Farewell 2020 – Frequently Asked Questions

(From Farewell 2020 Newsletter) For this farewell newsletter issue, we asked a group of individuals from across GoMRI a few Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about their experience as part of the program. We thank these individuals for taking the time to provide such thoughtful responses. And yes, we will miss the people most too!

Question: What has GoMRI meant to you and your career?

Steve Sempier, Oil Spill Science Outreach Manager, Sea Grant: “I cannot express how grateful I am that GoMRI supported the Gulf of Mexico Sea Grant Oil Spill team. GoMRI’s support allowed us to create a brand new extension team that allowed us to engage with new audiences and expand our reach. Personally, it was a tremendous opportunity to work with the Sea Grant team and engage with the broader GoMRI-supported community. It was extremely gratifying to work with people that are passionate about what they do and willing to collaborate. In addition, it was humbling to work directly with a Research Board that was comprised of preeminent scholars and administrators that shared the same vision.”

Tracy Ippolito, Outreach Team, Program Manager, CSOMIO & Deep Sea to Coast Connectivity in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico (Deep-C): “Being part of the GoMRI program through two GoMRI- funded consortia (Deep-C and CSOMIO) has been nothing short of transformative, in terms of my career. As a communication specialist, it allowed me to explore how communication can meaningfully contribute to the impact and legacy of a scientific research initiative. I joined the Deep-C consortium in 2011 as a project coordinator, but my role immediately expanded to include public information and outreach because I had a background in public relations and communication. That said, as a non-scientist, I’ll admit I was more than just a little intimidated by the sheer breadth of Deep-C’s scientific goals! My consortium’s research team consisted of literally dozens of the most highly accomplished oceanographers, biologists, geochemists, and numerical modelers — all of whom had an important role to play (and story to tell). Thankfully, that network of scientists, and those I worked with as part of CSOMIO, valued the role of communication and outreach and allowed me to draw upon their perspectives and expertise to do my job. I soon found that I thrived in the multidisciplinary setting. Moreover, I discovered I had an aptitude and, somewhat surprisingly, an enthusiasm for translating complex topics and an abundance of data into comprehensible and actionable information. That has now become the focus of my professional efforts and it will soon be the focus of continued studies, as I plan to go back to school in the fall to pursue a Ph.D. with an emphasis on science communication.”

Abby Renegar, Principal Investigator, Coral-Tox: A Species-Sensitivity Assessment of Petroleum Hydrocarbon Toxicity to Scleractinian Corals (RFP-VI): “To me, GoMRI funding has meant the formation of relationships with colleagues from all parts of the oil spill community; other academics, responders, government, and industry. My career has benefited along the same lines, through development of an extensive network of contacts.”

Kevin Shaw, GoMRI Program Manager: “GoMRI has come at the end of my professional career and allowed me to re-connect with many former graduate research colleagues during the mid-1970’s on what was considered then a baseline research program funded by the Bureau of Land Management to investigate the environs of the outer continental shelf of the northern Gulf off the coasts of Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, and Louisiana (MAFLA) as part of the oil lease sales environmental assessment program. Like GoMRI, there were many Gulf institutions and researchers involved comparable to a consortium with research, administrative and data management components. Unlike GoMRI, the records management, data sharing and data archiving was not of the same caliber and, thus, did not achieve a desired level of documentation or availability to future researchers. Being involved with the GoMRI program management team has allowed me to interface with not only the Research Board members, but also with researchers who now have a much better appreciation of the importance of interaction among their peers to produce the highest quality science. Now I am proud to have been part of a research program that has been conducted at the highest level of compliance and competence.”

Sherryl Gilbert, Assistant Director, C-IMAGE: “My tenure with GoMRI has undoubtedly been a career-defining experience. GoMRI gave me the opportunity, from the very beginning, to be a part of a diverse team of scientists, engineers, resource managers, administrators, and education specialists. Weaving all of this expertise into a cohesive picture of how oil spills can impact the Gulf of Mexico has been remarkable to witness, given that 10 years of funding enables a consistent additive process to answering some incredibly complex questions.”

Question: What do you think is the biggest question about recovery in the Gulf that is still left unanswered?

Tracey Sutton, Director, DEEPEND: “Our perspective is admittedly biased, but our findings suggest that the DWH disaster had a catastrophic effect on deep-pelagic life in the Gulf, and as of late 2018, there has been no sign of recovery. For us, this is a huge outstanding question. Allied with this question is the question of cumulative effects – could DWH have depressed life in the deep Gulf to the point that additional stressors have an even larger effect (i.e., Allee effects, “kicking the dog when it’s down”)?”

