The following blog was written by ECHO's Executive Director Phelan Fretz. He is on a summer sabbatical from ECHO and is taking the time to explore the country. He promised to send us "nuggets of learning" from the field, and this is the third installment.
Lessons from the Pacific Coast
The Hatfield Center, Newport, Oregon
The Hatfield Center, Newport, Oregon
by Phelan R. Fretz, Ph. D.
|The Oregon coast|
Upon first blush, the thriving Hatfield Visitor Center would seem very different from ECHO and the Leahy Center. It is 6x the size of ECHO, has eight national research and public outreach partners (300 staff onsite) with significant investments compared to ECHO's one (UVM), and its focus, marine instead of fresh water, would suggest there's not much for ECHO to learn. But, upon closer inspection, there is a great deal similar to ECHO - the Visitor Center serves 150,000 (mostly in the summer), lies in a small community and has built its public experience on the scientific research of their partners.
The Hatfield Visitors Center is modeling three ideas ECHO should consider based on their partnership with Oregon Sea Grant, a NOAA program integrating research and public outreach. As the nation's first Sea Grant facility awarded 'institutional status,' the Hatfield Center has Sea Grant running the Visitor Center as public outreach, convening leaders when critical environmental issues arise and conducting visitor research.
Dave Hansen, Sea Grant's site manager for the Hatfield Visitor Center, indicated "We staff the visitor experience with five educators and a bunch of aquarists to care for the fish. Because of Sea Grant's support, we ask only for a suggested donation at the door - $5 per person, $20 per family." Dave continues, "Most of the exhibit ideas come from the Hatfield Center's scientists; focusing on fisheries management, tide pool animals, invasive species, and their most popular, impacts of earthquakes and tsunamis." The University of Vermont's Sea Grant program is focused on programs for schools and public outreach. What can/should the role of Sea Grant be in the daily experience at ECHO?
In addition to an exhibit, the Japanese tsunami provided the second model idea ECHO should consider, convening leadership when an environmental crisis emerges. Dave explained, "Months after Japan's tsunami, pieces of a commercial dock showed up on our shores." With great concern, he added, "We are talking about giant concrete structures, a hundred feet long, threats to navigation and covered with invasive species. And to our surprise, the species attached to the docks were alive after their ocean journey, potentially adding new
species to our already stressed ecosystem." In response to this crisis, Oregon Sea Grant convened scientists and policy makers to define what to do. Dave added, "We were very successful. Resources were allocated. As more debris arrived, we had a plan." For another issue, with direct implications for Vermont, Dave shared, "All of us in the northwest were struggling with how to stop invasive species arriving on personal boats, a huge issue for the region's lakes and ponds. So we convened all the AG's (Attorney Generals) from the neighboring states and they came up with a coordinated approach." The region now has mandatory boat checks and education programs. As we prepare to launch the second Leahy Center Environmental Summit in April 2015, is there a role for Sea Grant? Should we be partnering to convene leaders to tackle special problems such as in Oregon?
|Live animal tanks|
I witnessed three models for how Sea Grant is an integral partner in how the Hatfield Marine Science Center engages multiple audiences. What does all this mean for ECHO? I forward to working with Vermont's Sea Grant and ECHO's board and staff to define the answers.