3rd Place Gulf Guardian Winners
3rd Place Youth Environmental Education
Since 2009, the Island Adventures Project (IAP) has impacted over 4,500 Pinellas and Manatee County fifth grade students in Florida. At no cost to the schools, participants are given the opportunity to investigate the complex ecological connections comprising their local estuaries, watershed and barrier islands. The project reinforces comprehension through inquiry-based field work, including water quality testing, sea grass biodiversity study, and a shark dissection led by biologists. Students also participate in a coastal cleanup which reinforces a sense of stewardship for the Gulf’s limited resources, as well as the anthropogenic aspects that impact the area.
The IAP aims to improve local science literacy by delivering an engaging educational experience that further connects coastal communities with their local environment and ultimately the Gulf of Mexico. In a comprehensive analysis by the State Education and Environmental Roundtable (SEER), 92% of students exposed to outdoor environmental programs outperform their peers from traditional classroom based programs in standardized testing and academic performance. By providing this alternative educational approach, the efficacy of the IAP has been demonstrated in the previous four years by an average 85% increase in academic achievement directly correlated with this project.
3rd Place Environmental Justice/Cultural Diversity
Youth Environmental Science (YES!)
Mississippi State, MS
Youth Environmental Science! (YES!) is an immersive, in-school, environmental science program that develops knowledge and stewardship while eliminating participation barriers. The goal of YES! is to provide relevant, experiential, science-based environmental knowledge and activities that will promote understanding of environmental issues and career options and encourage positive changes in environmental stewardship in diverse community groups in Mississippi. The objectives are to: (1) increase students’ and teachers’ knowledge and awareness of environmental science concepts, methods and issues; (2) enhance skills of students and teachers for making informed decisions regarding environmental stewardship; (3) expand audiences participating in environmental education to include representation from traditionally underserved groups.
The program has been implemented for 2 years in a public school district in which 65% of the students are from underserved groups. Fourth and fifth grade classes participate for 5 days of experiments, outdoor lessons, and a nature field trip; third graders attend for 2 days. Since 2011, approximately 1,800 children have participated. A free day camp provided similar opportunities for 24 sixth-eighth graders. Program assessments suggest YES! is effective in building knowledge, ecological awareness and positive environmental attitudes.
3rd Place Civic/Non-Profit
Sarasota Bay Watch
Sarasota Bay Watch’s created a community-based partnership of engaged citizens, organizations and local businesses, along with regional scientific and research groups, to undertake a long-term project to restore scallops to Sarasota Bay. SBW has raised $37,000 to date and, working together with Mote Marine Laboratory, Sarasota Bay Estuary Program and Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, released over 24 million scallop larvae into the bay. The project is community-led, locally providing the majority of the funding and volunteers, while research partners study the science of the restoration process. Community awareness and engagement levels have increased dramatically.
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.
3rd Place Individual
Karla has dedicated her life to connecting people to places in the Gulf region through meaningful experiences that integrate the arts and sciences to instill a stewardship ethic and ultimately improve environmental outcomes in communities throughout the region. Karla’s vision for an interdisciplinary approach to environmental education is realized in programs and projects she designs and implements through Artist Boat, a non-profit organization she founded and leads in Galveston, Texas, which has directly served over ~65,000 program participants and indirectly served many more through public art and habitat stewardship projects since it was established in 2003.
Karla’s innovation in the environmental education field is evident in her development of Artist Boat as a vehicle to deliver effective environmental education programming integrating the arts and sciences. After working for nine years in educational programs that applied conventional approaches to delivery of curricula that segregated the disciplines of the arts and sciences, Karla built on the example of 19th-century naturalists who applied interdisciplinary approaches to their study of the natural world, applying a new learning model based in interdisciplinary, experiential approaches to improve environmental literacy and foster a stewardship ethic in participants from communities across the Gulf region.
3rd Place Partnerships
Squeaky Sneakers, an interdisciplinary program that marries art and informal science education as a teaching tool, was so named because participants’ wet shoes “squeak” while exploring Weeks Bay Reserve. Led by veteran art educator Nancy Raia, Community Arts and Outreach Director at the Eastern Shore Art Center and Angela Underwood, experienced Weeks Bay NERR Biologist and Education Specialist, the program promotes conservation of estuaries and other coastal resources through immersion in experiential environmental education and innovative forms of artistic expression.
Since 2008, Squeaky Sneakers has delivered experiential environmental education and art to over 500 participants ranging in age from preschool to senior citizens with a variety of abilities and backgrounds. Squeaky Sneakers strives to enhance ecological awareness and protection among culturally diverse and underserved communities and has worked with groups including Fairhope Rotary Youth Club, Foley Snook Youth Club, The Arc of Baldwin County, Fairhope UMC’s Shepherd’s Place, Camp Horizon Girls Wilderness Program, Baldwin County Public Schools Summer Programs, and Southwest Alabama Regional School for the Deaf and Blind. Additionally, Squeaky Sneakers trains other educators to extend the program’s reach.