Oil Spill Science Outreach Team Honored with Highest Sea Grant Extension Award

Current members of the Sea Grant oil spill science outreach program (L-R) Steve Sempier, Chris Hale, Missy Partyka, Tara Skelton, and Monica Wilson. Not pictured, Emily Maung-Douglass. Photo provided by Tara Skelton.

Current members of the Sea Grant oil spill science outreach program (L-R) Steve Sempier, Chris Hale, Missy Partyka, Tara Skelton, and Monica Wilson. Not pictured, Emily Maung-Douglass. Photo provided by Tara Skelton.

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative is pleased to announce that its partner Sea Grant and their Oil Spill Science Outreach Program received the National Superior Outreach Programming Award for synthesizing research results related to the Deepwater Horizon incident and engaging audiences who rely on healthy marine ecosystems to learn of their needs and share the latest science.

The Sea Grant Extension Assembly gives this award every two years to recognize outstanding success in outreach programming.  Winning nominees demonstrate exceptional leadership and teamwork that have significant results and public benefits within the Sea Grant extension mission.

This year the Assembly presented the award to Chris Hale, Emily Maung-Douglass, Monica Wilson, Larissa Graham, Tara Skelton, and Steve Sempier who are located at Sea Grant programs around the Gulf of Mexico.  LaDon Swann, director of the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, is the program’s Principal Investigator.   

“It has been a true honor and privilege to work with such a dedicated team of professionals who are focused on the service side of science and are effectively delivering it to people who have been or could be directly affected by coastal spills,” said Steve Sempier.

“In less than four years, the team has provided tremendous value to the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative and many Sea Grant programs within our network,” said LaDon Swann. “The team has raised the awareness of Sea Grant Extension within NOAA’s Office of Response and Recovery; the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine; the petroleum industry; and non-Sea Grant academic institutions nationally and internationally.”

The outreach team uses needs assessments, program design, appropriate delivery methods, and program evaluation as they implement a multi-pronged approach to outreach. At the program’s start in 2014, the team met with and received input on specific concerns and interests from more than 1,100 stakeholders that included fishermen, tourism leaders, spill responders, resource managers, public health officials, community leaders, elected officials, non-governmental organizations, educators, extension agents, and others.

These initial efforts seeking to understand what was important to affected communities laid the foundation for the work that followed. Swann said, “They have built trust among stakeholder groups, who during the oil spill, lost a good bit of trust in the science community.”

Using the stakeholders’ questions to focus their efforts, the team synthesized results from peer-reviewed journal articles into over 30 outreach products ranging from short fact sheets to longer, more in-depth publications. They have organized over 30 free science seminars on specific oil spill related subjects with over 100 invited speakers and close to 2,000 attendees. Though the program started with a regional focus, it is now national in scope, with upcoming meetings planned in Virginia, California, and Alaska.

In closing his remarks during the award ceremony, Sea Grant Extension Assembly Network Chair Dave 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.”

By Nilde Maggie Dannreuther. Contact maggied@ngi.msstate.edu with questions or comments.


The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) is a 10-year independent research program established to study the effect, and the potential associated impact, of hydrocarbon releases on the environment and public health, as well as to develop improved spill mitigation, oil detection, characterization and remediation technologies. An independent and academic 20-member Research Board makes the funding and research direction decisions to ensure the intellectual quality, effectiveness and academic independence of the GoMRI research. All research data, findings and publications will be made publicly available. The program was established through a $500 million financial commitment from BP. For more information, visit https://gulfresearchinitiative.org/.

© Copyright 2010-2018 Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) – All Rights Reserved. Redistribution is encouraged with acknowledgement to the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI). Please credit images and/or videos as done in each article. Questions? Contact web-content editor Nilde “Maggie” Dannreuther, Northern Gulf Institute, Mississippi State University (maggied@ngi.msstate.edu).