Gulf Sea Grant programs leverage more than $10 million in resources to address regional needs
The Gulf of Mexico has experienced severely damaging technological (oil spills) and natural (hurricanes) disasters within the last ten years. These stressors have reinforced the importance of collaboration among federal agencies, state agencies, universities, non-government organizations and others to address a wide range of regional concerns facing coastal communities and the environment.
MASGC responded to current and emerging regional needs and developed a unified approach to address these needs. MASGC partnered with the three other Gulf Sea Grant programs and multiple National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) groups, the NOAA Gulf of Mexico Regional Collaboration Team, the Environmental Protection Agency Gulf of Mexico Program and other federal agencies. The Sea Grant programs also served in leadership positions in several regional collaboration efforts, including the Gulf of Mexico Alliance (the coastal regional governance structure), Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System, National Academy of Science Gulf Program and others. Led by MASGC, the Gulf Sea Grant programs and the NOAA’s Coastal Storms Program partnered to improve coastal community resilience, ensure seafood sustainability and improve the health of ecosystems Gulf-wide. In addition, MASGC in partnership with the Gulf Sea Grant programs led the development of the Gulf of Mexico Research Plan (GMRP) and are addressing regional research priorities identified in it. The four Sea Grant programs also implemented a community-based restoration partnership with NOAA.
Between 2007 and 2013, the Gulf of Mexico Sea Grant programs expanded from managing one regional research competition solely funded by the Sea Grant programs to managing multiple regional research, restoration and resilience competitions and managing several regional outreach efforts. In many cases MASGC led the development and implementation of the regional activities during this timeframe. The regional activities (and funding levels) that the four Gulf of Mexico Sea Grant programs managed and/or implemented during this time period cover wide range of regionally-relevant topics, such as restoration ($1.7 million), coastal storms ($3.4 million), climate and sea-level rise ($2.1 million), ecosystem service valuation ($1.7 million), marine mammal interactions ($340,000), regional research planning activities ($790,000) and oil spill related and other activities ($305,000). The programs represent more than $10 million in research and outreach funds for the region. Because of the success of Sea Grant’s regional activities, in 2014 MASGC began two new regional activities. This includes coordinating an oil spill outreach program with the three Gulf Sea Grant programs and coordinating NOAA’s sentinel site program in the Gulf of Mexico and when combined total more than $1.5 million additional funds. Through these regional activities the network of Gulf of Mexico Sea Grant extension agents has successfully brought regional tools and services, such as the Sea Grant-developed Coastal Community Resilience Index, peer-listening training and seafood safety and sustainability training to more than 72 communities across the region.
The four Gulf of Mexico Sea Grant college programs successfully built a regional research and outreach portfolio totaling more than $10 million between 2007 and 2013 by building strong coalitions of partners to address regional concerns and due to this success new regional activities have begun in 2014. (2014)
Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant serves coastal communities during oil-spill crisis
The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill was caused by an explosion of a deepwater drilling platform, which capsized and sank on April 22, 2010. In addition to loss of life and injuries to rig workers, the incident created an environmental and economic catastrophe as approximately 200 million gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf. Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant’s ability to step in as a “boots-on-the-ground,” honest broker of information was valuable to coastal communities and federal response agencies.
MASGC worked closely with the other Gulf of Mexico Sea Grant College Programs, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), other federal agencies, state agencies, non-governmental organizations, universities and land grant cooperative extension services to identify and address oil-spill-related needs of Gulf Coast residents. Sea Grant led or provided substantial support for 48 oil-spill-related trainings, workshops and town hall meetings with more than 2,683 participants. The Gulf of Mexico Sea Grant College Programs developed a regional website with links to oil-spill-related resources. Sea Grant also used its staff capabilities to ensure that the underserved Vietnamese-American community had access to information related to the claims process, financial management and BP’s Vessels of Opportunity Program.
