See ya later Summer

Sadly, summer vacation is ending and the school bell is ringing. Starting today and within the next two weeks all the local school systems will be back in session. Commerce City students start today. Jackson County begins on Monday, July 30th. At least Madison, Oconee and Barrow counties start in August…August 1st to be exact. Oglethorpe and Clarke Counties are the last to start with August 6th and 7th start dates respectively.

Before we jump right into classroom visits, tours, Little Lily’s Pad Hop, and science nights we would like to take a look back on our summer. We had a VERY busy summer, teaching over 750 campers all about water. A big THANK YOU to all of the groups who invited us to share water activities with their campers.  We had a splash!

We spent a good amount of time with the YWCO girls camp. These campers were energetic, funny, and always willing to learn. We taught 5-14 year olds all about water. Some acted out water charades while others learned about the physical properties of water.

YWCO girls camp after the H20 -Olympics activity

 

 

We collaborated with our friends at ACC Stormwater to teach Sandy Creek Park and Nature Center campers. How do you educate and entertain 90 campers? Remember, it is summer camp so we have to have fun! Well, we used parachutes. We used a parachute and water molecules to demonstrate that water can exist in three different states (solid, liquid, and gas). Stormwater used the parachute to show how difficult it is to remove pollutants from the water.

 

 

Teens in Action, an ACC Leisure Services camp, offers teens a chance to volunteer in the community.  This great group of kids helped us to prepare for the Athens Water Festival and Little Lily’s Pad Hop. They also painted WATER on our big blue wavy guy…I think they named him skinny blue.

Teens in Action volunteers with the wacky wavy blue guy

Tours, tours, and more tours! We hosted eights tours this summer at the Drinking Water Treatment Plant and Water Reclamation Facility. Athens First United Methodist, YWCO, and Athens Land Trust campers all learned the secret recipe to turning river water into clean drinking water. Memorial Park and Sandy Creek Nature Center campers learned where the water goes when you flush the toilet!

Campers touring the Drinking Water Treatment Plant

In addition to these camps, we visited several kids through the Smart Lunch, Smart Kid program. We tested out a plinko water drop trivia game and they loved it!

The Water Drop Plinko Game

Wishing all of our campers the best in the new school year!  We will look for you on field trips or visits to your classroom.  And remember, Conserve: WATER U waiting 4?

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Salvaging the rest of Summer (and a few pictures of a puppy)

Athens has quickly become my home over the past 4 years, with water playing a huge part in some of my favorite summer activities. As the summer begins to wind down and back to school shopping looms closer and closer on the horizon, why not spend some of these fleeting summer days near water? I have compiled a short list of some of my favorite summer activities to do in Athens, all of which can either be enjoyed with kids or in solitude (or with your dog).

1. The Birchmore Trail

The Birchmore Trail is a 1.5 mile trail through a mature hardwood ravine at Memorial Park in the heart of 5 Points. The trail meanders over small creeks and bridges. Make sure to keep your eyes open for wildlife hiding along the trail. The shaded trails and gurgling creeks are a great escape from the hot and hectic Georgia Summer!

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Once you have completed the trail, cool down by walking a few laps around the lake at Memorial Park and feed the ducks, or go see some native Georgian wildlife at Bear Hollow Zoo. It’s incredible that this little bubble of nature is nestled in the middle of Athens, so be sure to help preserve the trail and waterways by picking up any litter you may see on the hike!

 

 

 

2. Ben Burton park

Another one of my outdoors Athens favorites is Ben Burton park. Located on Mitchell Bridge Road, the park offers a variety of activities perfect for the summer. You can take a leisurely walk beside the Middle Oconee River, go kayaking, or simply read a book in the shade of the hardwoods. However, my favorite activity out at Ben Burton is to climb the rock head that overlooks the river.

Listening to the river tumble over the rocks, or watching a Great Blue Heron hunt for fish and other vertebrates is a great way to unwind after a long day. Watching the sunset from this vantage point is always enjoyable, but remember, the park closes at sunset, so don’t linger too long once the sun has dipped below the horizon!

3. Watson Mill Bridge State Park

This state park is an easy 20 minute drive from downtown Athens, and boasts the longest covered bridge in the State of Georgia. The park is just over 1,100 acres, and visitors can enjoy a wide variety of hiking trails, biking trails, geocaching, horseback riding trails, and kayaking.

