Our Ocean: Young Ambassadors

In mid-March, the Gulf Coast Citizen Diplomacy Council hosted a group of 22 young environmentalists from around the world as part of an International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) project titled “Our Ocean: Young Ambassadors.”

The visitors came from Argentina, Bermuda, Brazil, Cambodia, Egypt, the Federated States of Micronesia, Germany, Haiti, Honduras, Iceland, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Panama, Portugal, South Korea, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Suriname, Timor-Leste, and Venezuela and focused on strategies for protecting coastal and marine ecosystems.  In addition to their time in Pensacola, the group also traveled to San Francisco and Washington D.C.

The Pensacola program kicked off with some outdoor cultural fun on the weekend when the visitors enjoyed a dolphin cruise in Pensacola Bay and a visit to Gulf Islands National Seashore and Fort Pickens.

Councilwoman Sherri Myers formally welcomed the visitors to Pensacola during a discussion at Pensacola City Hall that touched on the history of the area and local environmental challenges such as the 2010 oil spill.  After the discussion, she surprised and delighted the group by presenting them with certificates of honorary citizenship to the city.

The young IVLP group next got hands on during a volunteer project constructing a living shoreline with Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) Environmental Specialist Zach Schang and a group of alternative spring break volunteers from Henderson State University.  They followed this volunteer activity with a meeting with Zach and FDEP Public Outreach Coordinator Brandy Smith to discuss how the agency uses regulation and other tools to protect vulnerable ecosystems.

Mollie Taylor, an environmental technician with the Escambia County Department of Natural Resources Management, met with the IVLP visitors for an overview of local biodiversity, discussion of the department’s restoration and environmental protection efforts, and a site visit to Project Greenshores.

During a visit to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Gulf Ecology Division (GED), the young participants explored the role of research in safeguarding environmental resources.  Thank you to Director Elizabeth George and GED representatives Jeanne Scott, Jessica Lisa, Candice Lavelle, Morgan Willming, Marcus Beck, Laura Enzor, Rebecca De Jesus Crespo, Alex Amario, Brandon Jarvis, Peggy Harris, and Cheryl Hankins for providing an informative and inspiring experience for the IVLP group.

The group wrapped up their program in Pensacola with a visit to Big Lagoon State Park where they observed coastal and wetland habitat and learned about the challenge of balancing environmental protection with ensuring public access for recreation.  Thank you to Park Ranger Mickey Quigley and Escambia County Extension Agent Rick O’Connor for hosting the group and sharing their work.

The Gulf Coast Citizen Diplomacy Council thanks all who contributed their time and energy to this IVLP project.