July 22, 2008

Idea is to Use Resources Wisely

By Anna Ferguson, The Brunswick News, Ga.

Jul. 22--Sustainable has become a buzz word of late. With fuel prices soaring and the public looking to conserve resources, the idea of being sustainable has caught fire.

But for David Kyler, sustainable is nothing new. It's an ideal he has been applying to coastal Georgia for more than a decade.

As founder and director of the Center for a Sustainable Coast, headquartered on St. Simons Island, Kyler seeks to educate the public and governing bodies about controlled growth.

The center offers a unique mission, as it is the only nonprofit environmental organization focused solely on coastal Georgia. Funded through private foundations and public donations, the advocacy group works with a variety of organizations to enhance the responsible use, protection, monitoring and conservation of coastal Georgia's most prized elements: It's natural, historic, and economic resources.

"We were established with the purpose of teaching people how to be sustainable in their community," Kyler said. "Sustainable is a widely used term, but most people use it incorrectly. It means to live within the natural capacity of the ecosystem and not deplete our resources. If we get smarter, we can grow smarter."

Being sustainable, Kyler said, does not equate to opposition to growth. In fact, Kyler encourages growth, so long as it is responsible, meaning it balances managed growth and economic development with the best interests of the natural world.

Georgia has long been a state coveted for its wilderness regions, be it the forests to the north or the beaches to the south. When the state hit a massive growth spurt about 15 years ago, these regions were being largely utilized for growth and were quickly becoming overdeveloped.

It was then, in 1997, that Kyler founded the center, in an effort to prevent the destruction of coastal Georgia's natural world. Today, he works with area governing bodies to implement policies and procedures, and monitors builders through environmental regulations. Often, that means dissuading builders from overtaking marsh and wet lands, and steering construction away from river and ocean fronts. These are areas that are the most desirable, offering stellar views of Georgia's beauty. But, Kyler said, they are typically delicate and tricky spots to build on, becoming flooded and in the path of natural disasters.

"People want that pretty view from their living room. It's not as pretty of a view when there is a tree through your window, Kyler said.

The coast's most valuable resource is its bountiful supply of nature.

From kayakers looking to coast through marsh and ocean waterways, to beachgoers hoping to soak up some rays and bird watchers looking to spot a few feathered friends, the area offers an endless array of natural elements. But, as the area grows and commercializes, those areas could easily get lost in the shuffle. Kyler is out to make sure that doesn't happen.

To implement his ideas for a well-organized, eco-friendly community, Kyler often combines resources with other area conservation groups, such as the state's Department of Natural Resources and The Altamaha Riverkeeper. Together, these groups act as watchdogs for the coast, implementing policies and educating the public on environmental issues.

It seems that his work has paid off. In recent years, Kyler has noticed a change in attitudes from the public. Individuals who once knew nothing about the area's delicate ecosystem, now understand how vital it is to maintain a balance of naturalism and growth.

"There seems to be an increasing awareness of environmental issues," said Kyler. "The rising costs of fuel has made it a much more popular issue for a lot of people."

But, he added, the center still has a long way to go before the topic is a daily point of discussion for coastal citizens.

Currently, the center has three primary goals it is working toward: improving coastal development and responsible growth efforts educating the public about climate change and ways to decrease its expansion and working with governing organizations to produce the best policies possible for the environment.

"We are in the process of increasing awareness from the public," he said. "Attitudes have changes and more people do care about the natural world. Especially in our area, we must connect the environment to economic growth. We need to sustain both."


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