The Call of the Tides
March 2022 Issue
By Kelly Hunter
Photography by Mike Force Photography
Growing up in Snellville, Georgia, Kaylan Collins loved the ocean.You read that right. A girl from a town hundreds of miles from the coast was fascinated by the sea.
Her dad Mike is a big reason for that. He grew up in Florida and loves to fish and get out on the ocean, so the family (including mom Sue Ellen and twin brother Kyler) spent most vacations fishing in Florida. Kaylan quickly learned she is prone to seasickness, but she wasn’t going to let that stop her!
When they weren’t on the water, the Collins family was still out in nature. “A big part of my childhood growing up involved camping at numerous state parks in the family camper,” Kaylan said. “We would go to Vogel State Park, Cloudland Canyon, Jekyll, Black Top Mountain, Duckett Mill, [all in Georgia] and Topsail Hill [Florida]… the list goes on! These experiences outdoors developed my love for being outside and my desire to find work in a related field as my career. Going fishing with my dad in the Gulf, on Lake Lanier, or at a park’s pond was what solidified my passion for working around the water and with its resources.”
Kaylan graduated from the University of Georgia in 2017 with a Bachelor of Science in Forest Resources. Her major was in fisheries and wildlife sciences, with an emphasis in aquatic sciences. With Athens being so landlocked, most projects were freshwater, but a Maymester course on Sapelo Island changed the course of Kaylan’s life. “I just loved it,” she said. “It was so much fun, and I was like, this is what I want to do. This is where I want to work. This is what I want to study, and I just found my way here.”
Right out of college she secured a position with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Coastal Resources Division (CRD). Her first assignment was with the red drum and Shark Longline Survey, which put her working out of boats, exactly where she loves to be. She did the important work of monitoring the numbers and types of red drum and shark in Coastal Georgia waters directly. In 2018, she transitioned to an indirect survey position, spending a year interviewing the public about their catches.
She always knew she wanted to work with marine animals, and her current position as Marine Technician 1 with the Healthy Beaches program fits perfectly with her dreams and interests. The woman with a propensity for seasickness and a love for the ocean went from buckets on the boats to boots on the beaches. Kaylan said, “That’s why I love this job so much, because I’m outside most of the time!”
On Mondays, she dons her waders and heads out to the beaches. Kaylan and her two coworkers collect samples from different spots along the Georgia Coast and bring them back to the lab to be tested for bacteria levels. Tuesdays are for testing shellfish water quality sites. Wednesdays are the one day she’s inside entering data. Thursdays and Fridays she gets to be outside doing maintenance and getting ready for the next week. She’ll also pitch in on other projects where needed. “I just like to get involved in everything,” said Kaylan, with a smile.
DNR doesn’t close beaches or harvesting areas, but an elevated bacterial level will trigger an advisory. They won’t stop you from getting in the water or picking oysters, but they will change the signs to make the public aware of the dangers. When I asked if there was anything we as beachgoers can do to help keep bacteria levels down, Kaylan replied: “Just pick up after yourself and your dogs.” Trash and animal waste are big contributors to elevated bacterial levels.
Her boyfriend has a boat, so the two of them spend a lot of time fishing. I asked her what her favorite thing is to catch and eat. “I love triple tail,” she said. “I’m not good at catching them, but when I do, they’re so good.” She likes to grill it on the half shell. “It’s the freshest thing you can eat!”
Now her father can visit her on the coast. “He kind of lives vicariously though me,” she said, “because he’s an IT guy, so he works in an office all day. He just says, ‘I have pictures of you on the boat on my office wall.’” They still go fishing together as much as possible. She caught a 38” red drum when she was out recently with her mom and dad, but her record catch is a 42” Red she caught while fishing off the St. Simons Island Pier. Her dad is jealous that she’s caught a bigger fish than he has. “I think I have more fishing poles than my dad now,” Kaylan laughed.
Up Close By the Numbers:
Marine Technicians do important work, monitoring the health of our waters:
The number of Tier 1 beach sites tested each week during the summer and every two weeks the rest of the year.
The number of shellfish water quality sites tested every month
The number of permitted shellfish harvest areas in Georgia’s coastal waters
The number of public shellfish harvest areas maintained by CRD
105 The number of miles of beautiful, sandy beaches in Georgia
For more information about the work Kaylan and other techs do, or to check for current advisories, visit gahealthybeaches.org.