By Sergio A. Sabat-Bonilla, Georgia Sea Grant State Fellow
Hosted by Ben Carswell, JIA Director of Conservation
Growing up in Puerto Rico, I was fortunate to have had a childhood within a tropical oasis, where the Caribbean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean. In Puerto Rico, the trade winds that develop along the northwestern portion of Africa traverse the Atlantic Ocean and deliver accumulated humidity into the northeastern slopes of the central mountain range. Having grown amongst these unique and vital ecosystems, it was a saddening realization knowing that they are being destroyed faster than scientists can conduct research to fully understand them. As I left the island to start my academic career across the US, I have found opportunities that allowed me to explore and expand a curiosity of the natural world that started along the beaches of my island.
These experiences led me to pursue a degree in Biology. Now I find myself working on both a master’s degree at Georgia Southern University, studying how water level variations affect invertebrate communities in wetlands of the Southeastern US, while also serving as the Georgia Sea Grant State Fellow. I am honored to be involved in a partnership between Georgia Audubon, Georgia Sea Grant and the Jekyll Island Conservation Program in aiming to cultivate strategies and deliver opportunities that engage the diverse communities of Georgia’s southern coastal region in the enjoyment and conservation of birds. This is deeply challenging work and I aspire to contribute and voice my passion to help make progress, having experienced both the negative effects that a lack of exposure to the natural environment can have on the wellbeing of a community and the uplifting power that equity and opportunity can have on individual.
Central to my work on Jekyll island will be developing and supporting efforts to conserve and understand shorebirds utilizing the Georgia coastline as a refuge during their migratory journeys (e.g., Piping Plover). Not only is this an important conservation endeavor as these are birds that utilize and depend on a diversity of environments on a global scale. Our work also brings with it a unifying message that the Georgia coastline is a vibrant region harboring a diverse range of life, whether for a few weeks or a lifetime, and it should be the mission of those who inhabit it to empower and protect the communities most impacted by environmental and social changes to this region.
For this reason, I hope to not only continue expanding and exploring my curiosity of the natural world during my year at Jekyll Island as your Georgia Sea Grant State Fellow but also to help shape efforts towards making the Georgia coastline more inclusive and open to all. I deeply appreciate the Jekyll Island Foundation’s contribution in support of my Fellowship and want to encourage all Jekyll Island visitors to appreciate and care for the remarkable and diverse bird life that thrives here.
To help further migratory bird conservation efforts on Jekyll Island, GIVE NOW. Your generosity enables JIF and JIA Conservation to make sure Jekyll Island is part of the conservation solution for birds, not part of the problem—from research and monitoring to educational partnerships and programs.
Sergio Sabat-Bonilla graduated from the University of Central Oklahoma with a degree in biology. Now as a master’s student at Georgia Southern University, he is studying how aquatic macroinvertebrate communities will respond to the hydrological variations in wetlands of the coastal plain. As the State Fellow working with Georgia Aubudon and Jekyll Island, he will be tasked with getting the diverse communities in the southern region of Georgia engaged in the enjoyment and conservation of birds. He’ll also be focusing in part on expanding shorebird monitoring efforts on Jekyll Island with ongoing support from the Jekyll Island Foundation. He is most interested in helping make the Georgia coastline more engaging and inclusive, so that any individual can enjoy the diverse ecosystems that shape the Georgia landscape while learning the effect humans’ lives have on the system and what they can do to conserve it.
“With my career goal of becoming a researcher and science communicator, this fellowship is the ideal opportunity to help me develop my science communication skills while pursuing a personal goal of aiding in the efforts to provide minorities and communities of color with the knowledge and resources to enjoy and explore the environments that surround them.”
— UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant