Georgia Sea Grant Legal Program participants

The University of Georgia Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant has long sought to remedy the health of the Georgia coast through research and outreach. When these communities identified a need to better understand coastal law and policy issues, Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant worked to fill this void with the help of School of Law students.  

According to Mark Risse, director of Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, the Georgia Sea Grant Legal Program was created in 2015. Leading the program is Shana Jones, a Carl Vinson Institute of Government public service faculty member with a background in coastal law. Since the launch of the program, Jones has brought in law students to address the need for legal and policy knowledge on environmental issues that are of interest to coastal Georgia stakeholders.

The Georgia Sea Grant Legal Program allows students at the School of Law to gain hands-on experience working alongside local experts and decision makers as they research coastal resource management topics.  

“It’s exciting to see [the fellows] take their legal knowledge and their passion and connect it to real-world challenges,” Jones said. “I also love to see their appreciation for Georgia’s amazing coastal resources, natural resource managers and history deepen through their engagement.”

Participating students are able to pursue a wide variety of environmental issues that interest them. In 2019, then-law student Maria Mercedes Carruthers Ferrero (J.D.’20) focused her research on the Coastal Zone Management Act and various federal agencies and their impact on sustainable environmental coastal protection practices. The goal of her research was to help guide joint efforts at the federal, state and local levels to address specific coastal public issues such as coastal erosion and resiliency planning.

Her work led to her selection as a John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellow, through which she furthered her work in Washington, D.C. Currently, Ferrero serves as a program analyst for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Hazard Mitigation Assistance Division.

“The Sea Grant Legal Fellowship Program and the Knauss Fellowship Program provided me with the skills and resources needed for my current position,” Ferrero said. “These fellowships allowed me to immerse myself in coastal and marine policy work and learn how policy directly impacts communities.”

UGA School of Law 2021 alumnus Christopher J. Bertrand focused his time in the Georgia Sea Grant Legal Program on oyster aquaculture law and, in particular, a recently enacted statute. His role involved comparing the new law to the old law as well as to similar laws in surrounding states and sharing his findings during a national, public webinar on oyster aquaculture law.

Bertrand currently serves as the riverkeeper and executive director of the Satilla Riverkeeper organization. “I run the organization, investigate pollution, oversee litigation, and advocate for stronger environmental laws,” Bertrand said. “The skills I began to develop at Sea Grant help me to research and explain complex environmental statutes and regulations.”

Now, nearly 20 students later and with the Georgia Sea Grant Legal Program heading into its eighth year, Risse and Jones have high hopes for the program’s future. Risse said he would like to expand the program to support more than two-three UGA law students at a time and bring in students from other universities in Georgia.

Recent funding from the National Sea Grant Law Center will also allow for a post-graduate legal fellow position to support the inaugural Sea Grant Blue Carbon Symposium to be held in May. The law school’s Assistant Professor Adam D. Orford is collaborating with the Vinson Institute’s Research Professional Katherine A. “Katie” Hill (J.D.’08) to explore how emerging standards for coastal and marine carbon sequestration projects can promote resource conservation and benefit local communities.

Risse said the Georgia Sea Grant Legal Program also aims to increase student involvement in policy assistance as a way to bridge the gap between a passion for repairing the coast and tangible action to do so. He added that maintaining a positive and beneficial experience for the program’s students and their partner organizations is essential.

“From developing legal presentations and gaining experience in presenting their findings to diverse audiences nationwide, to working with small community groups to provide technical guidance that has impacts, the public service [Georgia Sea Grant Legal Fellows] provide makes a difference to them and the stakeholders they are serving,” Risse said.

The Georgia Sea Grant Legal Program is a partnership between Georgia Sea Grant and the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia. It is part of the National Sea Grant Legal Network led by the National Sea Grant Law Center, where Jones serves on the advisory board.

Since 2015, there have been 19 Georgia Sea Grant Legal Program Fellows. They include:

  • Christopher J. Bertrand (J.D.’21) — Oyster aquaculture
  • Sydney Brogden (J.D.’22) — Salt marsh restoration
  • Varad R. Dabke (J.D.’22) — Aquaculture
  • Maria Mercedes Carruthers Ferrero (J.D.’20) — Coastal Zone Management Act
  • Danielle L. Goshen (J.D.’19) — Sea level rise and oyster regulations
  • J.P. Hackney (J.D.’16) — FEMA flood guidelines
  • Ashley L. Henson (J.D.’20) — Oyster aquaculture
  • Robert L. “Rob” Hillyer (J.D.’22) — Salt marsh restoration/resilience and infrastructure
  • J. Amble Johnson (J.D.’16) — Sea level rise
  • Hunter L. Jones (J.D.’15) — Community rating system for flooding
  • Scott A. Luis (current third-year student) — Military adjacent communities and resilience
  • Mandi R. Moroz (J.D.’17) — Sea level rise and local government  
  • C. Joshua “Josh” Rewis (J.D.’21) — Military installations and coastal communities
  • Anna C. Scartz (current third-year student) — Blue carbon
  • Julia M. Shelburne (J.D.’19) — Shore/coastal marsh protection laws
  • Amelia C. Stevens (J.D.’20) — Military readiness and coastal resilience
  • Benjamin D. “Ben” Wilde (J.D.’19) — Flood mitigation
  • Paul A. Wildes (J.D.’17) — Sea level rise and local government
  • Emily C. Wyche (J.D.’17) — Georgia coastal management plan policies


Pictured above: Georgia Sea Grant Legal Program Director Shana Jones (center) with 2022 graduates Varad Dabke (left) and Rob Hillyer, who served as Georgia Sea Grant Legal Fellows during law school.

Story written by Jordan Ross