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Scientific and Environmental Organizations Meet to Share Resources, Collaborate, and Communicate on Issues Affecting the Tampa Bay Region, Florida
The Tampa Bay Science Education Leadership Group (TBSELG) was formed out of the vision of connecting science-education groups in the Tampa Bay area to pool resources, share expertise and knowledge, and address issues of shared concern for public education. On February 15, 2008, the TBSELG held its inaugural "Share-a-Thon" at the University of South Florida (USF)'s St. Petersburg College of Marine Science. Participants included representatives from more than 35 local, State, and Federal Government agencies; science and environmental-education organizations; universities; and community-based groups. "I was really impressed with the turnout and networking that went on," said Ann Tihansky, hydrologist and science communicator for the USGS Florida Integrated Science Center (FISC) office in St. Petersburg. "We had a wide variety of participants who were eager to meet and want to continue this dialogue."
The Tampa Bay region has well-established and strong scientific and environmental organizations that carry out research and educate the public on everything from coral reefs and fish populations to water quality and sea-level rise. "Some of us conduct research, some of us teach the science in an educational and understandable way, and some do a combination of both," said Erica Moulton of the Pier Aquarium.
Although their missions and the ways they go about achieving desired goals may differ, many of these organizations share common interests and are looking for solutions to similar problems. "Many groups are working to address related, if not overlapping, issues: coastal resiliency, habitat protection and restoration, invasive species, and many more," explained Ali Hudon, education and outreach coordinator for the USF St. Petersburg College of Marine Science. "It makes sense to encourage and promote collaboration among these groups, not only to increase communication among colleagues in the same field, but also to enable resources to be shared and built upon."
More than 2.3 million people live in the Tampa Bay area. Population is expected to grow by 19 percent by 2015, adding an additional 500,000 people to the region. More people will bring about more extensive land-use changes and increasing pressure on the water supply. Tampa Bay's scientific and environmental organizations play a vital role in understanding natural processes to help predict future scenarios; they also have a responsibility to communicate what they have learned to the public and policymakers who can use the science for future planning. "Today, however, government and nonprofit groups are limited by funding and staffing," said environmental-education coordinator Phyllis Kolianos of Weedon Island Preserve's Cultural and Natural History Center, "so it's extremely important for organizations to collaborate and partner in like causes and programs to help offset those limitations."
The TBSELG hopes to facilitate additional opportunities in which Tampa Bay scientific and environmental-education groups can meet to discuss many of the questions and concerns they have, including topics that will affect the Tampa Bay region now and in the future. "Ideally, TBSELG partners will use the group and its meetings to identify specific areas of collaboration (for example, grant writing) and to develop action items and a timeline in which to achieve various goals," said Hudon.
The second TBSELG meeting was held August 27, 2008, at the Tampa Bay Watch facilities on Boca Ciega Bay. Participants continued the dialogue and began to chart long-term plans and goals. One of the big ideas being tossed around includes a public event focused on science and technology. "I would like to see our group work on organizing a science-themed weekend where science, research, industry, and technology come together for a street fair to get the public aware and excited about these topics that affect their everyday lives in many ways they may not even know," said Tihansky.
TBSELG is a regional hub of the national Coalition on the Public Understanding of Science (COPUS) network, a grassroots effort whose goal is to engage sectors of the public in science to increase their understanding of the nature of science and its value to society. Sheri Potter, a COPUS network project manager, presented an overview of COPUS at the August TBSELG meeting. She discussed examples of how other communities around the Nation are using creative ways to get science into mainstream society. She also offered TBSELG the use of the Tampa Bay hub of COPUS' Web site. The Web site is expected to provide quick access to all TBSELG organizations and help the COPUS group and the TBSELG team work toward common goals. Currently, organizations including the Southwest Florida Water Management District, the Pinellas County Environmental Lands Division, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have registered as part of the growing support for COPUS and its activities. The TBSELG looks forward to supporting COPUS in the Tampa Bay region and around the State. Watch for news about the TBSELG online in the next few months at URL http://www.tampabayscience.org/.
in this issue:
Scientific and Environmental Organizations Meet
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