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Watson Mill is the perfect mix of being close enough to Athens for a sporadic day trip, but also far enough outside of the city so you think you’ve escaped to somewhere new. Pack a picnic and enjoy a relaxing afternoon under one of the numerous picnic shelters that border this incredible river.

4. Trail Creek Splash Pad

Trail Creek Park is a 113-acre plot located just off of the Athens Perimeter at Peter Street. While the park is a perfect place to play Frisbee, read, or walk your dog, perhaps the Splash Pad is one of the coolest water related structures in the city. The park itself has no entry cost, but there is a $1 fee per child to play on the Splash Pad.

splashThe Splash Pad is open Tuesday – Sunday from 10 AM – 5:30 PM. However, if the Splash Pad isn’t your scene, the park is open daily from 8 AM – Sunset.

 

 

5. The State Botanical Gardens

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The State Botanical Gardens  is one of my favorite places in the entire city of Athens. The Gardens cover more than 300 acres and boasts over 5 miles of nature trails. Whether you want to walk along the Middle Oconee River, take a hike on the trails, or simply set up an Eno and enjoy a peaceful afternoon reading in the sun, the Botans are definitely the place for you.

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The Gardens have a ton of different attractions to visit year round, such as the Horticulture Greenhouse, the Flower Garden, the Heritage Garden, the Tropical Conservatory, the Hummingbird Trail, and so many more! The different gardens and trails are open during different parts of the year, so be sure to check out the Garden’s website to see what attractions are currently available.

 

6. Go hangout at Sandy Creek Park

Sandy Creek Park is truly one of the most versatile places to visit in Athens. You can hangout on the beach, hike the various nature trails, or rent paddle boards, kayaks, and canoes to use in the lake. Bring your four-legged friend and enjoy numerous dog parks, or take them for a short hike

dog fail GIF by America's Funniest Home Videos

 

Athens has some pretty incredible places to go to during the summer, and water is a driving factor behind each and every one of them. Take some time out of your week and try to visit one of our awesome parks or pools, as firsthand experience with these places can help develop a newfound appreciation of water.

Apathetic Gardner, Part 2

Today’s blog is from Laurie Loftin, who shares her bad luck with grass story on this Friday the 13th

A little over three years ago, I began my attempt to wipe out the grass in my yard.  Admittedly, this is not a very difficult task.  Give Bermuda grass plenty of shade, little aeration, and even less water, and you have the start of the textbook on How to Kill Grass.

Why does it sound as though I am choosing to be the eyesore of the neighborhood?  Because you are not clearly envisioning my goal.  Rather than be a thorn in the side of an HOA, my purpose is to be the Shining Example of Using Less Water in Your Landscape.  Inspired by such videos as “Your Yard is Evil” and my friend Richard Restuccia’s article called “4 Ways to Kill Your Lawn,” I decided to purposely reduce my turf.  I outlined my plan and gardening techniques in a blog, “5 Tips from an Apathetic Gardener,” which is an absorbing read.

As an update to the blog, I thought Friday the 13th would be the perfect day to share images documenting the progress and evidence of my grass eradication.  Some people may view the loss of their grass as bad luck.  I prefer to turn to Cormac McCarthy’s quote, “You never know what worse luck your bad luck has saved you from.”  Except I do know.  My bad lawn luck has saved me from excessive mowing, fertilizing, seeding, aerating, watering, soil testing, dethatching (what is that?), pest control, and neighbor’s envy.

Let me introduce you to my remaining grass.

                                              EXHIBIT A: A dusty eyesore

No, this is not a joke image.  I’m not testing your eyesight.  There is grass in this photo, which I took this morning.  You can see the problem.  The lack of groundcover allows the dirt to wash away with the stormwater runoff and collect in my driveway.  I have not come up with a solution for this area of my yard.  Apathetic suggestions are welcome in the comments, as long as they do not require watering or great effort on my part.

In my original blog I shared photos of my endeavors.  My next photo exhibit shows the before images and how my plants have fared over the last three years.

