Sparking Conservation – How Six Local Women Are Making a Difference
CELEBRATE HILTON HEAD MAGAZINE
The topic of conservation is one not often brought up at happy hours or dinner parties. In its defense, however, conservation does not make for bad conversation. It’s just misunderstood. Unlike unsolicited relationship advice or seemingly endless political rants, conservation is something we should bring up with others. The key is knowing how to do so.
Conservation aims to prevent the wasteful use of a resource. It protects, restores, maintains, preserves, and enhances ecosystems, wildlife, and the biodiversity of the planet. It’s important to the world as a whole as well as our region of the Lowcountry.
As with many subjects, conservation is best learned from the experts. The six women highlighted here are talented, passionate, and incredibly accomplished. They spend their days protecting animals, educating young people, advocating for sustainability, organizing volunteer programs, and voicing the concerns of our community. They’re not just starting the conversation. They’re enriching it, fueling it, and inviting us all to join in. Now that’s a talk worth having.
Laurie Savidge, Director of Operations, Marriott’s Grande Ocean Resort
Vacation and conservation might seem like two completely different states of mind, but for Laurie Savidge, they’re one and the same. Since stepping into her unique role as director of operations for Marriott’s Grande Ocean Resort three years ago, she has made it evident that a relaxing, fun-filled vacation can (and should) include a bit of education on the surrounding area.
In a nutshell, Savidge ensures the 19-acre beachfront resort is conducive to the local environment. A huge part of her job involves engaging and interacting with resort guests of all ages regarding the beaches, nature, and wildlife that make Hilton Head Island such an incredible place to visit. From leading a weekly beach sweep to hosting local naturalists who can inform guests on topics like sea turtle nesting season dos and don’ts, local birds of prey, and more, it’s clear that Savidge’s passion lies in protecting and respecting the local environment.
Promoting sustainability is also a key part of her role at the resort, which has led to the implementation of food donation programs and even the “Sharing Shack,” where guests can leave toys, chairs, and other beach items for incoming vacationers. We’re all in this together, after all, and whether you consider Hilton Head Island your home or your vacation happy place, Savidge encourages you to learn, ask questions, and make thoughtful decisions with conservation in mind.
Amber Kuehn, Manager of Sea Turtle Patrol
Though she is known to many as an expert turtle patroller, knowledgeable boat captain, and avid volunteer, Amber Kuehn can more simply be described as a conservation hero. After a childhood spent learning the ins and outs of the May River, Kuehn’s education took her to South Florida, Hawaii, and beyond before she decided to land right back here in the Lowcountry.
Kuehn spends much of her time managing the Sea Turtle Patrol program, a nonprofit she brought up to federal status back in 2018. Since joining the program, she has helped protect the livelihood of local sea turtle nests and hatchlings in more ways than one could imagine. When she’s not patrolling the beach with her team, you might find her advocating for the turtles in a more political setting. A recent win was in 2021 when the revised lighting protocol for sea turtles was approved by the town council thanks to her efforts.
To take a page from Kuehn’s book, it’s important to educate yourself on an ongoing basis. Locals and visitors alike can learn and make a difference by attending a weekly Turtle Talk (follow @hhiseaturtle for more info), filling in holes on the beach, and respecting the wildlife that make their home on the island.
The Women of the Outside Foundation:(from left to right) Jean Fruh, Susan Dee, Madeline Cox, Abby Wirth, Caitlin Lee and Jocelyn Kern
Jean Fruh, Executive Director of The Outside Foundation
Learning about the salt marsh ecosystem requires more than just knowing the facts. Jean Fruh, educator and executive director of The Outside Foundation, certainly agrees. Since moving to Hilton Head Island almost 20 years ago, she has shared her love of nature with the community, connecting people with the outdoors and, more specifically, the Lowcountry’s natural beauty, which is loved by locals and visitors alike.
In her nine years as executive director of The Outside Foundation, Fruh has educated the community, led countless volunteer projects, and worked to combat erosion with the foundation’s incredible Oyster Recycling and Reef Rebuilding Initiative. Her efforts to create hands-on, nature-related experiences have also produced the Kids in Kayaks program, which strives to bring all Beaufort County seventh graders out for a full day of learning about salt marsh inhabitants, identifying wildlife species in the area, and of course, exploring the marsh via kayak.
