Posted: 11 December 2015

Outreach and Education Council Meeting
10-11 August 2015, New Orleans, LA

The eighth annual meeting of the Outreach and Education Council (OEC) of the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System Regional Association (GCOOS-RA) was held at the Hilton Riverside, New Orleans, LA, August 10-11, 2015. This document constitutes the report of the OEC.

Special thanks to the OEC members for their continued commitment to build ocean literacy programs in the Gulf of Mexico region, and to the GCOOS Board of Directors for the GCOOS-wide support the OEC receives. Dr. Shin Kobara, GCOOS web developer, Landry Bernard, GCOOS Associate Executive Director, and Lei Hu, GCOOS DMAC Committee liaison to the OEC, were valuable participants at our council meeting.

1.0 Opening of Meeting

1.1 Welcome, Introductions

The meeting began with a welcome by Dr. Chris Simoniello, GCOOS O/E lead and OEC co-Chair Chris Verlinde. Following brief introductions for the benefit of the invited participants, Simoniello provided an overview of the agenda, summarizing the purpose of the meeting as a means to evaluate the beta website developed to host and enable the sharing of regional Citizen Science information. In honor of the GCOOS-RA 10-year anniversary, she acknowledged the 64% of council members who have been engaged since the 2004 OEC Formation Meeting and solicited input for content for the GCOOS-RA 10-Year Report. The list of attendees with affiliations is provided in Appendix A. The meeting agenda is provided in Appendix B.

1.2 Purpose of the Meeting


  1. Build on the framework developed for GCOOS-hosted Citizen Science data (parameters to include temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, pH and others to be specified).
  2. Develop content that will facilitate the sharing of citizen-collected data and make it relevant to Gulf-wide O/E and other stakeholders.

2.0 Invited Speakers

Jenn Paul Glaser, Founder and Director of Scribe Arts for Our Planet, Oceans and Fisheries, shared provocative art work she recently developed for a Digital Science in Art project supported by the Nippon Foundation of Japan’s Nereus Program. Because investment has already been made in developing the artwork, Glaser is working to develop partnerships so the work can be used to support environmental education in the United States. The GCOOS OEC is seeking to identify venues focused on informal learning audiences where the work can be shared.

OEC member and Gulf of Mexico Alliance Engagement and Education Coordinator Lee Yokel provided a demonstration of the Deepwater Horizon Project Tracker tool developed to track restoration, research and recovery projects resulting from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Project Tracker developers continue to expand content on the site and welcome input on suggestions for ways to improve communication about Deepwater Horizon-related restoration projects. See to access the tool. At the time of this report, approximately 300 programs with $900 M in funding and an additional $34 M in leveraged funds are included in the database.

Dr. Rusty Low, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies, provided an overview of available earth and space education resources from NASA’s Wavelength project and led discussions to brainstorm ideas on how these resources might be incorporated into Gulf outreach and education activities (see There was also discussion about new protocols being established for the Global Learning and Observation to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) Program. Revisions are being made to address criticisms about the lack of accessibility to GLOBE data. The roll out of the new product is expected in late 2015. Low is working on the protocols and a mobile app that will make GLOBE more flexible and data more compatible with other platforms. An example of a protocol for tracking mosquito larvae in Central America was provided as an example. Currently, educators uploading data have gatekeepers to ensure QA/QC standards and teachers must participate in training before contributing data. Yokel commented that people need to see the results of their data collection efforts if they are to remain engaged. Sedlecky stated that Weeks Bay NERR volunteers measuring water quality must complete required training. Discussion ensued about how it is beneficial to connect issues with stories communicating how people are making a difference—an important lesson for a developing citizen science network.

Margaret Sedlecky, Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, demonstrated educational resources developed and implemented by the Weeks Bay NERR education team. Highlighted in the website demonstration (see were activities from the Teachers on the Estuary Program, Estuaries 101 curriculum, and Data in the Classroom. A demonstration of their data graphing tool was also provided. Sedlecky’s talk set the stage for later discussions on GCOOS citizen science efforts by sharing how data from the NERRS System Wide Monitoring Program (SWMP) are being incorporated into educational resources.

Following lunch provided by the GCOOS-RA, Dr. Mike Spranger, University of Florida and GCOOS Board Member, shared his collection of photos and stories from 10-years on the OEC and provided program updates on behalf of Executive Director Dr. Barb Kirkpatrick who was unable to attend the meeting. Spranger and Bernard both have long histories with the GCOOS-RA and answered many questions about the origin and evolution of the organization. The dialogue set the stage for anniversary trivia that was led by Simoniello during the afternoon break.