EXHIBIT B:

                           BEFORE

                                 AFTER

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not much has changed between these two images above. Several of the plants in the BEFORE gave up on me.  I replaced them with free lilies and added what may be lavender, but no promises this is a correct plant identification.  The important take away is the purple flowered plant has survived and produced nice purple flowers.

EXHIBIT C:

                            AFTER

                           BEFORE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I did follow through on the dry creek bed.  Yes, it did take more work than the average apathetic gardener may want to commit to, but the payoff is worth the effort.  I no longer have to do anything to this entire swath of yard.  Occasionally I dig troughs to help the rainwater flow into the rocky path, but otherwise, it is very low maintenance.

The dwarf mondo grass and ajuga visible in the AFTER photo will eventually spread to fill in their new home and reduce my need to mulch. How did I choose these plants?  It seems that whenever I mention monkey grass or a relative of the monkey grass, people who know plants visibly cringe.  I take this as an indicator the plant will send out runners and sweep across my yard with a green invasion.  Knowing my brown thumb and that I still have failed to successfully grow mint,  I challenge the plants to do this.  If they win, I will have groundcover.  I guess I win, too.

The Athens-Clarke County Agriculture & Natural Resources office hosts free workshops, often in partnership with the ACC Water Conservation Office.  A speaker during the pollinator garden workshop suggested I try ajuga.  This groundcover tolerates shade, creeps, and is a perennial, which when used as an adjective, perennial is defined as “lasting or existing for a long or apparently infinite time; enduring or continually recurring.”  That is my type of plant.

EXHIBIT D:

                            AFTER

                               BEFORE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I did have a sunny area of the yard in which grass grew.  Originally I planned to spare these blades, but nutgrass moved in and thickened the plot.  Nutgrass is considered a horrific weed.  If I introduced you to my backyard, you would never think I am the type to be bothered by weeds, but nutgrass is a different story.  It grows to heights of which my struggling Bermuda could only dream.  I found myself pulling out the mower to keep it from getting too big for its britches.  Eventually, I decided the grass and nutgrass had to go.  The replacement is Liriope, the fancy name for Monkey Grass.  I have noticed the Liriope “babies” crawling through the dirt to sprout up in other spots.  I am a proud mama.

I sit on my new patio, once occupied by a droopy tree and boring bush that were relatively easy to remove with creatively placed ratchet tie downs and a CRV bumper, and admire my front yard.  I wave to my passing neighbors, who are now envious of me as I sip on my mint julep* while they trudge home to mow the lawn.

*Mint used in mint julep is purchased from the local grocery store.  One day I will make mint grow and have the cocktail garden I dream of.

 

Summer Fun

How is next week the beginning of July? It seems like summer break just started. Some of you might be in shock like me that summer is already half way through while others might be counting down the days until school starts back. Regardless which side you are on we could all use some water fun to beat this Georgia heat.

We have compiled some tried and true water activities perfect to test out in July.  These are great for summer birthday parties, family reunions, or just to play on a hot summer afternoon

  1. Hop, Hop, Splash – This activity is similar to Duck, Duck, Goose, but incorporates water. The children should all sit in a circle; assign one child as “it”. Give the child who is “it” a sponge soaked with water. Have them walk around saying hop, hop, hop, and splashing a little water on their head as they walk by. When they are behind the person they want to tag they yell SPLASH, at the same time they squeeze the rest of the water on that person’s head. Then the person chases them around the outside of the circle to see if they can beat them back to their spot, just like the original Duck Duck Goose. If they catch them, the child is “it” again, and they pick another child to splash. If they do not catch them, then the new person is “it” and finds another child to splash.

    Kids playing Duck, Duck, Goose. Add some water to make it Hop, Hop, Splash!

  2. Water Hose Limbo – Use a water hose as a limbo stick. Kids must successfully limbo under the water hose; lower the hose closer to the ground after each round. On a really hot day, use a steady stream of water as the limbo stick. Make sure to play this game on your grass so the water is not wasted. Kids must limbo under the stream of water without getting wet.

