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Team Receives National Award for Oil Spill Science Outreach Efforts

Oil Spill Team accepts SOPA

The Sea Grant Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Science Outreach Team receives the National Superior Outreach Programming Award. Pictured are Chris Hale, left, Tara Skelton, Monica Wilson and Steve Sempier. (Photo by James Dewhirst)

The Sea Grant Oil Spill Science Outreach Team received the National Superior Outreach Programming Award (SOPA), Sea Grant’s highest Extension honor. The team of outreach professionals is based in programs located around the Gulf of Mexico and works to synthesize and share peer-reviewed findings about oil spill impacts for audiences who rely on healthy marine ecosystems for work or play.

“The team shares science through the development and dissemination of publications, science seminars and web-based resources, some of which have been translated into other languages,” said Sea Grant Extension Network Chair Dave Hansen as he announced the winning program. “In addition to educating thousands of stakeholders across the Gulf, emergency response communities across the nation incorporated this team’s products into their trainings.”

Given once every two years by the Sea Grant Extension Assembly, the SOPA award recognizes outstanding success in outreach programming. Regional directors from six geographical areas nominate outreach projects for the award.

Winning nominees demonstrate exceptional leadership and teamwork that result in significant impacts and public benefit within the Sea Grant extension mission.

Emily Maung-Douglass

Emily Maung-Douglass
Oil Spill Specialist
Louisiana Sea Grant

Oil Spill Science Outreach specialists Larissa Graham (Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant), Chris Hale (Texas Sea Grant), Emily Maung-Douglass (Louisiana Sea Grant) and Monica Wilson (Florida Sea Grant), communicator Tara Skelton and Oil Spill Science Outreach manager Steve Sempier (both Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant) each received an award. LaDon Swann, director of the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, oversees the program.

“The recognition of Emily and the Oil Spill Outreach Team represents the commitment of Sea Grant as a network across the Gulf region to connect communities to the latest discoveries of oil spill research,” said Robert Twilley, Louisiana Sea Grant executive director. “It is the only network across the Gulf that can communicate the return on investment in restoring our coastal ecosystems to serving society.”

“It is great getting recognition for hard work but as cheesy as it sounds, the SOPA is just the icing on the cake,” said Maung-Douglass. “I get to work with a fantastic team of folks every single day. The Gulf Sea Grant Oil Spill Team is like a second family. It blows me away to realize our oil spill program was initially a two-year pilot project. I am so appreciative of the support we’ve received from our SG programs, funding agency and stakeholders that has helped us develop into something more.”

After the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, Gulf of Mexico area residents asked questions about the short-, mid- and long-term effects of the spill. Due to the scale of the event, both public and private funders spent more than $1.3 billion to support research that could answer those questions. In 2014, one such group, the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI), provided funding for the four Gulf Sea Grant programs (Florida, Mississippi-Alabama, Louisiana and Texas) to create a program to share GoMRI-funded and other oil spill science with specific target audiences in the area.

Since the creation of the team in 2014, members have taken a multi-pronged approach to outreach. Their first act was to meet with target audience members including fishermen, tourism leaders, spill responders, resource managers, public health officials, community leaders, elected officials, non-governmental organizations, educators, extension agents and many others to find out specific areas of interest. They received input from more than 1,100 stakeholders.

The team then got to work finding answers to those questions in published journal articles. They synthesized the results they found in research into about 30 outreach publications, both fact sheets and longer, more in-depth bulletins. They also hosted free science seminars on specific oil spill-related subjects. They have organized 24 science seminars with over 100 invited speakers and close to 2,000 attendees. The program founded with a regional focus is now national in scope, with upcoming meetings planned in Virginia, California and Alaska.

In closing his remarks during the SOPA ceremony, Hansen said one award reviewer described the oil spill science program as “a creative, truly functioning, transdisciplinary team…that epitomizes the value of Sea Grant extension’s unwavering commitment to being honest brokers interpreting science for stakeholders.”

To read the team’s publications, view videos from their seminars and workshops and learn more about the newest oil spill outreach specialist, Missy Partyka, visit gulfseagrant.org/oilspilloutreach.