an international competition open to any studentgroup. The club will compete with two groups from Kenya andothers from Australia, New York, Rhode Island, South Carolina,Pennsylvania and Texas.The group is optimistic. “Using GPS is the key to the SeaMonkeys’ experiment’s winning,” said Angelina Tebarts, 15.The 4-H’ers are collecting fruit for their May experiment. Ifyou’d like to volunteer or donate fruit, contact Gray at (912)634-1682.(Sydne Moody is a student writer and Dan Rahn a news editorwith the University of Georgia College of Agricultural andEnvironmental Sciences.)last_img

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