    Water Hose Limbo

  3. Ice Painting – This is an easy craft, perfect for hot afternoons. Simply add food coloring to water in an ice-cube tray, attach a Popsicle stick, and freeze. After the water has frozen, use the ice-cube as your paint to create works of art.
  4. Water Relay Race – Divide the group into two teams giving each a bucket filled with water, an empty bucket with a line half way to the top, and a sponge. Have the group form a straight line in between the two buckets of water. The first person behind the bucket of water must soak the sponge and then pass it over their head to the person behind them. Continue this until the last person squeezes the sponge into the empty bucket. The last person runs to the front of the line with the sponge, soaks it in the bucket with water, and passes it over their head. Continue until one team reaches the line on the original empty bucket.
  5. Fireworks in water – Fill a glass jar 3/4 full with warm water. In a separate bowl, place three tablespoons of vegetable oil. Carefully put 2-3 drops of food coloring into the oil. Gently mix the oil and food coloring with a fork, just enough to disperse the food coloring. You’ll notice it doesn’t mix with the oil, it just breaks up into smaller dots. Pour the oil into the jar with warm water. Watch as the colored drops sink down into the water creating a firework effect. Follow these step by step instructions to make the perfect water fireworks.

    Fireworks in water

Speaking of fireworks, this coming Saturday, June 30th is the Athens Star Spangled Classic in downtown. Activities begin at 5:00 p.m. and includes live music by The Funk Brotherhood, children’s activities, and food trucks. The highlight of the evening will be a fabulous fireworks display scheduled for approximately 9:30 p.m.  The fireworks will launch near the Classic Center parking deck.

How could this event be even better?  The Star Spangled Classic will have its own soundtrack! This year’s event will be synchronized to a patriotic playlist you can download straight to your smartphone. Learn more about the Star Spangled Classic.

I Drink Toilet Water (and so do you)

Today’s blog is by Laurie Loftin, the ACC Water Conservation Coordinator, who admits too much

Yes, technically, I drink toilet water.  This unfortunate misnomer is often thrown about while on a visit to classrooms.

Let me explain.  As part of my job, I speak with students about all things water.  Topics vary depending on the age group and the educational standard to which I am teaching.  As a member of the Water Conservation Office, I have an additional agenda with these outings.  I promote the value of water whenever possible.  This is a building block to enact behavior change.  If one lacks the awareness of how important water is in their life, there is less motivation to protect it through water efficiency.

My visits start off simply enough.  I ask the eager learners where the water in their home comes from.  Excited little hands quickly shoot up in the air and the responses flow.  Kroger!  The store!  The sink!  Not the answers I am looking for.

I push forward, trying to fine tune my questioning.  Where does the water come from before it gets to the sink in their home?  The ocean is a common response.  After a brief talk about salt water, someone will suggest the river.  Now we are in the pool.

I press on, fully aware my questioning is no longer simple.  Which rivers?  By the time I leave the classroom, the students can name the three sources for drinking water in Athens as 1) Middle Oconee River, 2) North Oconee River, and 3) the Bear Creek Reservoir.

So, why do I publicly claim to drink toilet water?  And more importantly, why do I suggest that you do, too?

Let me continue sharing with you my experience in the classroom.  Recognizing I missed my calling as an interrogator, I keep questioning the children.  How do we get the river water cleaned at our drinking water treatment plant and then to their homes?  A future engineer explains to his/her peers that pipes move the water to their home.

Now for the confusion.  Perhaps it is in the way I word it.  I explain that the water coming in through their pipes is used in the kitchen sink, the shower, and the bathroom sink.  By now I should have learned to stop right there, but no, I continue.  “The same water that comes out at your sink is the same water that is used to fill your toilet.”  I can see when the confusion sets in, usually marked with wide open eyes, a look of bewilderment, and a scrunched up nose.  I prepare for the inevitable question I know is to follow.  “We drink toilet water?”

I mentally kick and curse myself for once again taking the students down this stream of thought.   Will I ever learn? To avoid phone calls from angry parents telling me their sweet child is now drinking water from the toilet because I said it was OK, I quickly explain that while the water is clean, there is no guarantee the toilet is.  Feeling rather confident and based on experience from having lived through teenage boys, I ask the students the last time they cleaned their toilet bowl.  No one has claimed to have cleaned the bowl.  Ever.  I am also happy to say I have had no reports of students imitating the drinking habits of their dog.