Abby Renegar, Principal Investigator, Coral-Tox: A Species- Sensitivity Assessment of Petroleum Hydrocarbon Toxicity to Scleractinian Corals (RFP-VI): “I think that perhaps the biggest question is, how is recovery assessed? Despite significant progress over the last decade as a result of GoMRI research, there is still a relatively limited understanding of some environments (like the deep sea). Given the lack of baseline data, the overall extent of the biological impacts will likely never be fully understood, and it is therefore very challenging to comprehend what constitutes recovery in these environments.”

Question: Ten years from now, what do you think will be GoMRI’s greatest legacy?

Abby Renegar, Principal Investigator, Coral-Tox: A Species- Sensitivity Assessment of Petroleum Hydrocarbon Toxicity to Scleractinian Corals (RFP-VI): “The synthesis activities, which bring together the vast amount of research conducted, will be the most important legacy of the GoMRI program.”

Kevin Shaw, GoMRI Program Manager: “GoMRI’s greatest legacy will be the Gulf-wide database and data management system established by the GRIIDC under direction of the Research Board. To date this is the single largest dataset for the Gulf offshore environment which is publicly available for at least the next 10 years will probably include future contributions from Gulf researchers.”

Question: What will you miss most about GoMRI?

Tracey Sutton, Director, DEEPEND: “That’s easy – the people, the camaraderie, the synergy. Offshore research in the [United States] has lagged that of many countries, and as a result, most of my collaborations prior to GoMRI were international. That made for “long-d relationships” in terms of science and interaction. GoMRI research highlighted the connectivity between inshore and offshore ecosystems, and more importantly, the connectivity that needs to happen between research groups. GoMRI was in many ways a ‘super group’ – a focused, multidisciplinary assemblage of people that wanted/ needed to talk to each other. Similar societal meetings may have the same scope of disciplines, but they can be so large that ones’ mind spins, and are usually a collage of specific interests. I’ll miss the size, interactions, teamwork, and structure of GoMRI. Of course, none of that happened by chance. GoMRI’s greatest legacy for many of us will be that in terms of leadership and structure, we just saw ‘how it’s done.’ If we can take that forward and do it even fractionally as well, that will be a heck of a legacy.”

Sherryl Gilbert, Assistant Director, C-IMAGE: “Easy. The people. 100%.”

Chris Hale, Program Manager, Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies: “It’s that diverse community that I will miss. I’m sure I’ll see familiar faces here and there as folks move into new exciting areas of work, but the GoMRI gatherings – the conferences, working groups, workshops – were special opportunities to connect and learn from each other, and be inspired. Interacting with members of this community kept me focused and energized to keep going.”

Abby Renegar, Principal Investigator, Coral-Tox: A Species- Sensitivity Assessment of Petroleum Hydrocarbon Toxicity to Scleractinian Corals (RFP-VI): “The annual conference!”

Emily Frost, Smithsonian Ocean Portal: “The people! After working with GoMRI for about eight years and attending six GoMOSES conferences, I met so many wonderful people that I hope to continue collaborations and friendships with for years to come.”

Steve Sempier, Oil Spill Science Outreach Manager, Sea Grant: “In short, the people. Moving forward everyone’s roles, responsibilities, and projects will change so interactions with the ‘GoMRI family’ will likely become less frequent and may be related to other topics and issues. The face-to-face interactions at GoMOSES, science seminars, workshops, and other events were tremendous opportunities that fostered additional collaborations. I will miss the opportunity to see many people that have grown with the program over the years but am hopeful our paths will cross on new projects and opportunities in the future.”

Tracy Ippolito, Outreach Team, Program Manager, CSOMIO & Deep-C: “I feel very fortunate to have been part of such an ambitious effort to serve the public good and I am sad to close this chapter of my career. What I will miss most about GoMRI will be the overall sense of cohesiveness and interacting on a regular basis with the people I have met and worked with over these past nine years: the scientists, students, and staff in my own consortia as well as other consortia, talented and creative outreach colleagues spread across GoMRI, and the [GoMRI Research Board and Management] team members who were always supportive and ready to help us succeed in our mission. Membership in the GoMRI family (which is what it eventually became) is likely a once-in-a lifetime experience. I’m glad I got to be a part of it!”

Question: What made GoMRI unique, compared to other programs/research you have been a part of?

Emily Frost, Smithsonian Ocean Portal: “GoMRI was unique in that the program was holistic – focusing on not only the importance of research and science but outreach and community engagement. The diversity of expertise was really stunning across the board.”