3.0 GCOOS Citizen Science Database

Dr.Shin Kobara provided a demonstration of the beta website ( developed to host and enable sharing of Citizen Science data. The site uses a Google Map format to share data collected by volunteer and student groups in the Gulf. Meeting participants had the opportunity to view the website, one they provided input to during the previous OEC meeting, and make suggestions for improvements. Three programs contributed data for the pilot project: Galveston Bay Foundation, TX, Nature’s Academy, Bradenton, FL, and The Florida Aquarium, Tampa, FL. Kobara showed how he used QuickTime Player to develop aspects of the site and OEC members suggested a useful professional development opportunity would be for him to teach the group how to do this. Following the overview, project leaders from Galveston Bay Foundation and Natures Academy discussed the challenges and solutions they encountered during the database development process.

Charlene Bohanon, Galveston Bay Foundation and GCOOS Board member, provided a summary of Galveston Bay Foundation’s programs, with emphasis on their volunteer water quality data collection network. An example of volunteer data being used in the community (e.g., Heather Biggs, Texas Parks and Wildlife) was provided. Core sampling methods are conducted using LaMotte tidal monitoring kits, at a cost of approximately $350 per kit. The bacteria volunteer sampling program requires a $6-8 K equipment investment and ongoing costs of $12-15 per sample using IDEXX products. The program uses methods and units approved by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). When asked what some wish-list items are to enable data sharing, Bohanon responded with the following: 1) simple visualizations of bacteria data; 2) stoplight indicators of health status; 3) ability to differentiate between levels of QA among data sets; and user friendly displays for all mobile/tablet devices. Bohanon provided valuable input for later discussions about the requirements and challenges developing the beta citizen scientist site.

Deb Hilbert recently became the lead for uploading information from Nature’s Academy to the GCOOS website. Nature’s Academy program participants collect measurements on water quality, biodiversity and marine debris from seven sites (see The sites encompass both freshwater and saltwater environments. Staff members develop lessons with data for fifth grade teachers, but these are not publicly available at this time. The lessons are flexible so that they can be adapted to fit classroom lessons at the time of the field trip. A question arose about who uploads field data to the Natures Academy website. Hilbert said she has a Google form that teachers use with their students and she does QA/QC in house, before uploading to GCOOS.

Citizen Science Website Discussion

Following the presentations, Bohanon led discussions on OEC Citizen Science efforts and set the stage for the afternoon breakout session. OEC members identified three areas where they’d like to see professional development opportunities offered: 1) practical training in water quality sampling; 2) making videos using QuickTime Player; and 3) a forum to discuss technology transfer. Galveston Bay Foundation provided an example of the latter when Bohanon shared how they plan to incorporate a marine debris component into their activities based on lessons learned from Nature’s Academy. A general comment was that data-focused lessons developed for educators need to be adaptable to what the teachers are focused on at the time of their field trip.

Simoniello provided guidelines for the afternoon breakout session. Participants were divided into two groups (see Appendix C) and tasked with generating ideas for how the interactive component of the website might look. They were asked to match the type of data being collected to specific Gulf issues; identify how the OEC can enable use of the information by students, educators and other stakeholders; and if appropriate, sketch ideas and provide schematics to clarify the interactive components. Questions to consider included the following:

  • What Gulf issues do you see benefitting from Citizen Science data?
  • What demonstration lessons can we create to show how information from the site can be used by students, educators and others (please specify audience)?
  • Is there an inquiry-based lesson you can create that requires data from the different Citizen Science contributors?
  • What website navigation features and/or data discovery tools are need to facilitate use of the information?
  • What long-term data trends/data averages do we need to show for comparison to make information more meaningful?
  • What groups should we consider including in the expansion phase of Citizen Science?

Group 1 was facilitated by Low, with Glaser as the note taker. Group 2 was facilitated by Lei Hu, with Dr. Ruth Perry, Shell Corporation, as the note taker. Before dividing into two groups, participants brainstormed ideas on topics that Gulf citizen science efforts can benefit. The list included the following:

  • Marine debris/pollution
  • Beach conditions
  • Water resources
  • Shoreline changes (e.g., vegetation, erosion)
  • Fish kills
  • Nearshore oil/tar balls
  • Rip currents

For lesson development, an identified priority was communicating that predictions/forecasting are an integral part of what scientists do. Perry proposed a lesson of interest might be about how organisms react to seasonal vs. pulsed hypoxia events, including recently popular fish jubilees. Background introductory information such as how Louisiana vs. Texas hypoxia events differ would also be useful. Dinah Maygarden stated that educators often have difficulty interpreting nutrient load data and perhaps resources to assist them would be valuable. Simoniello suggested the group think about if/how citizen science can be related to HAB forecasting, taking advantage of TCOON data and Texas A&M University Cytobot images.