One intuitively realizes most homes have only one pipe delivering water to the home.  The system provides clean, treated drinking water for

Take a tour of your local drinking water treatment plant to learn more about your water.

all of your water needs.  The water at your kitchen sink is the same as your bathroom sink as your clothes washer as your flushing toilet.  No additional piping is installed to send a water of lesser quality to your toilet.  Similarly, the water used to keep your grass alive has been treated to drinking water standards.  A toilet and the grass do not need such high quality water, but it is less expensive to use treated water for these applications than to install completely new infrastructure.

Keeping in mind the water you use is all treated to the highest quality, identify ways you can use your prized water more efficiently. Ignoring a leaky toilet allows clean water to go to waste.  Watering during the middle of the day, besides being against the outdoor watering schedule, allows a large percentage of the clean drinking water to be lost to evaporation.

An understanding of where our water comes from is key to valuing it.  Knowing your drinking water source can influence how you interact with it.  In Athens, when you see the Middle and North Oconee Rivers are exceptionally low, realize your drinking water supply is low.  Think of ways to be more water efficient.  See litter on the ground?  Remember that carelessly tossed litter can easily blow into your drinking water supply.  Pick up the litter you see, even if it isn’t your trash.  It is your drinking water.

So, do we really drink toilet water?  I can only speak for myself, but I don’t drink water from the toilet.  I do drink the same water that is delivered to my toilet.  Rather than confusing this realization into a reason to make a run to the store for bottled water, I choose to place a greater value on the water coming into my home.  It is all of high quality, no matter how I chose to use it.  I can drink from my kitchen sink.  I can also drink the water from my bathroom sink or while standing with my mouth open in the shower.  Technically, I could drink it from the toilet bowl.  It is the same water, all good water, coming from one pipe.  We are all one water.

 

 

 

 

Beat the Rush: How to Sign Up for ACC Water Services

This week’s blog was written by Ben McMichael, the creative media and education intern at the Water Conservation Office.

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Hundreds of people visit the Water Customer Service building each day from mid-July thru mid-August.

As the second week in June comes to a close, the realization that summer is almost halfway over is not a welcoming thought. With summer flying by, there are a few things here in Athens that are inevitable: finding fun summer activities, avoiding a heat stroke and on the same day getting washed away during a torrential downpour, and the Summer Rush here at the Water Customer Service Center. While these occurrences are certain to happen, what are the odds that the Summer Rush could be avoided to make more time for some fun in the sun?

The “Summer Rush” is what we have dubbed the time from mid-July to mid-August.  It is the time when University of Georgia students and other new residents rush into the water Customer Service Center to get their water, sewer, and trash services set up.  

Sign up for water NOW and BEAT THE RUSH!
If you are moving to Athens soon or will be starting a new lease, we encourage you to get your water service set up before the summer rush begins. Below is a graphic to walk you through each step of the process.  Keep it handy and download it on your smartphone for future use.  The information is also available at the Public Utilities website.

I am an established customer.  Does Rush matter to me?
If you are an established water customer, Rush affects you, too.  Hundreds visit the office every day during Rush, which makes the parking lot even more crowded.  It is sometimes standing room only in the lobby area.

Want to avoid the Rush crowd?  Try one of the other options available to pay your water bill:

  • Pay your bill online
    First-time users will need their water account number to set up an online account.  Create a customer ID and use that to pay bills online in the future.
  • Pay by bank draft
    Complete the bank draft authorization form and bring a voided check to the Customer Service Center. The checking account will be automatically debited each month for the amount of the water bill on the due date shown on your bill.
  • Mail still works
    Tear of the payment stub and use the enclosed envelope to send a check or money order to:
    The Unified Government of ACC
    Public Utilities Water Business Office
    PO Box 16869
    Atlanta, GA  30321-0869

Want to call us during Rush?
To better serve our customers, a Call Center is now in place with dedicated staff available to answer phone calls.  However, our team still must field hundreds of calls each day, which can result in longer hold times due to increased inquiries regarding about starting/ending service.  We know your time is valuable and will get to your call as quickly as possible.

We perform thousands of tests on our waters throughout the year to ensure the drinking water quality.  The reports are available online.  The Athens-Clarke County Public Utilities Department is proud to deliver this water to all of our customers, both new and old.  Welcome!

