In late September, eight young visitors from across Southeast Asia spent time in Pensacola as part of the U.S. Department of State’s Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI). Put in place as a boost to regional integration efforts, YSEALI brings together young leaders from across the region to focus on solving common problems through collaborative solutions.
This year, YSEALI focused on strategies to protect the oceans from overfishing, habitat destruction, and pollution, among other issues. The Pensacola cohort came from Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam and spent several days in Pensacola meeting with local, state, and federal level agencies working in the area of environmental protection.
Their first appointment was with Pensacola City Councilwoman Sherri Myers who welcomed them to the area and spoke about the environmental history of the region and the fight for environmental justice.
The Southeast Asian young leaders received a county-level environmental perspective during a meeting and two site visits with Escambia County Department of Natural Resources Management Environmental Technician Mollie Taylor. She shared a presentation giving an overview of the regional environment and highlighted county restoration projects as well as impacts to the environment including the 2010 BP oil spill. Mollie then led the group on two site visits, the first to the Escambia County Central Office Complex’s green roof and then to Project Greenshores.
Several representatives of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) met with the YSEALI visitors to highlight their roles in environmental remediation and regulation in the northwest Florida Area. Attending FDEP representatives included Northwest Florida District Director Shawn Hamilton, External Affairs Manager Brandy Smith, Environmental Administrator Tanya McHale, Drinking Water Section Supervisor John Pope, Solid Waste Engineer Dawn Templin, and Christopher Stoll of the Division of Air Resources Management. Special thanks also go to FDEP Environmental Specialist Zach Schang for his help arranging the discussion.
A visit to the Environmental Protection Agency Gulf Ecology Division lab provided the group with the opportunity to hear about research being done on marine environments at the federal level. Acting Director Sandy Raimondo hosted the visitors for discussions with several researchers as well as a tour of the facility including labs where coral living conditions are tested.
The YSEALI group also met with Gulf Islands National Seashore Supervisory Park Ranger Sandra Tennyson for a discussion on the conservation mission of the park and how public access is balanced with environmental preservation. Afterwards, the visitors were delighted to visit the national seashore and experience a tour of Fort Pickens.
The young leaders also shared their own environmental initiatives with the public during a presentation hosted by the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, and then spent some time exploring the area with an evening dolphin tour. You can explore their two projects, Anchors Away & Seaweed4Us, through this website and this Facebook page.
The Gulf Coast Citizen Diplomacy Council extends a special thank you to members Judith Brooks & John Toole, Emily Huang, and Charles Stauffer for hosting dinners in their homes for these visitors and thanks all who contributed their time and energy into making this year’s YSEALI exchange a success!
At the Gulf Ecology Division of the EPA