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News Releases from Region 04

The Florida Aquarium Receives First Place Gulf Guardian Award in the Youth Environmental Education Category

Contact Information: 
Dawn Harris-Young (
(404) 562-8421 , (404) 562-8400 (Main)

ATLANTA – Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Gulf of Mexico Program recognized the Florida Aquarium with a first place 2017 Gulf Guardian Award in the Youth Environmental Education Category at an awards ceremony held at the Grand Hotel Marriott Resort in Point Clear, Alabama.

“Whether for individual recreational use or as an economic engine supporting a wide variety of jobs and industry, the Gulf of Mexico is a vibrant yet vulnerable ecosystem,” said Ben Scaggs, Gulf of Mexico Program Director. “Protecting this national resource requires innovative approaches and proactive measures. The Gulf Guardian award winners are paving the way for “out of the box” thinking and replicable practices.” 

Watershed Investigations (WI) enables underserved students to experience their watershed while conducting scientific investigations. Components include exploring issues, learning and practicing field techniques, collecting data, and analyzing results with teachers and peers. The multiple touchpoints provide a more meaningful platform than a one-day experience. The classroom introduction and classroom synthesis provide important bookends to field experiences, and field visits reinforce students’ data collection skills while empowering them to become skilled in collecting data and analyzing results. The final project encourages students to relate data and observations to the larger watershed, climate change issues, and their own lives.

In its first year, 2014-2015, WI reached ~887 students and 42 teachers. In the second year, 2015-2016, maximum number of students in any of the four activities was 860, with ~41 teachers reached. Between years one and two, WI impacted at least 1,747 students and 80 teachers (some of whom participated in both years). In the current year, Florida Aquarium is tracking 42 teachers and 893 students, which will result in ~2,640 students cumulatively reached by the conclusion of this year.

Through WI, students build critical thinking skills by: demonstrating understanding of watershed concepts, identifying their local and regional watershed, observing how ecosystems change seasonally, collecting water quality data, identifying flora and fauna in the field, assessing scientifically credible information about climate, making projections about future changes, understanding how humans impact climate, and identifying personal actions to reduce one’s environmental impact.

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.

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.

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