The Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, a unit of the University of Georgia (UGA), is located on Skidaway Island, sixteen miles southeast of Savannah. As of 2017, the 700-acre campus houses fourteen full-time faculty and emeritus faculty members, as well as nearly seventy technicians, students, and support personnel who work indoors in laboratories or outside in marine environments adjoining the campus and around the world. Funding from the National Science Foundation, the Office of Naval Research, and the Department of Energy, as well as its pristine and accessible location, has enabled the institute to grow into an internationally recognized center of research, education, and service in marine science.
In 1966 the Georgia Science and Technology Commission proposed the creation of an oceanographic research center “of major proportions” on Skidaway Island for “its close proximity to an important metropolitan center, its sheltered location on natural deep water channels, its convenient access to the open sea, its strong aesthetic appeal, and its virtually virgin state.” The newly formed Ocean Sciences Center of the Atlantic, created by the Georgia General Assembly in 1967, was responsible for the creation of the facility on land donated by the Robert C. Roebling family and the Union Camp Corporation. The Skidaway Institute of Oceanography opened in 1968, when the Ocean Sciences Center appointed its first director, hired staff, and converted the Roebling’s plantation buildings into offices and laboratories. In 1971 the Ocean Sciences Center was dissolved, and the institute was transferred to the University System to serve as a base of operations and central facility for marine interests. In 2013 the Institute merged with UGA. Institute faculty members are part of UGA’s Department of Marine Sciences.
Skidaway is a multidisciplinary institute, working in collaboration with oceanographers from all over the world to decipher the secrets of the global ocean. Research interests include zooplankton ecology, trace-metal geochemistry, carbon cycling, and ocean currents. Scientists have access to a fleet of sea vessels for research, none more impressive than the ninety-two-foot R/V Savannah, which is ideal for oceanographic work in estuarine and continental-shelf waters throughout the southeastern Atlantic and Gulf coasts.
Skidaway Institute does not itself grant degrees, but it offers research opportunities to both undergraduate and graduate students from UGA and other institutions. Visitors to the Skidaway campus stay in ten small apartments and cottages and have access to the largest marine sciences library collection in Georgia.
Perhaps Skidaway Institute’s most important work is educating the citizens of Georgia on the preservation of the marine ecosystem. Scientists and staff from the institute work with the University of Georgia Marine Education Center and Aquarium, also located on Skidaway Island, to conduct hands-on programs in trawling and dredging, as well field trips to other islands. The Marine Education Center and Aquarium accommodates around 8,500 scheduled visitors per year, as well as 14,000 walk-ins to the aquarium, now an independent affiliate of the Georgia Museum of Natural History. The marine center’s distance education reaches schools (K-12, as well as college students) in Georgia and twelve other states. It is hoped that these efforts will create citizens who are inclined to appreciate and sustain their coastal natural environments, while capitalizing on coastal economic opportunities.
Skidaway Institute has solidified its future as an internationally recognized research institution, and its work will be vital in managing Georgia’s future population, projected to become fourth in the nation over the next few decades. Planners must make careful decisions informed by a clear understanding of Georgia’s rivers, estuaries, and nearshore regions in order to preserve the quality and quantity of water sources. New understanding of the mechanisms of life in the oceans influences efforts to manage and harvest the ocean’s living resources. Researchers from the institute will also continue to develop answers for critical societal problems, including commercial, military, and recreational maritime operations, and the improvement of security along U.S. coastal borders.