“Save the turtles, save the ocean and save the planet.”
Lizzy Ashley, like several other University of Georgia students, has heard that statement hundreds of times but has always wondered what was being done about it. That’s why she started the Ocean Initiative Club in fall 2017.
“I’m extremely interested in marine conservation, and I knew that there were a lot of other people that would be interested in it as well,” Ashley said.
As there is not an official major for marine conservation, a strong undergraduate community doesn’t exist yet. Ashley sought to facilitate that community as she acknowledged issues involving marine conservation.
This student-led organization is made up of members who feel strongly about protecting marine life. These students are focused on informing UGA and the Athens community on the way that human activities contribute to the pollution of the Atlantic Ocean.
Despite Athens being 200 miles from the coast, club members know that their choices have an impact on the ocean. Some of the focuses include sustainable seafood, eliminating single-use plastics, and recognizing climate change and ocean acidification. Ocean Initiative believes that to solve conservation issues, everyone must become conscious and alter their daily choices.
To spread awareness, they plan educational events, orchestrate campus clean-ups and tabling to speak on certain topics.
Weekly meetings consist of guest lectures from marine scientists, ecologists, biologists and graduate students to speak on how to ensure a healthy marine environment for the future.
“Issues regarding marine life are very serious,” Ashley said. “However, they don’t always come to light in the news, so that’s something that I wanted to change.”
Merryl Alber, a professor in UGA’s Department of Marine Sciences and director of the UGA Marine Institute said the oceans face multiple threats, including acidification, overfishing, fertilization, loss of wetlands, coral reefs and other habitats.
Alber is thrilled to see the Ocean Initiative Club thriving as she believes that spending time appreciating and learning about the natural world is important to helping college students become more aware. Alber pointed to a quote by poet Baba Dioum, which says, “In the end, we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.”
Alber believes that the key is figuring out ways to reduce the carbon footprint as well as thinking of ways to capture the carbon that is already out there.
Although Ocean Initiative Club is still new, they have managed to get that message out.
“We’re getting new members every day so I foresee the club continuing to prosper and spread awareness in the future,” Ashley said.