The University of Georgia Marine Institute (UGAMI), established in 1953, lies on a barrier island situated between the Atlantic Ocean and a pristine salt marsh-dominated estuarine ecosystem. The mission of the Institute is to support and conduct basic research on coastal processes involving the unique ecosystems of the Georgia coastline. UGAMI’s mission is also to provide access and facilities for graduate and undergraduate classes to experience field research and gain an appreciation of the Georgia coast. As a research facility literally embedded in the ecosystem of focus, UGAMI distinguishes itself with a long history of coastal research by resident and visiting researchers in a broad range of disciplines. As a result, significant contributions have been made to the understanding of the links between uplands and salt marsh estuaries to the coastal zone.
UGAMI lies on Sapelo Island, a barrier island accessed from Meridian, Georgia by a passenger ferry which is run by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources 3 times per day (20 – 30 minutes between Meridian and Sapelo). UGAMI has a long-term lease for facilities totaling 1500 acres on the south end of Sapelo Island within and bordering the NOAA Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve (SINERR). The facility is very unique in its situation of relatively pristine surroundings, as well as the designation of the surrounding marshes as a NOAA SINERR (Fig. 1). This is a fortuitous and productive research situation. The remaining 2/3 of Sapelo Island are managed by the Georgia DNR as a Wildlife Management Area. There are approximately 100 full time residents on Sapelo Island, including UGAMI personnel, DNR personnel, and the small Hog Hammock community. Hog Hammock (500 acres) is the only privately owned property on Sapelo Island. Hog Hammock is a community of descendents of African-American plantation workers, and many members of the community are employed by UGAMI. UGAMI, Hog Hammock and the Georgia DNR have a long history of cooperation on Sapelo Island.
The Institute lies approximately 280 miles southeast of the UGA main campus in Athens, Georgia and provides the Department of Marine Sciences as well as several other departments at UGA access to a remarkable field site for research and teaching. Since it’s beginning, UGAMI has served as a pristine natural laboratory for basic studies into salt marsh and estuarine ecology. The Marine Institute has an international reputation as one of the major contributors to our scientific understanding of the complex interactions of watershed-marsh-coastal ocean complexes, the flow of energy, nutrients, and minerals, and the role of microbial processes through the land-sea interface. In addition to its research mission, UGAMI has also served an important role in undergraduate and graduate education for students from UGA and other units in the University System of Georgia, as well as students from colleges across the nation.