These programs are both tangible and fulfilling for every participant, but Fruh notes just how memorable an experience with The Outside Foundation is for the younger generation. “It’s remarkable for the kids,” she said. “When they get out there and do the kayak program, they can really understand the impact of protecting or not protecting the salt marsh. They are the future of Hilton Head.”
Follow @outsidefoundation to learn more and get involved.
Robin Storey, Treasurer at Hilton Head Island Land Trust
Protecting the beauty of this wonderful island is no small task, but Robin Storey has been working vigilantly to preserve, protect, conserve, and maintain local undeveloped land plus land with historical significance for over eight years. With help from the rest of the Hilton Head Island Land Trust volunteer board of directors and members, her efforts have succeeded to protect and maintain five important pieces of land, including wetlands habitats, an earthen Civil War fort, and two conservancies totaling 188 acres inside Hilton Head Plantation.
Storey strives to educate others on the importance of preserving these pieces of land because, among other reasons, protecting the land means protecting the natural habitats of wildlife species who make their home here. The Land Trust offers a glimpse into Hilton Head Island’s amazing world of wildlife through their Raptor Cam, which allows viewers an up-close look at a local nest. Past inhabitants include Great Horned Owls, Bald Eagles, and now a pair of Ospreys.
Storey’s hobbies and creative outlets even have roots in nature. She’s an avid wildlife photographer, and she’ll tell you that capturing images of her favorite local wild things only strengthens her passion and drive for protecting their habitats. If you’re feeling inspired to make a difference as well, Storey recommends adopting an observant, conservation-focused mindset as well as visiting hhilandtrust.org to see volunteer opportunities and join the Land Trust.
Jessie White, South Coast Office Director at Coastal Conservation League
When it comes to conservation, sometimes using your voice is the most important thing you can do. Jessie White uses hers to protect the coastal resources of South Carolina, educate others on issues that affect their community, and help residents vocalize their thoughts on environmental issues that hit close to home.
After seven years at the South Carolina Environmental Law Project, White joined the Coastal Conservation League in Beaufort. As the South Coast office manager, she covers Colleton, Beaufort, Jasper, and Hampton Counties. Though her position typically involves tasks like investigating and sharing her knowledge on new and ongoing issues, connecting people with the appropriate resources, acting on their behalf, and monitoring public notices and meeting agendas, it’s virtually impossible to predict what might unfold on any given day.
It is, in short, a position that requires an incredible amount of drive, avidity, and dedication. Whether the issue at hand pertains to land development, air and water pollution, or energy use, White is determined to have a voice at the table (whether it’s hers or that of a local community) when decisions are being made. Her advice? Get involved!
“It’s important to follow the efforts in your area,” White said. “Learn, volunteer, donate to nonprofits you care about, and write to your local officials to voice your thoughts and concerns.” Start the conversation at coastalconservationleague.org.
Jody Hayward, Executive Director at Port Royal Sound Foundation
Education, research, and conservation are the mainstays of the Port Royal Sound Foundation, and Jody Hayward does an exceptional job at ensuring they remain as such. During her time as the foundation’s executive director, she has built a truly impressive team that works hard to educate and inspire others through their events, children’s programs, and the foundation’s very own Maritime Center located in Okatie, right on the sound.
Hayward’s passion for community leadership and focus on positive impact began about 20 years ago. She and her family moved from Atlanta to Beaufort, where she helped create and open the first charter school in Beaufort County. The resulting feelings of bringing joy to families, making a change, and enriching a community eventually led to her current role with the Port Royal Sound Foundation.
According to Hayward, the Maritime Center is where it all happens. If you haven’t been, it’s absolutely worth a visit. The free museum offers a detailed look at the Port Royal Sound through history, culture, art, wildlife, and more, so there’s a little something for everyone! Hayward encourages folks from all walks of life to visit the Maritime Center. “It makes people aware of how important the sound is to the beach, our wildlife, the beautiful landscapes, fishing, and everything else locals and tourists love about the area,” she said.
Follow @portroyalsoundfoundation for updates on events and volunteer opportunities.