Environmental Protection

Gulf Guardian to Hand out Awards, Celebrates 10 Years

The Gulf of Mexico Program recently announced several Gulf Guardian Award winners for 2009, which will be recognized at a ceremony on Oct. 29 at the Oceans '09 International Conference in Biloxi, Miss.

First-, second-, and third-place awards are given each year in seven categories: individual, business, youth and education, nonprofit organizations, government, partnership and bi-national efforts.

Included in that group are:

  • Veracruz Coral Reef System National Park and the National Coral Reef Institute, a first-place award, Bi-National category.
  • Gulf of Mexico Foundation’s Science & Spanish Club Network, a first-place award, Bi-National category.
  • Nueces River Authority of Corpus Christi, Texas, a third-place award, Education category.
  • Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Coastal Program, a third-place award, Partnership category.
  • Texas Conservation Fund of Houston, Texas, third-place award, Civic/Non Profit category.
  • Clear Creek Environmental Foundation of Houston, Texas, second-place award, Civic/Non Profit category.

The Parque Nacional Sistema Arrecifal Veracruzana (Veracruz Coral Reef System National Park) and the National Coral Reef Institute are collaborating on an ongoing, three years to date, project to assess the fish and coral assemblages within the park (17 reefs encompassing 52,000 hectares) and correlate the distribution of these assemblages, and the presence of coral disease, to freshwater runoff. This information is critical for establishing and evaluating resource management strategies as well as evaluating the extent of anthropogenic, and other, impacts.

The Gulf of Mexico Foundation’s Science & Spanish Club Network (SSCN) is a multicultural approach, which began between two middle schools from Texas and Mexico. SSCN is an extracurricular and informal education program that uses critical habitat watersheds and shared ecosystems as the framework for developing environmentally engaged youth in grades 4-12 from primarily coastal and rural communities in Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Puerto Rico, St. Croix and soon Colorado, Montana and Minnesota. The SSCN strives to create the next generation of leaders in stewardship of the greater Gulf of Mexico community. The Science & Spanish Club is named that because the next generations of Gulf leaders have to know their science and be communicators of that science within the greater Gulf community.

Since September 2006, the Nueces River Authority (NRA) has been bringing innovative education to the people of the Texas Gulf Coast including the coastal areas of the Nueces River and adjoining coastal basins. The program is supported by the Clean Rivers Program and local contracts. They partner with the Center for Coastal Studies at TAMUCC, Texas Agrilife Extension, Coastal Bend Bays and Estuary Program, Texas State Aquarium – Sea Lab and others. Over the last three years, the NRA Education and Outreach Program for the Coastal Bend has delivered education to over 2,800 people at 52 events in Nueces, Bee, Jim Wells, and Refugio counties. Using original teaching tools, they take the lesson to the people, demonstrating the importance of clean waterways for drinking water, recreation, land, and animal health. The presentations use the Nueces Basin Watershed Model, the Wetland on Wheels, and a Rainfall Runoff Model – all hands-on, interactive tools.

The Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries Program (CBBEP) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services’ Aransas and Matagorda Island National Wildlife Refuge, began work to restore approximately 15,000 acres of salt marsh on Matagorda Island. In the 1950s, the estuarine marsh was sectioned off with constructed levees so that they could be drained for cattle production. Although this program was generally ineffective at producing productive rangelands, the resulting modifications to the hydrology and elevations resulted in colonization by non-native species and an altered circulation, exchange, and drainage patterns. In 2007, the CBBEP and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service developed an Adaptive Management Plan (AMP) to guide and prioritize this restoration effort. By the summer of 2008, approximately 2,500 aces of marsh were restored by the removal of sections of levee as well as the installation of culverts in key areas identified in the AMP.

In 1994, the Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC) and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality organized the first River, Lakes, Bays ‘N Bayous Trash Bash® with 12 sites. In 1999, the River, Lakes, Bays ‘N Bayous Trash Bash® Steering Committee took ownership and began managing the event. The 16th annual event was held on March 28. Sixteen clean-up sites hosted more than 4,600 participants who cleaned up 429,900 pounds of trash (214.95 tons) along 97 miles of shoreline. The Texas Conservation Fund is the 501 (c) (3) organization for the River, Lakes, Bays ‘N Bayous Trash Bash®. Its mission is to promote environmental stewardship through public education by utilizing hands-on educational tools and developing partnerships between environmental, governmental and private organizations.

Four months after Hurricane Ike hit in January 2009, hazardous debris and trash in Galveston Bay waters along the Seabrook, Texas waterfront remained. A grassroots environmental group, the Clear Creek Environmental Foundation (CCEF), mobilized resources and lent a much needed hand by organizing a massive clean-up effort to remove over 152 tons of trash and debris from Galveston Bay. CCEF led hurricane-stricken communities to join forces and do what state and federal officials had not yet been able to address in the wake of a devastating storm. Volunteers partnered to gather the resources, manpower, and technical expertise for the cleanup. The collected debris was pulled from the murky bay waters, loaded into barges, and taken to a collection area quickly coined “Seabrook Mountain” until it could be eventually removed by the city. All recyclable debris was taken to proper recycling areas. The effort benefited public safety and bay health and buoyed community spirits.

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.

Bryon Griffith, director of the Gulf of Mexico Program said, “The Gulf Guardian Awards Program is in its 10th year of honoring citizens, governments and businesses throughout the five-state Gulf Region for outstanding environmental achievements. Our 2009 award winners are truly an inspiration and exemplify the high quality of projects being done that generate as much excitement and pride as the award winners did in the beginning. With the addition of the Binational Gulf Guardian award in 2005, we now appropriately pay tribute to the bond we share in protecting this treasured resource with our southern neighbors and friends.”

For a list of all the Gulf Guardian Award winners for 2009, visit the Gulf of Mexico Program web site at www.epa.gov/gmpo and click on the Gulf Guardian Award button.

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