A trip to Jekyll Island offers a unique experience to see conservation and natural education efforts in action.
Supporting that work year-round is a team of ever-changing AmeriCorps members, who do a variety of jobs on the island that help maintain the well-known Jekyll experience that visitors receive.
This year, Jekyll Island received the third highest allocation of funding for AmeriCorps programming in Georgia. The Georgia Sea Turtle Center partners with the Jekyll Island Conservation department to keep 31 members on the island annually.
The members work in conservation, husbandry, education, rehabilitation and research.
“It fits the whole component for the mission of the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, which is rehabilitation, research and education,” said Jamie Clayton, AmeriCorps program manager on Jekyll. “It encompasses all of it.”
The AmeriCorps program will celebrate its 25th anniversary this year, and Jekyll Island has participated in the program for 10 years.
AmeriCorps members can apply for six-month or full-year terms. A new cohort will arrive on Jekyll in September.
AmeriCorps members Stacia Dwelle and Tamara Cooke will both soon wrap up their service on Jekyll. Both said their time on Jekyll has provided a vast array of educational and professional development opportunities that will help guide them as they continue down their career paths.
“This has definitely probably been the most incredible experience I’ve had in my life so far,” Cooke said. “The island itself is absolutely beautiful, and the people here are very kind and they’re very welcoming. And then you have so many opportunities to learn things here.”
Dwelle has served as an educator for the AmeriCorps program for a year. She spent her first six months as an outreach educator and spoke at public events at the sea turtle center, as well as off-site at Boys & Girls Club centers in Brunswick, at the St. Simons library and at elementary schools.
During her second term, she’s helped lead the center’s Turtle Walk programs, through which participants have the opportunity to learn about sea turtle nesting on Jekyll and to potentially see nesting activities up close.
“We have a permit from the Department of Natural Resources to host the program,” Dwelle said. “We take guests out onto the beach at night, and we’re in contact with the research team, hoping to encounter a nesting female loggerhead sea turtle or the hatchlings emerging from the nests.”
Cooke, who serves in husbandry, works in the rehabilitation pavilion at the sea turtle center. As an AmeriCorps member, she’s learned life support maintenance and has taken care of a variety of species of animals, including turtles, snakes, shorebirds, seabirds and more.
“It’s a really cool program,” said Cooke, who has lived on Jekyll two years. “And then on top of that you also have the opportunity to step into the treatment room and assist in surgery.”
She’s learned how to do treatments, bandage changes, patient assessments and more.
“You get a lot of different opportunities in the husbandry department,” Cooke said.
Dwelle, who studied marine biology in college, joined the AmeriCorps program to receive experience in marine conservation education. Cooke graduated from college unsure what area of biology she wanted to work in.
“This was a way for me to kind of test the waters and see if this was the route that I would want to go, or if research would be more to my liking,” Cooke said.
The AmeriCorps program managers on Jekyll encourage members to experience the different departments, Dwelle said, which helps members explore potential career options.
Dwelle plans to leave Jekyll and and travel to North Africa for a three-month cultural emersion program. Cooke will move to California to work as an avian keeper.
“I’ve learned so much this past year, from educating guests of all different ages about conservation,” Dwelle said.