How does climate change impact a community’s resources, industries and wildlife? How can communities respond to these challenges? Over 60 scholars gathered in St. Petersburg, Florida to answer these questions in a 5 day seminar entitled “Climate Change and the Plight of the Oceans.” The waterfront community of St. Petersburg, located along the Tampa Bay estuary, is home to oil, maritime trade, tourism and fishing industries. The estuary houses an incredibly diverse ecosystem. In addition to this, the area hosts a world-class marine science cluster. This made it the ideal place for scholars to explore these questions. Through hearing from experts, visiting local research centers and volunteering, scholars gained a better understanding of the complex issues facing this community and their connections to the global challenge of climate change.
The seminar began with a reception where representatives from the Fulbright Program, U.S. Department of State and University of Southern Florida warmly welcomed scholars.
Next, scholars dove into these issues through a jam-packed day of panels and trips. First scholars visited the University of Southern Florida College of Marine Science where they heard from several experts about the climate change and the Gulf Coast after the BP oil spill. Following the visit, scholars enjoyed a boat tour of Tampa Bay and heard from local officials about the impact of climate change and maritime transportation on the ecology of Port Tampa Bay as well as steps the port is taking to make transportation greener. The day ended with a viewing of marine biologist Dr. Sylvia Earle’s documentary film, Mission Blue, which chronicles her work to protect marine sanctuaries.
On the next day scholars learned about several different aspects of marine life. At University of Southern Florida Dr. William Hogarth, director of the Florida Institute of Oceanography, addressed scholars regarding public policy on fisheries. A panel discussed the discovery and preservation of deep sea shipwrecks in the area. At Eckerd College scholars met with college representatives and learned about the institution’s work and research in marine biology. They also toured the Galbraith Marine Science Laboratory, where undergraduates can conduct research on the local marine plant and animal life. In the afternoon local activists and government representatives spoke on the politics of protecting seas and coastlines.
The following day, scholars got a chance to help in the preservation of the coastline through volunteering with Tampa Bay Watch. Scholars joined with community members in planting over 8,000 sea oats in Fort DeSoto County Park. The sea oats will help protect the coastline from the effects of hurricanes, waves and high tides. They also help protect endangered sea turtles through providing a nest for their eggs beneath the sand.
Later in the day, scholars visited the Canterbury School of Florida, an independent P-12 day school with its own marine science program. There they enjoyed a tour of the Cousteau Center for Marine Studies and also had the opportunity to have dinner with students and their families.
The seminar ended with a chance for scholars to reflect on what they had learned about climate change over the past few days, how it would impact them when they returned to their home countries, and what they could do to work together on these issues. Scholars enjoyed the chance to learn about the topic from economic, political social and scientific angles. They also appreciated understanding both the role local communities can play in protecting the environment and how environmental concerns are a global issue shared across cultures.