Since its inception, GCOOS has been the only regional observing system in the nation to provide continuous funding for outreach and education activities.

That support continues today as GCOOS staff and its members work to provide opportunities for youngsters to learn about ocean science.

IMG_3634In St. Petersburg, Fla., GCOOS Outreach and Education Manager Dr. Chris Simoniello helped to organize Bay Point Elementary School’s Family Science Night  with the theme “Ride the Tide” on April 28. More than 400 K-5 students had the chance to participate in hands-on activities at 10 stations. The stations followed the general pattern of the North Atlantic Gyre and activities were designed to support the outreach goals identified in the GCOOS Build-Out Plan.

Students extracted DNA and created “Bottles of Awesomeness,” played with polymers, learned about the Marine Biodiversity Observation Network, laminar and turbulent  flow and the large-scale challenges of dealing with marine debris. GCOOS members participating in the event included scientists from the University of South Florida, Florida Sea Grant College Program, NOAA Southeast Fisheries Science Center, Duke Energy, Weedon Island Preserve Cultural and Natural History Center, Boyd Hill Nature Preserve and Bay Point Middle School Center for Advancement of the Sciences and Technology.

Then on May 5, GCOOS-RA Strategic Program Manager Stephanie Watson and partners from the University of Southern Mississippi Department of Marine Science, Louisiana Sea Grant, NOAA National Weather Service’s National Data Buoy Center and The Marine Technology Society participated in the  PTA-sponsored Earth and Science Day at Pontchartrain Elementary School in Louisiana. The all-day event, organized by Watson, focused on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) activities presented to more than 800 students. Activities helped students understand the importance of studying and protecting oceans and waterways, exposed them to the sciences and provided region-specific inspiration for students interested in learning more. (Event coverage from St. Tammany’s Channel 13 News.)

usm2GCOOS was also at the Bayou La Batre Blessing of the Fleet in Alabama. Bayou La Batre, known as the Seafood Capitol of Alabama, is a small community where most residents work in fishing, shrimping, seafood processing or the boat-building industry. The town recently held its annual Blessing of the Fleet where the Archbishop blesses the fleet and festival-goers pray for a bountiful harvest and the safety of the men and women at sea. Thanks to the efforts of GCOOS partner Lei Hu, Dauphin Island Sea Lab, GCOOS was able to participate by hosting an outreach and education exhibit at the event. Festival-goers enjoyed the GCOOS Eco Hero game and a series of short films on the coastal environment, habitat restoration, nutrients and water quality, developed by the EPA, the Gulf of Mexico Alliance and GCOOS. They also learned about GCOOS Products and Data portals and the Mobile Bay Real-time Monitoring website. One visitor to the exhibit, Nancy Mcall, a member of the Bayou La Batre Planning Committee, was pleased to deliver GCOOS fliers to the city’s town hall and expressed appreciation for the value of the scientific information and technology that also balanced local cultural traditions. According to Hu: “The public cares very much about the Gulf of Mexico. It is vital to their work, life, health and recreation. As soon as people saw the GCOOS logo, they asked questions and wanted to know more… many fishermen and boaters and would benefit from information on the GCOOS Products and Data portals.” Perhaps the most poignant observation was her comment that “while our goal is to inform the public about the importance of data and information, we should also be ready to listen. Many visitors love to talk about their experience with the sea and with their boats.  They are quick to express their concerns about pollution and want to know what should be done to protect the environment.”