Chris Hale, Program Manager, Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies: “GoMRI is unique in that despite the thousands of people that make up its community- each with diverse backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives- everyone was able to organize around a single mission: Use science to address the cascading effects of an unprecedented tragedy. This diversity enabled the production and application of world class science.”

Abby Renegar, Principal Investigator, Coral-Tox: A Species- Sensitivity Assessment of Petroleum Hydrocarbon Toxicity to Scleractinian Corals (RFP-VI): “I was definitely an early career scientist when I received research support from GoMRI, so my experience is not broad. That being said, from my perspective, GoMRI is unique as program in that it has supported a very wide range of research topics with a given subject area, over a relatively long period. That level of continuity, along with significant cross-discipline collaborations, is what has made GoMRI a success.”

Sherryl Gilbert, Assistant Director, C-IMAGE: “I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of research and technical teams in previous projects, but none as complex as GoMRI. The successful execution of a complex program like the GoMRI is only made possible from the level of support given to us by the GoMRI leadership team. Their willingness to adapt priorities and funding based on new findings has made the science dictate the next steps, which sounds like common sense, but sometimes isn’t how the process works; GoMRI empowered the research.”

Steve Sempier, Oil Spill Science Outreach Manager, Sea Grant: “GoMRI provided a unifying thread that linked leading researchers and supported the education of the next generation of scientists around the world. I have never been affiliated with such a large-scale research endeavor that was born from a singular event with a mission to both improve understanding of the impacts from that event and reduce impacts of future spills. GoMRI-supported professionals were always willing to contribute to, present at, or participate in outreach efforts our program led. Overall, there was an emphasis on conducting top-tier research and sharing their peer reviewed work as broadly as possible. Being part of the Management Team and serving as an outreach partner with GoMRI was a unique opportunity. It was impressive how streamlined these programs worked together and collaborated on big and small projects.”

Kevin Shaw, GoMRI Program Manager: “The uniqueness of the GoMRI program began with the initial board members working with the client and their representatives in the early planning stages to develop the overall guidelines on how to conduct an independent research program free of interference from the funding agency. The MRA established National Science Foundation (NSF)-like policy and guidelines that were easily adopted by the research institutions that were awarded funds. The MRA was explicit in defining the major components of the program (Research Board, Administrative Unit, and Grants Unit) and guidelines on how these would interface and report. Within these guidelines there was the flexibility to adjust the conduct of the program based on scientific and administrative needs, all under the direction of the Research Board. Ultimately over the years, the fluidity of the operations gelled into a well ‘oiled’ program that not only has produced much valued scientific knowledge, but has distributed that knowledge to students and stakeholders throughout the Gulf; all with minimal administrative costs.”

Question: What do you plan to do next?

Tracey Sutton, Director, DEEPEND: “I will be continuing research established during GoMRI through the NOAA RESTORE Science Program, as well as two additional initiatives that involve related research. We are extremely grateful that GoMRI funding allowed us to build a time-series database of life in the deep Gulf that extended from 2010 (NOAA Natural Resource Damage Assessment surveys) to 2018 (DEEPEND surveys). To our knowledge, there is no time series like this for the deep-pelagic fauna in the history of oceanography. We can now ask questions that were previously untenable, questions that are routine for coastal ecosystems. Through RESTORE, we hope to turn this into an 18-year time series, potentially addressing issues that extend beyond DWH (e.g., climate forcing issues, fluctuating baselines, etc.).”

Abby Renegar, Principal Investigator, Coral-Tox: A Species- Sensitivity Assessment of Petroleum Hydrocarbon Toxicity to Scleractinian Corals (RFP-VI): “Take what I have learned from my GoMRI-funded research and apply it to independent but related lines of research. The CoralTox project sought to understand the relative impacts of petroleum hydrocarbons on scleractinian corals, and I am now adapting the methodology and analytical techniques to research on other aquatic contaminants, like UV filters, that may also impact coral health.”

Tracy Ippolito, Outreach Team, Program Manager, CSOMIO & Deep-C: “Involvement in GoMRI solidified my belief that communication studies have an important role to play in every area of scientific inquiry and that multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research, while admittedly much easier said than done, is essential. That is why I have decided to pursue a Ph.D. in Communication Studies at Florida State beginning in August 2020. Leveraging what I have learned and experienced over these past nine years, I feel that I have a unique opportunity to explore the relationship between communication theory and practice in an applied context. I plan to continue my work as a communication specialist, but my doctoral studies will enable me to contribute as a researcher, as well, helping fill critical knowledge gaps about the most effective ways to diffuse scientific knowledge/expertise (science communication) to targeted audiences.”

[Back to the Farewell 2020 Newsletter]