Forrest, Sunny, Sky, and Brook have been smelling salt in the air all morning so they can tell they're close to the sea. Now, just one more trail through a stand of marsh grass, one more climb over a sand dune, and . . . there it is!

Where are we?

Georgia's offshore waters are unique and play important environmental roles. They lie along the migratory route for several species of marine turtles, many of them threatened, and every year sea turtles make nests and hatch their young on Georgia beaches. Also, the North Atlantic right whale, which is so endangered that there may only be 350 remaining, uses Georgia's offshore waters as its winter calving grounds.

Georgia's coastal waters are a fragile ecosystem that suffers stress from chemicals discharged into rivers by the agricultural industry and by polluters like power plants, sewage treatment plants, pulp and paper mills, and chemical plants. Pollutants in the water also endanger humans, and sometimes become more concentrated as they move up the food chain through a process called "biological magnification." For example, some pesticides that farmers use to control insects are stored in the bodies of the insects, and when fish eat the insects the toxins pass to their bodies where they are stored. One fish will eat thousands of insects and they end up storing the toxins from all those insects. That fish will be eaten by a bigger fish, and again, toxins such as pesticides or mercury are passed along. Of course, that big fish eats many smaller fish, and in turn, a human will eat many of the bigger fish. At each link in the food chain, toxins that cannot be disposed of by the body get more and more concentrated or magnified.

Unfortunately, many fish from Georgia waters are contaminated by mercury and other toxic metals, which are bad for our health, especially that of children.

Harvesting the wind

When you turn on the lights, where does it come from? If you live in Georgia, your electrical power probably comes from fossil-fueled, nuclear, and hydroelectric power plants. Natural resources can be placed into two groups, renewable and non-renewable. Renewable resources just keep coming, like the water in the rivers that run hydroelectric power plants, or they grow back fast enough to keep pace with our use.

Non-renewable resources like fossil fuels, nuclear power, and minerals take hundreds of millions of years to form, so when they are finally used up we'll have to look elsewhere. Also, some of these fuels pollute the environment and contribute to global warming.

Some resources are renewable but we have to be careful not to use them faster than they can grow back. Overfishing the ocean can endanger certain species of fish, so we have international agreements about how many of those fish can be caught. Trees are also a renewable resource, but only if people do not cut down forests faster than they can grow back.

Scientists are working to develop "green," renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power. Recently, Southern Company and Georgia Tech announced they will team up on an offshore wind power project off the coast of Savannah. Windmills! The strong westerlies that blow along Georgia's coastal waters make this an ideal site for an offshore wind demonstration project, and this ocean windmill farm may be the first in the U.S.

Brook: Oh, look! Sunny, hurry, it's the ocean!

Sky: Yee-hah, we did it, we walked all the way from the mountains to the sea! Let's get down there and look around.

Sunny: Uhn . . . whupf . . . it's hard running in sand . . . just a little farther . . . yikes! The water's cold!

Brook: No, it feels good. I can't believe we made it . . . hey, Forrest, stop dunking me!

Forrest: Sorry, you okay? Got carried away. Man, seeing all this water makes me thirsty.

Brook: Forrest, you can't drink water from the ocean.

Forrest: I know I can't drink it, but why can't I drink it?

Sunny: "Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink." It's the salt, of course, too much in seawater. If you drink it, the water in your body is needed to flush the salt out, so you end up being more dehydrated than if you drink nothing.

Forrest: Yikes. Come on, let's swim to that island.

Brook: Forrest, that's like miles away, you'd never make it. It's one of those, uh . . .

Sunny: Barrier islands. They run all up and down the Georgia coast, and this water between them is the Intracoastal Waterway. It's like a big highway for boats.

Forrest: Really big. I'm not sure I like the idea of swimming in a highway. So does anyone live on those islands? Any pirates?

Sky: Pirates, no, but there's Geechee people who've lived there a long time. They're descended from slaves but after the Civil War they kept living on barrier islands around here. They didn't have much contact with the mainland for a long time, even have their own language.

Sunny: That is so amazing. What do they call it, cultural diversity? It's really important, right? But I want to see the loggerheads. My class adopted a loggerhead sea turtle and we learned they make their nests on these islands.

Forrest: Turtles make nests? I thought only birds did.

Sunny: Turtles lay eggs, don't they? Of course they have nests, in the sand.

Forrest: Sometimes I think you make half of this stuff up, Sunny . . . turtles laying eggs, what next, flying turtles? How many eggs?

Brook: A lot, right? Like 120 at a time, and after laying them the mother swims away and never sees her kids. Kind of sad, huh?

Sky: Not really, just different. Some animals, like us, only have a few kids and take care of them till they're ready to take care of themselves. But others, like turtles, have a lot of children and let them fend for themselves. Two different ways to accomplish the same thing.

Forrest: What's that?

Sky: Survival of the species, of course.

Forrest: Well, if I'm gonna survive then pretty soon I'm going to need—

Sunny and Brook: Wait, don't tell us. Lunch!

Forrest: I can't believe we made this awesome journey! Thanks, everyone, for coming along.

Sky: Yeah, camping was cool and we learned a lot.

Brook: Can you believe we saw all those types of terrain and so many different animals and plants from all over Georgia?

Sunny: I know! This has been the best adventure ever— to think we walked all the way from THE MOUNTAINS TO THE SEA.

It's sad tonight around the campfire because our campers know it's time to head home. But they're excited about all they've seen and can't wait to get to the library and the Internet to learn more. Thanks for coming, and check the next page for more ways to learn about the environment!