The four Gulf of Mexico Sea Grant college programs (GoMEXSGP) submit the following proposal to develop and implement a two‐year extension and outreach (EO) program for the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI). It is understood that continuation of this program, beyond the initial two‐year period, will be based on performance. The proposal describes how a regional GoMRI/Sea Grant EO program will be implemented and evaluated using one full‐time staff for each of the four GoMEXSGP and a half‐time senior coordinator. The endresult of implementing this project will be a high return on the investment from GoMRI’s research program, by implementing a framework established to efficiently and effectively transfer research results to appropriate target audiences.
The significant 10‐year research investment by the GoMRI is providing an unprecedented volume of new information that needs to be packaged and disseminated to target audiences through planned EO programming. The majority of the current GoMRI outreach focus is on formal and informal education via GoMRI‐funded consortia or at a national level via website, database and conference support. These audiences and approaches are significant and provide important services. However, there are excellent opportunities to provide additional value to GoMRI’s research program through sustained regional EO programming with additional audiences. The key stakeholder groups for this project are those whose livelihoods depend on a healthy Gulf of Mexico or are involved in the management of Gulf of Mexico coastal, marine, and human resources. Other professionals including environmental non‐profits and university scientists are additional target audiences that will also benefit from EO programs created using GoMRI research results. Sea Grant will assist in putting GoMRI science to work in the Gulf of Mexico and bring GoMRI results and lessons learned to target audiences at risk from oil spills. Specific audiences will be targeted for customized EO programing that is grounded in the results of GoMRI research. EO program for target audiences may vary among states depending on specific needs. The initial groups of audiences targeted for this EO program are:
1. Industry leaders of local and regional businesses
a. Commercial, for‐hire and recreational fishing
b. Tourism‐dependent businesses
c. Ports and harbors
2. Elected officials
3. Natural resource managers
4. Emergency responders and managers
5. Public health personnel
6. Environmental non‐profit staff
7. University researchers (in‐reach)
8. Existing Sea Grant EO staff and GoMRI outreach personnel (in‐reach)
To maximize the greatest reach into each of the audiences the EO programming will focus interactions on professional organizations. However, programming will maintain the flexibility to respond to EO needs of subgroups and individuals within each target audience.
The GoMEXSGP are highly qualified to contribute to GoMRI’s overall outreach efforts. Sea Grant has funded research, extension, outreach and education activities throughout the Gulf of Mexico for more than 40 years. The four GoMEXSGP support around 100 extension and education professionals (around 75 FTE) working in the areas of healthy coastal ecosystems, sustainable fisheries and aquaculture, resilient communities and economies and environmental literacy and workforce development. The Sea Grant extension, outreach, communications, legal and education (EOE) specialists have strong grass‐roots connections with coastal communities around the Gulf of Mexico. The Sea Grant model couples research with EOE in methodical ways to efficiently and rapidly transfer research findings through university‐based personnel and its network of extension professionals. The Sea Grant college programs have excellent rapport with scientists throughout the country and a wide range of stakeholders who rely on research findings to make better professional and personal decisions. Likewise, the input and feedback gathered from target audiences can be used to improve the research agenda and research approach by scientists.
There are numerous advantages to coupling GoMRI science with Sea Grant’s well‐established EOE program. They include:
- Incorporating GoMRI science into refined and stable university‐based EOE programs that have existed for more than 40 years with deep roots in coastal communities and industries;
- Professionals that are well‐trained and specialize in translating research into application;
- Dedicated EO specialists distributed throughout the Gulf that will focus exclusively on GoMRI sponsored research projects and science results;
- A diverse, multidisciplinary team that is well versed on GoMRI science priorities and activities;
- Additional linkages to regional outreach efforts through Sea Grant’s active participation/leadership in groups such as the Gulf of Mexico Alliance, NOAA Gulf of Mexico Regional Team, Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System, National Estuarine Research Reserves, National Estuary Programs, environmental non‐profits, and others; and
- Improved coordination among other Gulf of Mexico research programs including the RESTORE Centers of Excellence, the RESTORE Regional Science and Monitoring Program, the National Academy of Science
Research Program and Sea Grant’s research programs.
Project Purpose and Goals
The purpose of this project is to enhance the overall GoMRI outreach program in the Gulf of Mexico and beyond by translating findings from GoMRI research into useable products and information for targeted high‐value audiences. Ultimately, the program will demonstrate the critical role of basic and applied science, such as that coming from GoMRI sponsored work, to the people who live, work and play in areas that have oil and gas production in all or part of the coastal region. The GoMRI/Sea Grant outreach program will function regionally and share results regionally and nationally.
The two primary goals of this outreach program are to:
1. Implement EO programs leading to faster adoption of GoMRI‐funded science and other relevant information.
2. Solicit target audience feedback to
a. ensure their EO programing needs are met and
b. inform GoMRI administration
The above goals of the GoMRI/Sea Grant outreach program align with GoMRI’s ultimate goal “to improve society’s ability to understand, respond to and mitigate the impacts of petroleum pollution and related stressors of the marine and coastal ecosystems, with an emphasis on conditions found in the Gulf of Mexico. Knowledge accrued will be applied to restoration and to improving the long‐term environmental health of the Gulf of Mexico.”
