The Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System (GCOOS) was recognized recently by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Gulf of Mexico Program for developing a unique platform that enables citizen groups to share data Gulf wide.

GulfGuardianAward2017 The second place 2017 Gulf Guardian Award was presented Thursday, Nov. 30, during a ceremony at the Grand Hotel Marriott Resort in Point Clear, Alabama. The Gulf of Mexico Program initiated the Gulf Guardian awards in 2000 as a way to recognize and honor the businesses, community groups, individuals and agencies that are taking positive steps to keep the Gulf healthy, beautiful and productive. First, second and third place awards are given in seven categories: individual, business/industry, youth environmental education, civic/nonprofit organizations, cultural diversity/environmental justice, partnership and bi-national efforts.

GCOOS was recognized for its Gulf Citizen Science Portal in the Partnership Category for encouraging and developing citizen science to improve the Gulf.

During the ceremony, Ben Scaggs, Director of Gulf of Mexico Program, said: “whether for individual recreational use or as an economic engine supporting a wide variety of jobs and industry, the Gulf of Mexico is a vibrant yet vulnerable ecosystem. Protecting this national resource requires innovative approaches and proactive measures. The Gulf Guardian award winners are paving the way for out-of-the-box thinking and replicable practices.”

The backbone of the GCOOS citizen monitoring network is comprised of retired citizens and many students from underserved and underrepresented communities. Not only are the data gathered and provide important long-term, supplemental data to resource managers, the acquisition and data sharing processes themselves provide valuable workforce development and stewardship opportunities for participants:
Contributors learn the value and need for research, monitoring and careful management of the Gulf’s living and non-living natural resources and explore how their everyday lives and livelihoods are connected to the Gulf.
GulfGuardianAward2017-GroupPhotoThe portal was developed by Drs. Shin Kobara and Chris Simoniello of GCOOS and implemented as a cost-effective way to gather local information over long periods of time, allowing state, federal and academic programs to supplement datasets with important detail. GCOOS’s unique position as a data aggregator allows the organization to address the challenges inherent in integrating diverse datasets collected with different methodologies and instrumentation so managers can have confidence in the information.

Other participants in the development and implementation of the Gulf Citizen Science Portal include GCOOS Board Member Ruth Perry and Dana Pounds of Nature’s Academy along with members of the GCOOS Outreach & Education Council, a special volunteer advisory board that works with GCOOS on ways to connect the public to GCOOS data and products and advise on the development of new tools to promote ocean literacy. There are four representatives from each Gulf state and an at-large member:

  • Charlene Mauro (Co-Chair), Navarre High School
  • Mike Spranger, University of Florida
  • Debbi Stone, The Florida Aquarium
  • Chris Verlinde (Co-Chair), University of Florida
  • Sara Graves, University of Alabama Huntsville
  • Lloyd Scott, Retired, Mobile County Public School System
  • Margaret Sedlecky, Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve
  • Lee Yokel, Gulf of Mexico Alliance
  • Jessica Kastler, University of Southern Mississippi
  • Carol Lutken, University of Mississippi
  • Angela Sallis, NCEI (NOAA’s National Center for Env Info)
  • Joe Swaykos, NOAA National Data Buoy Center
  • Ann Weaver, NOAA Gulf Coast Services Center
  • Tricia LeBlanc, Audubon Aquarium of the Americas
  • Dianne Lindstedt, Louisiana Sea Grant College Program
  • Jean May-Brett, Louisiana Department of Education
  • Dinah Maygarden, University of New Orleans
  • Kaitlin Grable, Galveston Bay Foundation
  • John O’Connell (Past-Chair),  Texas Sea Grant College Program
  • Rob Smith, Woods Hole Group, Inc.
  • Pamela Terasaki, Claughton Middle School (Spring ISD)
  • Rusty Low, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies

This is the fourth Gulf Guardian award that GCOOS has received — an honor that speaks to the commitment of the organization to the health of the Gulf of Mexico, said Dr. Barbara Kirkpatrick, GCOOS Executive Director. “As the Gulf of Mexico’s regional association for observing, we are dedicated to making the Gulf of Mexico a safer and healthier ecosystem for all to use. We are honored by the EPA’s continued acknowledgement of our efforts.”

The Gulf of Mexico Program began in 1988 to protect, restore, and maintain the health and productivity of the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem in economically sustainable ways. The Gulf of Mexico Program is underwritten by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and is a non-regulatory, inclusive consortium of state and federal government agencies and representatives of the business and agricultural community, fishing industry, scientists, environmentalists, and community leaders from all five Gulf States. The Gulf Program seeks to improve the environmental health of the Gulf in concert with economic development.

EPA Contact: LaKeshia Robertson, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Gulf of Mexico Program, 228-679-5910 or Robertson.lakeshia@epa.gov.