Bringing Our Community Together

FOHI wins $5,000 grant for sea turtle education in community

in Community/Lowcountry Outdoors/News by

 By Mike McCombs 

The people of Beaufort have proven once again that if it involves Hunting Island, it’s a cause they will support. 

The Friends of Hunting Island State Park Inc., (FOHI) nonprofit organization has been awarded a $5,000 grant from Turtle Island Restoration Network’s (TIRN) Summer Sea Turtle Sustainability Grant Contest. TIRN is a part of SeaTurtle.org. 

FOHI applied for the grant, went through the process and made the final cut against some fairly prominent organizations, according to FOHI Marketing Director Linda Miller. 

“We pushed it on social media, we got the community of Beaufort around it,” Miller said. “We showed the power of social media and the power of community. And we won. We were shocked!” 

The mission of FOHI is to support Hunting Island State Park in the conservation, protection and interpretation of its natural and cultural resources. Grant funds will be used to engage underserved communities in the area to provide more access to the park and more education about sea turtles and conservation in general. 

“We hope to get interns in there from our Peoples Park Project,” Miller said. “We’re trying to get kids of color into the world of conservation. Our mission was to put the money to use in education in the community and in the local schools.” 

The process 

To enter the contest, organizations had to meet the four criteria: 

  1. They must be a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. 
  2. They must use funds within one year to conduct projects relating to sea turtle conservation, research, and/or effective solutions.
  3. They must have an annual operating budget of $1 million or less.
  4. And they must conduct sea turtle projects in the United States.

Then it all came down to a simple vote.

Voting began June 16 and ended June 30. Nominees were encouraged to let their supporters know to vote for their organization by announcing it at meetings, on their website, on social media, in an email newsletter, or to local media. Voting took place online at www.seaturtles.org/vote.

How the money is to be used

The grant funds would be used to hire two underserved, high school juniors as interns during the spring/summer nesting season of 2022 and have them learn about sea turtle conservation efforts. They would join the volunteers most mornings to walk the beaches, and the remainder of their day would be spent learning about the ecologies of Hunting Island State Park, including salt marsh, maritime forest, dunes, beaches, and ocean.

Theinterns would receive intensive training about ecological systems, and the threats to these systems brought about by climate change and sea level rise. They would also investigate through their families the historic links between the Gullah people and the Sea islands and barrier islands of Beaufort County. Finally, they would learn about what changes need to be made in our lifestyles to better protect our ecological futures.

Dataw Island, has a nature conservation club of dedicated conservationists. Its members have expressed interest in hosting the interns — the interns could stay at their houses and be given rides to and from the park for their internship work. This would provide a total immersion experience for these underserved students.

Friends of Hunting Island volunteers walk the island’s beach early in the morning. Photo by Kate Hudson.

The goals

Here are the anticipated results of FOHI’s use of the grant funds. FOHI had to supply these in the application process.

  1. The goal of immersing underserved students into ecology and conservation literature and actions will provide the impetus for FOHI to create a complete education experience over the winter months when they are not on the beach. FOHI will select literature, films, field trips, and hands-on experiences for these students so that they receive a well-rounded and interesting education that is both deep and wide. This program could be the foundations for a broader public program about ecology on a barrier island.
  2. The two students who receive the internships will have an advantage they might not otherwise have when applying for college. (FOHI will select students whose teachers can recommend them and who have expressed an interest in going to college.)
  3. These students will be rehired the following year to teach two more interns what they have learned. We hope to create a pool of knowledgeable and motivated young people with this program. FOHI will raise the funds for subsequent years based on a successful pilot program.
  4. The students will most likely return to their families and friends and show them their enthusiasm about conservation, and hopefully they will encourage them to reduce their impact on the environment through reduced fossil fuel use, pollution control, and changes in consumption patterns. Their education and training will allow them to see sea turtles as a microcosm of the fragility of the natural world and the outsized impact humans have on it.

The endgame

“From the loss of volunteers to beaches being closed down, groups that work tirelessly to monitor and protect endangered sea turtles as they return to beaches to nest have been directly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Turtle Island Restoration Network spokesperson Elizabeth Purcell said in the release announcing the winner. “Turtle Island Restoration Network is honored to support fellow nonprofits to ensure at risk sea turtle species in the United States do not go extinct in our lifetimes.”

Of the seven species of sea turtles, six are found in U.S. waters and nesting beaches: the green, hawksbill, Kemp’s ridley, leatherback, loggerhead, and olive ridley. Sea turtle nesting beaches face threats from uncontrolled coastal development, vehicle traffic on beaches and other human activities that have directly destroyed or disturbed sea turtle nesting beaches.

Mike McCombs is the editor of The Island News and can be reached at TheIslandNews@gmail.com.

Top photo: The $5,000 grant received by The Friends of Hunting Island State Park Inc., will be used to engage underserved communities in the area to provide more access to the park and more education about sea turtles and conservation in general. Photo by Kate Hudson. 

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