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Reef's Fish Survey Project Takes Gulf Guardian Award

TUESDAY, MAY 1, 2001
512/239-0046 (Pager 512/875-9213)
Seven out of 18 awards go to Texas projects; 1st place honors taken in 4 categories

The Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary Fish Survey Project is one of several 2001 Gulf Guardian award winners from Texas that was recognized at the opening day luncheon for the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC) Environmental Trade Fair on Monday.

Gulf Guardian awards stem from the Gulf of Mexico Program, a partnership formed in 1988 to develop strategies to protect, restore, and maintain the health and productivity of the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem. Entries came from the five states bordering the Gulf of Mexico--Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida.

Commissioner John M. Baker of the TNRCC said, "We do have a lot to be proud of here in Texas." Of the 18 Gulf Guardian awards presented, 7 went to Texas projects, and 4 of those winning efforts, including the Flower Garden Banks Fish Survey Project, received 1st place honors.

EPA Administrator Christie Todd Whitman said, "There are a wonderful variety of projects--from seagrass and wetlands conservation efforts to marine life and reef fish protection--that are created by concerned individuals who sincerely want to preserve the beauty and vitality of the Gulf of Mexico. Their projects go a long way toward preserving the value of this natural treasure and we appreciate their hard work. The accomplishments of these award winners will help build on the successful initiatives already underway in the Gulf of Mexico program."

Accepting the award in the Non-Profit Organization category was Ms. Leslie Whaylen on behalf of the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF). REEF is a grass-roots organization dedicated to the protection of marine life through education, service, and research. One of its largest programs is the Fish Survey Project based in Galveston.

In this program, volunteer divers and snorkelers gather data at locations important to marine life management and conservation officials. One such location is the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, consisting of the East and West Flower Garden Banks about 110km from the Texas coast, and the Stetson Banks, approximately 60km offshore.

Although there are other banks in the Northern Gulf region that support coral growth, the Flower Garden Banks are considered the only true coral reefs in the area, and are among the healthiest ecosystems in the tropical western Atlantic.

Through its enlistment and education of volunteer divers, REEF has created what is currently the largest database of fish assemblages in the world. The Fish Survey Program provides data to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and to other researchers to enable the formulation of policy for the long-term management of the Flower Garden Banks sanctuary.

Due to the location of the dive site 110 km off shore, survey work requires the use of a live-aboard dive boat, chartered at the rate of about $15,000 per week. REEF volunteers pay about half of this cost, with the remainder being covered by the National Marine Sanctuaries. The Nature Conservancy has maintained REEF's database computer, and has provided scientific guidance and fiscal support as well.

Other cooperating entities for the program include NOAA and Texas A & M University.

EPA Regional Administrator Gregg Cooke said, "It is exciting to see so many outstanding Texas projects being recognized by the Gulf program. It highlights everyone's commitment to protecting Texas' beaches and Gulf resources."

Gulf of Mexico Program Director Jim Giattina said, "We began the Gulf Guardian Awards to highlight and honor some of the partnerships and other projects that are helping the environment and water quality in Texas, other Gulf states, and in the Gulf of Mexico. We are all one Gulf community and have only one Gulf of Mexico. Projects like this are helping to protect our local coastal waters, which significantly contributes to the Gulf's beauty and value."

Texas contenders also finished in 1st place in Partnership, Business, and Individual categories. Second place honors for Business and Non-Profit projects, and a 3rd place award for a Youth/Education project, also received recognition at the luncheon.

The Gulf of Mexico Program is underwritten by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and is a non-regulatory, inclusive consortium of state and federal government agencies and representatives of the business and agricultural community, fishing industry, scientists, environmentalists, and community leaders from all five Gulf states. The Gulf Program seeks to improve the environmental health of the Gulf in concert with economic development.

Editor's Note: For more information about the Gulf Guardian Awards and the Gulf of Mexico Program, call Terry Hines Smith at 228-688-1159. For more information about the Fish Survey Project, call Karen Goelkel at 512-239-0046; pager 512-875-9213. For information about TNRCC and their participation in the Gulf of Mexico Program, call Andy Saenz at 512-239-5018.

All TNRCC news releases are available at http://www.tceq.state.tx.us/. Exit EPA Disclaimer
Please note: the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission is now known as the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Gulf of Mexico Program Office
Mail Code: EPA/GMPO
Stennis Space Center, MS 39529-6000
FAX: 228-688-2709

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