Sea turtles, sea horses, and moon jellies are among the sea life exhibited at the UGA Aquarium on Skidaway Island in Savannah and plans are underway to expand the facility to add even more.

Education programs at the aquarium reach 55,000 people annually. School groups visit throughout the year and children flock to day camps during the summer. While there, they go on estuary trawls, explore barrier islands, observe dolphins and examine sea life under microscopes.

Those groups, as well as the public, leave Skidaway with a better sense of the thriving ecosystems along the Georgia coast.

Friends of the Aquarium, a new program offered by UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, will help expand the exhibits and programs.

“We are grateful for the resources we receive from the state and federal government, but we have an opportunity to really enhance our programs with private support from donors,” said Mark Risse, director of UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, which oversee the aquarium. “Friends of the Aquarium is our mechanism for expanding and enhancing our programs.”

The aquarium is funded almost entirely from public admission fees and program fees. A small staff, with the help of dozens of volunteers, maintain the 16 exhibit tanks in the aquarium, an educational building with two teaching labs, an art lab, a computer lab, a dormitory and dining room.

“We are so excited to launch the Friends program,” said Cherie Duggan, director of development for UGA Public Service and Outreach. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for us to publicly say thank you and engage people. I have heard from donors how much they’ve appreciated the summer camp experiences their children and grandchildren have had or their own amazement at what they learned exploring a barrier island with us. With support, we can do so much more.”

The new Springer Mountain Farms Pavilion, made possible by the generosity of Gus Arrendale III and Springer Mountain Farms, is evidence of the impact donors can have. Set alongside the Skidaway River, the pavilion provides an outdoor education space for school groups, summer campers and visitors, complete with water, power, picnic tables and overhead fans.

Donors who join Friends of the Aquarium before June 30, 2017 will be recognized as Founding Friends on a new donor wall in the aquarium lobby. As a thank you to Friends of the Aquarium, admission will be free to these donors and some future programs will be available only to them.

For more information or to join, visit http://marex.uga.edu/friends/. 

Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant is a unit of UGA Public Service and Outreach.