4.0 Field Trip

Prior to resuming the meeting on Day 2, Tricia Le Blanc, Education Director, Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, provided a behind-the-scenes tour of the facility. OEC members were able to learn about developing exhibits, see the fruits of past labor with the Eco Hero kiosk, and learn about the coral breeding program. The GCOOS-RA thanks Le Blanc for the exceptional opportunity to learn about the facility and its amazing wildlife.

5.0 Day 2

Upon returning from the tour of the aquarium, Simoniello reviewed the goals for the day and she and Verlinde reviewed OEC membership. The group decided to finalize decisions about the updated membership via email. At least one member will be thanked for service and several names were suggested for new members. There was discussion about how large the committee should be and whether or not Board members representing O/E should also be Council members. Invitations to potential new members is pending discussion with the Board.

Before resuming breakout groups, Dr. Jessie Kastler, University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast Research Lab (GCRL), provided an update on the outreach component of the 2015 AUV Jubilee that was conducted with support from the Consortium for Oil Spill Exposure Pathways in Coastal River-Dominated Ecosystems (CONCORDE). CONCORDE is one of 12 research consortia funded by the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative. Kastler said that approximately twelve educators and ten institutions, including industry, are working with scientists at Stennis Space Center and the GCRL to develop curriculum from the glider data. The team will follow up with collaborations that include the GCOS Gulf Glider Task Team and expertise of the OEC. There is interest in collaborating on OEC efforts if there is a 2016 Gulf glider event.

Participants resumed discussions in the breakout groups, synthesized ideas from the previous day and continued refining web content ideas. There was consensus that the focus of the Citizen Science website should be creating opportunities that enable the Gulf community to transition from processing data to taking action. A component of the outreach effort should connect GCOOS activities with social media to motivate participation in community engagement opportunities.

6.0 Reports and Discussions from Breakout Groups

Low reported on behalf of Group 1. Topics discussed by the group include the following:

  • Address issues people care most about (e.g., pollution, water resources, public health and safety);
  • Identify O/E activities people can do that they’d find exciting and that would connect them to projects such as those on the GOMA Project Tracker site;
  • Crowdsource content and share photos people take in conjunction with data collection;
  • Survey users to ask: 1) how did you find the Citizen Science site; and 2) what did you hope to find on the website;
  • “Adopt a pixel” similar to a mobile app created by NASA was proposed to show how data relate to citizens;
  • Possibly link coastal data to coastal bird work being done by the Audubon Society;
  • Suggestion to set up social media forum for people to contribute to blogs;
  • Provide tutorial and guidance to navigate the website;
  • Determine what steps are needed to link GCOOS citizen science with GLOBE protocols and data access;
  • ArcGIS Online in Education is investing multimillions of dollars to make ESRI products more accessible to educators. There will be easy-to-program applications to support the collection and sharing of data via dynamic maps. These can support citizen-collected water quality, biodiversity and other data types on a platform native to most mobile devices.

Group 1 proposed the concept of the Data Challenge: what is really desired is having people look at the website, identify a problem, and get motivated to find a solution. Achieving this requires connecting to the hearts and minds of citizens!

Hu reported on behalf of Group 2. Topics discussed by the group include the following:

  • Build an inventory of Citizen Science data programs within the Gulf of Mexico;
  • Engage citizens in river nutrients, discharge and hypoxia forecasting/hypothesis testing (e.g., predicted size of zone cf reality of what scientists measure);
  • Provide a unique url to GCOOS Citizen Science web pages;
  • Provide a data dashboard to access information;
  • Develop a plan to advertise the site and encourage people to use;
  • Seek collaborations with the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE);
  • Host a workshop for those currently engaged in citizen science activities in the Gulf and for those who are interested, but not yet acquiring data;
  • Define on the web page what we mean by citizen science vs crowd sourcing information;
  • Identify charismatic fauna/Gulf organisms around which activities (lessons, crowd sourcing information) can be developed (e.g., whale sharks, shrimp, Gulf seafood, lionfish/invasive species, sharks).

