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Hannah Jones

Residents become scientists for the day with The Great Georgia Pollinator Count

A bumble bee, a pollinator native to Georgia. (Photo by Hannah E. Jones.)

By Hannah E. Jones

Pollinators play a vital role in our ecosystems, with over 80 percent of the world’s flowering plants requiring a pollinator to reproduce. But due to agricultural chemicals, climate change and intensive farming practices, their populations are dwindling.

This upcoming weekend, people from all around the state are getting up close and personal with their local insect community for The Great Georgia Pollinator Count.

Butterflies — like this red admiral — are one of the top pollinators in the state. (Photo by Ian Kelsall, Unsplash.)

The citizen science project — created by the University of Georgia (UGA) and Becky Griffin, UGA community and school garden coordinator and pollinator health associate — was kickstarted in 2019 to help boost the local pollinator population while also educating folks on how to grow healthier gardens.

“As the School and Community Garden Coordinator, I was traveling the state and seeing these lovely gardens where the gardeners knew a lot, but there was something missing,” Griffin said. “They oftentimes didn’t understand the role of insects in the ecosystem, and the part missing was pollinators and beneficial insects. I came up with the idea for the census as a way to gather important data for researchers, as well as to educate our gardeners on the importance of not only pollinators but other beneficial insects.”

Here’s how it works: On Friday, Aug. 19 and Saturday, Aug. 20, participants will choose a plant with insect activity — in their home garden, neighborhood or local park — and count the number of insect visits within 15-minute intervals. The pollinators being tracked are carpenter bees, bumble bees, honey bees, small bees, flies, wasps, butterflies and others. Once the weekend is over, participants can log their findings into the database.

Results from last year’s census. (Courtesy of The Great Georgia Pollinator Count.)

Anyone is welcome to join the pollinator counts and, once complete, the data is shared with local researchers.

In addition to the insect count, the team offers year-round workshops to help protect pollinators and educate folks about their roles in the larger ecosystem and how to best protect these important tiny creatures. 

Thanks to their efforts, 436 new sustainable pollinator gardens were created by Georgia residents and organizations after the 2021 census — with 1,800 new pollinator habitats since 2019.

The project is also expanding to South Carolina this year, with hopes to eventually serve the whole southeast. 

“It’s really a testament to people learning how important these pollinators are and how important they are for pollinator conservation,” Griffin said. “Our tagline is ‘protecting pollinators one count at a time,’ because every yard that’s more pollinator-friendly or somebody submits a count, it all helps pollinators, and empowers people to take control of the situation.”

For those who plan to participate this weekend, Griffin recommends starting the count in the morning before it gets too hot. There’s a chance of rain throughout the state and if that happens, the count will take place on Sunday, Aug. 21 and Monday, Aug. 22. 

While you have your scientist cap on, Griffin added, don’t forget to enjoy the time in nature.

“The number one comment I get after every census is, ‘Becky, I had no idea about the diversity and number of insects in my own garden,’” she said. “So take that 15 minutes to relax, enjoy watching those insects and doing the count.”

Click here for more information and resources on The Great Georgia Pollinator Count.

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Hannah E. Jones

Hannah Jones is an Atlanta native and Georgia State University graduate, with a major in journalism and minor in public policy. She began studying journalism in high school and has since served as a reporter and editor for two newspapers. Hannah managed the Arts and Living section of The Signal, Georgia State’s independent award-winning newspaper. She has a passion for environmental issues, urban life and telling a good story. Hannah can be reached at hannah@saportareport.com.

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