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Austin Man's Concern for Seagrasses Nets 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

Redfish Bay Seagrass Conservation efforts have made Will Myers of Austin 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 Myers' seagrass conservation work, 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."

Myers accepted his award in the Individual category.

Having spent years fishing and birdwatching in the Redfish Bay area, Myers grew concerned about the destruction and loss of native seagrasses. In the fall of 1998, he assembled a coalition of concerned residents in the Port Aransas area, spending thousands of his own dollars to gather information and provide an initial plan for the management of seagrass resources in the bay.

Recognizing that seagrasses are critical to the long-term health of bay ecosystems and are the foundation upon which a thriving coastal fishery exists, the TNRCC and several other state agencies adopted the Seagrass Conservation Plan for Texas in January 1999. Last fall, the TNRCC also adopted rules requiring that seagrass preservation be taken into consideration when issuing permits.

Dr. Bill Harvey of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) said, "Mr. Myers was the driving force in the development of the seagrass plan for Texas. (His) encyclopedic knowledge of the region. . .and his unwavering commitment (were) critical in developing what has become a landmark plan for Aransas Bay and the foundation for seagrass conservation on the entire Texas coast."

Myers is also credited with designing a trail system in the North Harbor Island area of Aransas Bay that opens up the area to paddlers, anglers, and bird watchers who have been unable to navigate the area until now. His efforts have also inspired the establishment of the Redfish Bay State Scientific Area, the first of its kind in Texas, by the TPWD Commission in the Spring of 2000. Harvey said $12,000 in endowment contributions have been raised for that area, and Myers is leading efforts to increase that endowment to $100,000.

Project supporters include the Coastal Bend Bays Foundation, Environmental Defense, the Coastal Conservation Association, the Coastal Bend Guides Association, the Sierra Club, the City of Port Aransas, the Chambers of Commerce in Rockport and Aransas Pass, the Aransas County Commissioners Court, the Texas Boating Trades Association, the Aransas Bay Coalition, and the Federation of Flyfishers.

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."

Other Texas projects also finished in 1st place in Business, Partnership, and Non-Profit Organization 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 Myers and his Redfish Bay Seagrass Conservation efforts, 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.

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

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