The GoMEXSGP are committed to maximizing the relevance and usefulness of GoMRI research, as well as providing information in a variety of audience‐appropriate formats to inform people whose livelihoods are
intimately connected to the Gulf about the outcomes of GoMRI research projects. This will be achieved through developing more than an assortment of outreach activities but an overall outreach program that strategically addresses target audiences in a coordinated manner. To accomplish the objectives of this proposal, subject matter extension professionals (GoMRI/Sea Grant
specialists) will be hired to work in four broad disciplines. There will be one GoMRI/Sea Grant specialist (1 FTE, 12‐month/year appointment) in each of the following disciplines:
1. Environmental Science (physical oceanography expertise)
2. Environmental Science (chemical expertise)
3. Environmental Science (biological expertise)
4. Public Health
The four positions mirror the first four of the following five current GoMRI research themes:
1. Physical distribution, dispersion, and dilution of petroleum (oil and gas), its constituents, and associated contaminants (e.g., dispersants) under the action of physical oceanographic processes, air sea interactions, and tropical storms
2. Chemical evolution and biological degradation of the petroleum/dispersant systems and subsequent interaction with coastal, open‐ocean, and deep‐water ecosystems
3. Environmental effects of the petroleum/dispersant system on the sea floor, water column, coastal waters, beach sediments, wetlands, marshes, and organisms; and the science of ecosystem recovery;
4. Impact of oil spills on public health
5. Technology developments for improved response, mitigation, detection, characterization, and remediation associated with oil spills and gas releases.
Unlike traditional Sea Grant extension specialists, which focus their outreach program on a specific topic (e.g. fisheries, resilience, aquaculture) the GoMRI/Sea Grant specialists will be united in purpose to serve GoMRI science results to target audiences. There will be one GoMRI/Sea Grant specialist based out of each of the four GoMEXSGP (Texas, Louisiana, panhandle of Florida, Alabama or Mississippi). Decisions on how the specialists will be distributed among the Sea Grant programs will be made according to a combination of candidate qualifications, programs they applied for and alignment with the existing technical strengths of the Sea Grant programs. Although GoMRI/Sea Grant specialists will be hired and housed at one of the four Sea Grant programs, each specialist will be expected to work regionally and in every state. It will be important to the success of the overall EO program to hire specialists who have additional experience in extension programming, science communication, facilitation, social science, data analysis, GIS or other relevant extension skills.
From decades of experience running highly effective and practical extension programs in the Gulf region, the four GoMEXSGP recognize that to effectively reach the wide range of audiences who will benefit from GoMRI/Sea Grant EO programs, a robust communications component is critical to the program. The GoMRI/Sea Grant specialists will utilize existing GoMRI communications expertise or contract with others for publication design and layout needs. The program will utilize communications support that already exists within GoMRI to disseminate extension and outreach materials developed through the GoMRI/Sea Grant EO program. Sea Grant communications departments will contribute to the EO program by distributing extension materials and press releases about GoMRI/Sea Grant EO activities as part of their overall Sea Grant communications program. The GoMRI/Sea Grant specialists will be embedded in the existing Sea Grant framework of integrated extension, research and education. This team will be coordinated by a senior outreach coordinator with a long history of experience in the Gulf of Mexico, including active collaboration with the Gulf of Mexico Alliance (GOMA), the NOAA Regional Collaboration Team and with issues related to the DWH oil spill and other high risk hazards. No single “one size fits all” approach will be able to be used even among the same target audience members or across states. For example outreach strategies in the panhandle of Florida may be substantially different than the outreach strategies used in West Florida due to factors such as the current perception of oil spills and real or perceived impacts of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. Outreach information and delivery will be tailored to meet the needs of the diversity between and among target audiences and at different locations.
The broad engagement strategies used by the GoMRI/Sea Grant specialists will include the following:
1. Synthesize, evaluate and prioritize GoMRI findings pertinent to the EO program target audiences
2. Solicit target audience input to
a. Determine appropriate and most‐valued information and extension interventions for target
b. Provide feedback to GoMRI administration, GoMRI Board and GoMRI‐supported scientists regarding needs and priorities and the type of information the target audiences are interested in receiving
3. Develop programs based on need using broad input from target audiences, GoMRI administration, the GoMRI Board and GoMRI Board’s outreach committee, outreach leads for each consortia and Sea Grant EO network.
4. Evaluate the GoMRI/Sea Grant EO program to improve and adapt to change.
The four Sea Grant College Programs in the Gulf of Mexico continue their partnership with the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative to share the latest peer reviewed science. The partnership includes a team of four extension specialists with diverse training and educational backgrounds, a full-time communicator, and a part-time project coordinator. The Sea Grant oil spill outreach team works with diverse audiences whose livelihoods depend on a healthy Gulf of Mexico or who manage Gulf resources. The team is sharing GoMRI and non-GoMRI-funded science discoveries through writing and disseminating extension publications, facilitating science seminars, expanding a web-based resource for oil spill information and many other methods. The team is working in four areas, which include “in-reach to GoMRI consortia and other GoMRI-supported scientists,” “synthesis and product development,” “expanding the reach of GoMRI science,” and “needs assessment and evaluation.” Although the scope of work is focused on the Gulf of Mexico phase II expands to work throughout the nation by collaborating with other Sea Grant programs.