NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS) has awarded Michelle Riley the Sea to Shining Sea: Excellence in Interpretation and Education Award for her project “Georgia Public Broadcasting Live Exploration of Gray’s Reef.”
According to a statement from ONMS, “Michelle and the Live Exploration of Gray’s Reef through Georgia Public Broadcasting are recognized for the creation of a livestream, virtual dive event featuring Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary that engaged more than 45,000 viewers from 44 states as well as internationally.”
The program was streamed live from the UGA Aquarium on May 10, 2017. During the event viewers were introduced to Gray’s Reef NMS through video, heard from scientists and had the chance to submit questions to be answered live. This program directly introduced tens of thousands of mostly elementary and middle school students to the wonders of Gray’s Reef and the challenges it faces.
GPB host Ashley Mengwasser, GRNMS Superintendent Sarah Fangman and UGA research scientist Scott Noakes, Ph.D. discuss Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary during the livestream. Photo M. Riley/GRNMS
This is the fifth year that ONMS has recognized outstanding achievement in the fields of interpretation and environmental education. This annual award is given to employees, contractors and volunteers for their demonstrated success in advancing ocean and climate literacy, and conservation through national marine sanctuaries, as well as for their innovation and creative solutions in successfully enhancing the public’s understanding of the National Marine Sanctuary System and the resources it protects.
Michelle received the award at the National Association for Interpretation’s annual conference in Spokane, Wash. in November. It was presented in conjunction with several other agency awards including the U.S. Forest Service’s “Gifford Pinchot Award” and the National Park Service’s “Freeman Tilden Award.”
“It is fitting for sanctuaries to be at the forefront of interpretation and education alongside some of the country’s best interpreters,” said John Armor, Director of Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.
Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary, in collaboration with Georgia Public Broadcasting, created a livestream virtual dive event on May 10 from the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium. More than 35,000 viewers from as far away as Romania tuned in from their homes, schools and offices to dive into a 30-minute virtual field trip of Gray’s Reef, located approximately 20 miles off the coast of Georgia’s Sapelo Island. The virtual expedition included underwater surgery on a fish to insert a tagging transmitter and beautiful views of the vibrant and abundant marine life found at Gray’s Reef. Viewers learned how Gray’s Reef was formed, how the seafloor serves as a habitat and how they can help protect the reef from threats.
GPB host Ashley Mengwasser, GRNMS Superintendent Sarah Fangman and UGA research scientist Scott Noakes discuss Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary during the livestream. Photo M. Riley/GRNMS
The sanctuary’s communications coordinator, Michelle Riley, worked with GPB’s Education division in Atlanta to create the event using underwater footage of Gray’s Reef and featuring sanctuary superintendent Sarah Fangman and UGA researcher Scott Noakes as experts. Emily Woodward and her colleagues at UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant provided substantial support to the event, and aquarium staff updated the tanks with a colorful new interpretation of Gray’s Reef. UGA’s Skidaway Institute of Oceanography provided technical assistance, utilizing the expertise of senior system administrator Wayne Aaron.
Targeted to students, the livestream included a question-and-answer session with Fangman and Noakes, during which viewers submitted more than 1,000 questions. The event was accompanied by supplemental materials tailored to Georgia Department of Education standards for K-12. GPB had hoped for an audience of 3,000 – 5,000, and was pleased that the participation level was substantially higher than originally expected.
To view the archived event, go to http://www.gpb.org/education/explore/grays-reef.