A peer-listening program trained residents to help friends and family with mental-health challenges related to the oil spill. MASGC directly or indirectly trained more than 7,000 peer listeners from non-governmental organizations, faith-based groups, city governments and communities. Sea Grant and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System developed a training program with BP for homeowners to teach them how to protect people, pets and property when cleaning up oil on their property. Sea Grant and Cooperative Extension also organized a seafood working group to provide guidance and coordination regarding seafood safety, fisheries closures and approaches to re-opening closed fisheries. They also formed a team consisting of four task forces to address oil-spill issues: damage assessment, family stress and financial management, food safety and consumer confidence, and oil-spill communications.
The MASGC legal program and extension specialists assisted those impacted by the spill by providing legal explanations, translation services, assistance regarding the damage claim process and other services.
MASGC conducted public forums using credible experts from 12 federal, state and local programs, and more than 500 people attended.
MASGC worked with NOAA’s external affairs office to foster communication between constituents and NOAA. Sea Grant served as the local-knowledge source to help federal partners understand the political landscape within affected communities. Sea Grant provided information through community meetings and leadership visits about commercial fishing industry issues, including seafood safety and fisheries closures; recreational fishing and charter boat issues; oil spills and hurricanes; volunteer coordination; response capacity of university programs; and services available through community outreach organizations.
Gulf Sea Grant programs in partnership with NOAA and regional partners developed an online database that allowed people to upload or query oil-spill research and monitoring activities. The database included more than 200 activities, and more than 5,700 unique visitors accessed the database. The four Gulf Sea Grant programs are coordinated an update to the Gulf of Mexico Regional Research Plan. MASGC served as the science advisor to the Alabama Seafood Marketing Commission.
MASGC continues to help five years after the spill by providing expertise on oil spill related activities such as the National Academy of Science Gulf Program and through leading and implementing an oil spill science outreach program for the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative with the other three Gulf Sea Grant programs.
MASGC and the four Gulf Sea Grant programs were able to successfully reach all of their target audiences through customized trainings, workshops and symposia and well as deliver up-to-date oil spill information through a variety of ways including print, video, web, presentations, and other means. Many of the people directly impacted by the spill continued to seek information from Sea Grant staff over the course of the spill and afterwards because Sea Grant staff were viewed as providing credible, useful information.
Since 2010 MASGC has provided science-based information through its extension, outreach and education programs to coastal residents and businesses regarding all aspects of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, helping to mitigate the negative economic, environmental and social impacts. (2014)
More than 150,000 teachers and students increase marine science and STEM literacy through programs
People are more likely to act as good stewards of the natural environment if they understand what is of value and how it works. Training for in-service teachers and experiential student learning experiences are efficient ways to disseminate new and relevant research results to enhance environmental stewardship and increase STEM literacy.
The Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium’s education program, which is comprised of Dauphin Island Sea Lab’s Discovery Hall Programs, Mobile County Public Schools’ Environmental Studies Center and The University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast Research Lab’s Marine Education Center, worked with scientists and other content experts to develop and implement 84 professional development programs related to the four Sea Grant focus areas, including but not limited to climate change, oil spills, fisheries, restoration and wetland ecology. On-site field based programs at each facility and off-site experiential programs enabled K-12 students and their teachers to develop a personal understanding of estuaries, rivers, watersheds, salt marshes, beaches and more.
Pre- and post-test assessments indicated significant improvement in student content knowledge after student programs. Between 2010 and 2013, professional development workshops engaged 1,533 teachers in active learning experiences to learn specific content and how to align it to age-appropriate learning standards for their students. Also during this time, the MASGC education program reached 94,760 K-12 students and teachers through on-site programs and 70,692 K-12 students through off-site experiential programs.
The Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium’s education program addresses all four Sea Grant focus areas, and between 2010 and 2013 the education program reached more than 1,500 teachers who took part in professional development programs and significantly improved their content knowledge and almost 95,000 K-12 students who participated in on-site field-based programs and more than 70,000 K-12 students who participated in off-site experiential programs. (2014)