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OWENS: Hidden gem wants to be found

There’s a hidden gem off the coast of Savannah that’s helping protect and conserve our oceans.

Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary lies just a few miles off the Georgia coast. It’s a special place, but you might not know that it is even there.

In fact, if I were to take you there today, we’d have to go by boat, 16 miles east of Sapelo Island. When we arrived at the coordinates you might look around and say, “This 22-square miles of ocean looks like any other part of the ocean.”

Of course, the discovery is underwater. More than 200 fish species call this area home, and so does one of the largest, near-shore, live-bottom reefs off the southeastern United States. It’s magnificent.

It’s also a place for the loggerhead turtles to rest. And, the endangered North Atlantic right whale to give birth to calves in the winter. There’s so much going on, and Gray’s Reef wants you to know about it.

Recently, I had the opportunity to meet with Sarah Fangman, the superintendent from Gray’s Reef. She’s a spectacular leader of this national marine sanctuary, one of only 13 sanctuaries in the country. She moved to our area two years ago.

She, like so many, wants to get involved with the tourism community and to find a way to share the glorious underwater park with the world.

I am not in the business of creating tourism products. I’ve written about that here before — neither is Visit Savannah, our destination marketing organization.

But, she didn’t need my help to set up the logistics. She was already figuring that out — working with dive companies on how to get more people to dive and fish the area. She was working on getting beautiful pictures and video of Gray’s Reef to display for the people like me who will probably never go dive the area. She was thinking of creative ways to get this up and running.

She’s reaching out to me to find how she can be part of the tourism ecosystem. She recognizes that this ecosystem thrives on all parts of the community, as a whole, working together.

For example, at a restaurant, farmers grow the food, the electric company provides power, a printer prints the menus and advertisers bring in business. It takes all of that (and so much more) to make sure people are eating at the restaurant.

Our tourism ecosystem thrives on relationships. So, she and her team have been meeting with people from the tourism community to find those ways that we can all work together.

She needs people to come visit and learn about how to care for and protect our precious oceans. She needs people to come fish the invasive species that are threatening the indigenous species. She needs to spread the word of this amazing hidden gem that is just off the coast of Georgia.

One of the ways she’s doing that — sharing her ecosystem with the tourism ecosystem.

 

Michael Owens is president/CEO of the Tourism Leadership Council, the largest nonprofit trade organization that supports and represents the tourism community. Contact Owens at michael@tourismleadershipcouncil.com or by calling 912-232-1223.

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