Synthesis of Breakout Session Discussions

Spranger and Bohanon moderated discussions about citizen science website development following the group reports. Discussions and suggestions for development of the GCOOS Citizen Science website and program development included the following:

  • Create a competition-based atmosphere whereby different groups try to contribute more data points in a specified period of time for a defined spatial area
    • Identify data sets that K-12 students can routinely collect. Options should include things other than water quality because many schools have no access to water bodies.
    • Link bird or butterfly data with environmental data is one option accessible to all
    • Connecting the watershed from upstream to downstream works well for pollution related projects
    • If projects are not low cost and convenient they will not be successful
  • Develop a splash page that feeds into the data. Think Like a Scientist was suggested as a theme for the page. Headers on the splash page might include things like K-12 curricula, Get Involved, Contribute Data.
    • Generate examples and poll users to see their preference
    • Tap into teacher/education networks such as NMEA, NSTA and state programs to distribute survey
    • Present at state education conferences to disseminate and raise awareness
  • Sedlecky suggested the OEC invite Eric Eckl, creator of Water Words That Work, to conduct a professional development workshop for OEC members at the next annual meeting.
  • The group expressed interest in exploring how Google Earth could be used in the explanation of data and maps on the website. A zoom feature to enable users to drill down to their local area would be helpful. Kobara said that ArcGIS has a Google-like Earth base map feature that we can use and he can switch over to it to avoid a user fee for Google Earth. An added benefit is that in Google Earth, users have to create additional map layers to overlay data; the ArcGIS option is less complicated.
    • ArcGIS has a free account option for Online in Education that we can use to build a collection of apps
  • A roll out strategy is needed to launch the citizen science site. What opportunities are in the near future? What opportunities can the OEC create with existing resources?
    • Hu emphasized the need to rigorously test the site internally before rolling out to the public
    • Splash page ideas should be vetted through the OEC and a team evaluation created
    • User scenarios should be set up as part of the evaluation. For example, simulate a teacher looking for specific information and assess the challenges they might encounter
  • Gaming approaches were suggested to promote the site. One was Plan Your Trip to the Gulf, focused on tourism and the economy. Included was a “match data to conditions” activity.
  • Include scalable actions when trying to engage people: the concept of “100 things you can do to change the world” was discussed
    • Things people can do immediately at home to protect the environment
    • Things any citizen can do (e.g., bring reusable bags to the grocery store, Greener by the Yard program, Take the Last Straw challenge)
    • Do 1 Thing campaign (e.g., if everyone on a given day did one thing to improve the environment, the impact would be huge (e.g., pick up trash on the beach, not use bottled water, avoid plastic bags)
    • Tap into the “selfie” and GoPro community and have people contribute images and videos of themselves doing good things for the environment. Examples of hashtags included Save the Gulf and Eco Hero in Action. These can be georeferenced and “likes” quantified to determine metrics. Likewise, they can be linked to social media such as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook using the same hashtag to track interest.
  • Any product developed must include metrics to determine if the tool is leading to meaningful change.
    • LeBlanc provided an example of a campaign the Audubon Aquarium tried called Make a Pledge. The goal was to get people to pick one behavior like buy local, carpool, or ride a bike. It was difficult to capture data and the response was very low.
    • She emphasized looking for examples of best practices for how to quantify the success of citizen-based programs.

7.0 Summary of OEC Action Items for 2015/2016

  • Identify who is collecting and serving coastal/ocean-related citizen science data in the Gulf
  • Sign up for free ArcGIS Online in Education resources
  • Develop examples of what the splash page might look like: include a few examples and poll users to see what they like/want
  • Consult Board regarding number of OEC members and whether Board members representing O/E should also be official Council members
  • Follow up with OEC members whose organizations are not members of the GCOOS-RA. Send membership form to all.
  • Follow up with Jean and Mike; Jean is drafting a letter of support regarding support for the value of GCOOS citizen science from state science organizations
    • Mike will send the OEC talking points
    • Jean will draft the letter for state science groups and send to all to review
    • Chris will send to Barb for use as support in proposals