World Oceans Day

June 8th is World Oceans Day, a day where people celebrate and honor our blue planet. This day helps raise awareness about the ocean and inspires responsible action to protect this amazing resource that connects us all. Each World Oceans Day has a specific theme to focus and unite the various events taking place. The 2018 theme is to prevent plastic pollution and encourage solutions for a healthy ocean.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (ICUN) plastic debris has now become the most serious problem affecting the marine environment. Over 300 million tons of plastic is produced every year and at least 8 million of that ends up in our oceans. Marine animals such as sea turtles confuse plastic with food and accidentally ingest the debris causing serious injuries or death. Seabirds often mistake plastic for their prey, which causes starvation as their stomachs fill with the plastics. Animals can also entangle themselves in the plastic debris making it hard for them to move, grow, and develop.

The unaltered stomach contents of a dead albatross chick photographed on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in the Pacific in September 2009. (Chris Jordan)

 

Plastic entangled around a turtle hindering its growth and development.

The Deep-sea Debris Database, a collection of photos and videos taken from over 5,000 divers over the past 30 years, revealed that a plastic bag was found at a depth of 36,000 feet inside the Mariana Trench. If a plastic bag can make it that deep in our oceans than certainly all the other plastic debris can as well. CNN reports that by 2050, there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish. Plastic pollution in our oceans comes from a variety of sources including urban and storm water runoff, sewer overflows, coastal visitors, industrial activities, construction, and illegal dumping.

What Can I do to Reduce my Plastic Use?
There are plenty of ways for us to reduce our plastic use. Start by following the five suggestions below.

  1. Use a reusable stainless steel straw or a recyclable paper straw instead of plastic straws. National Geographic states that Americans use 500 million plastic straws per day. Since they are small and lightweight they rarely make it into recycle bins. Fish often ingest these straws and sea turtles have even gotten them stuck in their nostrils. (Note: this video might be hard for you to watch).
  2. Use a reusable shopping bag instead of relying on plastic bags. We tend to have a lot of reusable bags, it’s just a matter of using them. Try keeping some in your car or office to remind you to actually use them the next time you go shopping.
  3. Pack meals in reusable containers instead of using plastic bags and avoid using plastic utensils. Americans use more than 100 million plastic utensils each day. These utensils can take up to 1,000 years to decompose.
  4. Drink from reusable bottles instead of plastic bottles. According to National Geographic, globally we spend $100 billion each year on bottled water. Save some money and reduce plastic pollution by drinking tap water.
  5. Pick up litter around your community. Regardless if you live near an ocean or not, pick up litter. Not only will you beautify your community, but you’ll prevent litter from entering local waterways that eventually lead to the ocean.
  6. Support environmentally focused businesses like Saltwater Brewery in Florida who created edible six-pack rings for their beer packaging. The six-pack rings are 100% biodegradable and edible—constructed of barley and wheat ribbons from the brewing process.

People around the world participate in World Oceans Day through campaigns, initiatives, special events, outdoor explorations, aquatic and beach cleanups, educational activities, and even art contests. Here is an interactive map of all the events happening around the world. Below are some of the cool events happening here in Georgia.

The Georgia Aquarium hosted a 5k: Turtle Trot to raise money that will benefit the research and conservation of various marine species.

 

 

Visitors of the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium on Skidaway Island can tour behind the scenes at the aquarium, investigate microscopic invertebrates, encounter reptiles, interact with horseshoe crabs and learn about the incredible animals of Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary. Along the way you will learn stewardship strategies for caring for our oceans.

Celebrate Chehaw’s 5th Annual World Oceans day. The Mobile Touch Tank from Gulf Specimen Marine Lab will be there with a chance for children to meet and touch many different types of marine organisms. Guests will also learn about the different ways we can influence our oceans through games, crafts, and special activities (even cookie decorating).

Join Georgia Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island for a beach clean-up. You will help remove plastic and other trash from our beaches, keeping our oceans clean.

 

 

If you won’t be near one of these places to celebrate World Oceans Day, don’t worry. There is still plenty for you to do to participate in this day. Start by reducing your plastic waste. Follow the steps listed above or check out these eight easy ways from the Audubon Society.