EcoHeroBannerAs part of our many Outreach and Education activities, the GCOOS Outreach and Education Council, in conjunction with the five Coastal Ecosystem Learning Centers throughout the Gulf, designed, developed, and implemented five Eco Hero game kiosks. The game was funded by a NOAA grant to the GCOOS-RA, which was subcontracted to the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies-Center for Marine Education and Research (IMMS-CMER), MS.

Eco Hero is an interactive, conservation game to understand the environmental value of the Gulf of Mexico and to “bridge the gap” between research conducted within the Gulf and the relevance of scientists’ findings to our everyday lives. Interactive game kiosks are helping the public understand how the Gulf of Mexico influences lives and livelihoods and helping scientists track changes in public understanding of major ocean issues. The Eco Hero game educates players about the societal value of real-time coastal and ocean information and aids informal education on the topics of water quality, nutrients and nutrient reduction, coastal community resilience, habitat conservation, and ecosystem integration and assessment. Using “Super Seagrass” as nurseries and “good neighborhoods,” players explore how their everyday lives and livelihoods are connected to the GOM and how their choices and actions affect the health of the Gulf and its human and non-human residents.

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Students playing Eco Hero game on portable system.

Game exhibits were developed for five informal learning centers throughout the Gulf of Mexico, including four Coastal Ecosystem Learning Centers (the Florida Aquarium, Dauphin Island Estuarium, AL, Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, LA, and Texas State Aquarium), and the IMMS-CMER. Additional exhibits were subsequently leveraged for other facilities, and a portable version of the game was created for public outreach events. The intellectual content of the Eco Hero game reflects the collective expertise of the 23-member GCOOS Education and Outreach Council, representatives from each of the informal learning centers, and several subject matter experts. The company MindClay Creative, Inc., partnered with IMMS-CMER and the GCOOS-RA to render the game characters and help translate the science in a fun, engaging way.

Students playing Eco Hero at the GCOOS Eco Hero dedication ceremony at IMMS

Students playing Eco Hero at the GCOOS Eco Hero dedication ceremony at IMMS

The importance of the sharing of expertise that went into the creation of the Eco Hero game was recognized through award to the GCOOS-RA and IMMS-CMER of the prestigious U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Gulf of Mexico Program’s Gulf Guardian Award in the Civic/Nonprofit category that recognizes “the businesses, community groups, individuals, and agencies that are taking positive steps to keep the Gulf healthy, beautiful, and productive.” The award reinforces the value of having a stakeholder-driven GCOOS-RA to leverage multi-institutional, interdisciplinary experts to address shared challenges facing the communities and ecosystems of the Gulf of Mexico.

The success of the Eco Hero game exemplifies innovative solutions that develop when we pool resources and look for creative ways to positively impact our quality of life and economic well-being.

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Proudly displaying their Eco Hero certificates.

Future plans include sharing the game more broadly throughout the Gulf region, working with national and international organizations interested in adapting the game for their local audiences, and developing educational resources around the game characters.

For more information, contact Chris Simoniello at simo@marine.usf.edu.

Information on the EPA Gulf Guard award to the Eco Hero game is available.