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)