The Gulf of Mexico Alliance All Hands Meeting coming up June 16-18 represents an opportunity for LCCs along the Gulf Coast -- and even those further inland with watershed connections to the Gulf -- to significantly influence the direction and actions of GOMA projects over the next five years. That’s because, according to Laura Bowie, GOMA’s Executive Director, the meeting will focus on development of actions to be incorporated in GOMA’s Governors’ Action Plan III. This 5-year Action Plan is a guiding document that helps to focus investments of staff, resources, and partnerships on priorities identified by each of 6 Priority Issue Teams. It becomes final when it is signed by all five Gulf state governors.
“For the Wildlife & Fisheries Team, we are currently working from a list of 15 possible focus areas, which will be narrowed down to about 5 focus areas at the June meeting,” said Bowie. The [priority issue] teams want and need input from LCCs and partners. If there are issues that LCCs are working on, where they are thinking ‘if only we had funding we could do this’ then put it on the list at GOMA! We don’t want to duplicate efforts, but there may be new issues we have not thought about.”
What is GOMA?
The Gulf of Mexico Alliance, or GOMA, itself functions somewhat like an LCC for the Gulf Coast region, serving as a bridge and a nexus for many organizations, governments, and cross-cutting resource management priorities. GOMA is led by a management board called the Alliance Management Team (AMT), which includes all five Gulf States as well as federal partners including the Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Department of the Interior. Some AMT members are also members of the RESTORE Council; GOMA does not influence the Council but helps to provide a regional context for Council decisions.
“GOMA helps states to think regionally,” said Bowie. “This is when an AMT member is not just thinking about what’s good for his or her state, but instead thinking, ‘if the region has X, would it also be good for my state?’”
GOMA tends to conduct stakeholder engagement at a level that differs somewhat from LCCs, in that they reach out to business councils, state departments of environmental quality, and other high level state leaders (commissioners and secretaries). This contrasts with LCC engagement, which tends to be with mid-level resource agency managers and leaders.
Priority Issue Teams - the 2014 Reorganization
In preparing for the development of their third Action Plan, GOMA used extensive stakeholder feedback in 2014 to restructure their Priority Issue Teams or PITs (though none of the existing focus areas was eliminated). The following is a list of GOMA PIT teams and some of the key players active on each team. Three GOMA teams were retained as originally defined:
The Coastal Resilience Team focuses on risk communication, resilience assessment, and coastal adaption and planning. Key participants on this team are the four SeaGrant institutions in the Gulf of Mexico region, which according to Bowie are “strong on resilience and have ties to the seafood and fishing industries. They fund research and projects. For example, they developed a resilience index checklist for communities to use in assessing their resilience in the face of change or catastrophic storms. It has now been implemented in 48 or 49 communities across the Gulf Coast and has really taken off because SeaGrant is promoting it around the country.”
The Habitat Resources Team focuses on regional sediment management, sea level rise modeling, living shorelines, and habitat status and trends. This PIT includes the Gulf of Mexico Foundation, Partnership for Gulf Coast Land Conservation, The Nature Conservancy, and others.
The Education & Engagement Team focuses on public relations and expanded partnerships. Gulf estuary programs, which include the National Estuarine Research Reserves (NERRs) and EPA’s National Estuary Program are a huge part of this team. “The NERRs Coastal Training Program has extensive capacity for conducting outreach to communities and providing professional development for resource managers,” said Bowie. EPA has 7 National Estuary Programs designated along the U.S. Gulf Coast, which focus on scientifically sound community-based management.
Three other GOMA PIT teams were reorganized and newly defined in 2014:
The Wildlife & Fisheries Team is a newly defined team in 2014, focusing on living coastal and marine resources and other biological objectives for the Gulf. This PIT includes wildlife and fisheries agencies, state parks agencies, the Harte Research Institute, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, among others.
The Water Resources team focuses on issues related to hypoxia/nutrients, harmful algal blooms, freshwater in-flow, impaired/non-impaired streams, and human health (pathogens/mercury). Members of the Hypoxia Task Force are on this team. The Hypoxia Task Force is hosted by EPA and includes state agricultural agencies up and down the Mississippi River. According to Bowie, “that is our best connection to upstream watersheds, and it’s why it is important to have good relationships with LCCs as well.”
The Data & Monitoring Team focuses on observations and monitoring, data access and acquisition, tool maintenance for all GOMA teams, performance measures, and a Gulf Report Card. A key part of this team is the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System, which conducts bluewater and coastal monitoring and is part of NOAA’s Integrated Ocean Observing Systems program focused primarily on the collection of physical data of many types.
GOMA’s Business Council
GOMA also includes a Business Council, which represents 7 of the largest industries in the Gulf of Mexico region:
Council members meet quarterly by phone and once a year in person, with updates from various PITs occurring throughout the year. They provide the business perspective on many issues. One example is a dialogue that has been occurring between the Council and NOAA concerning coastal and marine spatial planning. Business partners perceive it as zoning, which they adamantly oppose. NOAA’s message is that it is a way to avoid conflict of use in the marine environment, such as between whales, wind turbines, and wildlife migratory pathways. As a result of ongoing dialogue in this context, no decisions have yet been made but both sides understand the other’s position on this issue better. Sometimes Business Council members also serve as representatives on Priority Issue Teams as well.