Appendix A
List of Participants and Affiliations

Name Affiliation
Landry Bernard GCOOS
Charlene Bohanon Galveston Bay Foundation
Jenn Glaser  
Deb Hilbert Nature’s Academy
Lei Hu Dauphin Island Sea Lab
Jessica Kastler USM Gulf Coast Research Lab
Shin Kobara GCOOS
Tricia LeBlanc Audubon Aquarium of the Americas
Dianne Lindstedt Louisiana Sea Grant College Program
Rusty Low Institute for Global Environmental Strategies
Carol Lutken University of Mississippi
Charlene Mauro Santa Rosa School District
Jean May-Brett Louisiana Department of Education
Dinah Maygarden University of New Orleans
Katie McCann Galveston Bay Foundation
Ruth Mullins-Perry Shell
John O’Connell Texas Sea Grant College Program
Angela Sallis NOAA National Centers for Environmental Data
Lloyd Scott  
Margaret Sedlecky Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve
Chris Simoniello GCOOS
Mike Spranger University of Florida
Pamela Terasaki Claughton Middle School
Chris Verlinde Florida Sea Grant
Ann Weaver NOAA Coastal Services Center
Lee Yokel Gulf of Mexico Alliance



Appendix B
Meeting Agenda


  1. Build on the framework developed for GCOOS-hosted Citizen Science data (parameters to include temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, pH, and others to be specified).
  2. Develop content that will facilitate the sharing of citizen- collected data and make it relevant to Gulf-wide O/E stakeholders.


Monday, August 10, 2015

10:15-10:30 Check-in
10:30-10:50 Welcome, introductions (Chris Verlinde)
10:50-11:00 Meeting objectives and deliverables (Chris Simoniello)
11:00-11:15 GCOOS OE 10-Year Report —brainstorm content (Simoniello)
11:15-11:30 Digital Art in Science Exhibits (Jenn Glaser)
11:30-11:45 Project Tracker and GOMA (Lee Yokel)
11:45-12:10 Updates from Rusty Low (10 min overview, 15 min brainstorm)
12:10-12:20 NERRS O/E Update (Margaret Sedlecky)
12:20-12:30 Updates from GCOOS Board Member (Mike Spranger)
12:30-1:30 Lunch provided by GCOOS
1:30-1:40 GCOOS-RA Updates from the Executive Director (Barb Kirkpatrick)
1:40-2:10 GCOOS Citizen Science Database (Shin Kobara)
15 min overview; 15 min discussion
2:10-2:25 Galveston Bay Foundation Efforts (Charlene Bohanon, GCOOS Board)
2:25-2:40 Nature’s Academy Efforts (Deb Hilbert)
2:40-3:30 Discussion: Citizen Science Efforts (Bohanon, moderator)
3:30-3:50 Afternoon break
3:50-4:00 Guidelines for afternoon breakout (Simoniello)
4:00-5:00 Breakout session: Two Groups
Generate ideas for how the interactive web component might look

  • Match data to specific Gulf issue(s). How do we enable use of the information by students and educators?
  • If appropriate, sketch ideas/provide schematics to clarify the interactive components.
5:00-5:15 Opportunity to share information and provide suggestions for day two

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

8:00-9:00 Optional behind-the-scenes tour of the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas (Tricia LeBlanc)
9:30-9:40 Reconvene, review goals for the day (Simoniello)
9:40-10:00 Review OEC Council membership (Verlinde and Simoniello)
10:00-11:00 Resume breakout groups. Synthesize ideas from previous day; Continue refining web content ideas; Work on layout, language and specific data sets that support understanding of Gulf issues. Questions to consider:

  1. What Gulf issues do you see benefitting from Citizen Science data?
  2. What demonstration lessons can we create to show how information from the site can be used by students, educators, and others (please specify audience)? Is there an inquiry-based lesson you can create that requires data from the different Citizen Science contributors?
  3. What website navigation features and/or data discovery tools are need to facilitate use of the information?
  4. What long-term data trends/data averages do we need to show for comparison to make information more meaningful?
  5. What groups should we consider including in the expansion phase of Citizen Science?
11:00-11:45 Report out by Group 1 (15 min summary; 30 min discussion; Spranger, moderator)
11:45-12:45 Lunch provided by GCOOS
12:45-1:45 Report out by Group 2 (15 min summary; 45 min discussion; Bohanon, moderator)
1:45-2:00 Next steps and summary of OEC Action Items for 2015/2016 (Simoniello)
2:00-3:00 Open floor to OEC members (Verlinde)
3:00 Meeting Adjourned



Appendix C
Breakout Group Assignments

Breakout Session: Group 1

Rusty (facilitator), Jenn (note taker), Lee, Chris V., Lloyd, Margaret, Charlene B, Jessie, Pamela and Tricia

Breakout Session: Group 2

Lei (facilitator), Ruth (note taker), Ann, Angela, Jean, Mike, Deb, Dinah, Shin, Charlene M. and John