They waded through the surf at Huntington Beach State Park and trekked through swamps on Hobcaw Barony. They got muddy and pinched by crabs in the North Inlet marsh. They found carnivorous plants and giant cypress knees in a mysterious Carolina bay. They stood in a swamp in the dark.
Congratulations to the latest 10 graduates of the Winyah Master Naturalist program!
The Winyah Master Naturalist Program provides field-based training for community members to develop the skills necessary to become active stewards of our coastal habitats. Since the first class was offered in 2007, 113 participants have completed the 12-week course facilitated by the NI-WB Reserve. The Reserve is one of six host sites of the South Carolina Master Naturalist Program.
Environmental education programs such as the Master Naturalist Program help to strengthen links between knowledge and action and promote community involvement in stewardship activities including research, education and activism. Graduates of the course monitor sea turtle nests, study painted buntings, explore the salt marsh with school groups, and lead community efforts to protect our coastline. They volunteer for stewardship activities such as beach sweep and river sweep. They are on hand to help the Reserve when we need assistance with education events or sampling for research projects.
Non-professional naturalists have a long history of contributing observations that help to inform conservation actions. Before science became a profession in the 19th century, amateur naturalists were collecting data on rainfall, bird behavior, and bloom times. They were describing in detail flowers, mushrooms, and sea creatures, conducting experiments in their gardens, and curating collections that would become the centerpieces of natural history museums. Over a century’s worth of data collected by volunteer observers during the Christmas Bird Count, a tradition begun by the Audubon Society in 1900, has provided researchers, conservation biologists, and wildlife agencies with vital information on the long-term health and status of bird populations across North America. And the trend continues; a recent study in Europe found non-professional taxonomists were responsible for more than 60 percent of new multicellular land and freshwater animal species descriptions from 1998 to 2007.
Having a corps of trained stewardship volunteers is becoming increasingly important in meeting the conservation challenges of our coast. Volunteer researchers and educators are providing critical services at a time when funding for these activities can be sparse. Additionally, participants in stewardship programs gain a deeper experience in understanding the issues and can become the best advocates for conservation actions in our community.
For more information on the Winyah Master Naturalist course, please visit?