SOS: Science of the Spill Public Forum
Coastal Sustainability Agent
IFAS Extension faculty in the Panhandle responded to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico the way Extension does best—by providing research-based information to the public. On Wednesday, June 23, from, 6-8 pm at the Sanders Beach Community Center in Pensacola, agents hosted a public forum entitled, “SOS: The Science of the Spill.” While local commissioners, law firms, and BP have hosted town hall meetings since the spill, those have often elicited strong emotions and have not always been highly productive. The purpose of this forum was to give community members an opportunity to ask questions from a panel of local experts related to oil spill impacts, and to quell rumors generated by spill response and effects. Topics addressed included: Ecosystem Impacts, Depression & Anxiety, Wildlife Rehabilitation, Seafood Safety, and Water Quality & Health.
Bill Mahan, Franklin County Sea Grant, addresses a question related to seafood safety as part of the “Human Health” panel. Photo Credits: Pam Allen
Panelists for Human Health & Safety included Janet Garrett, LHMC, and David A. Josephs, Psy.D., Lakeview Center, who addressed questions on stress, anxiety, and depression brought on by the spill. John J. Lanza, MD, PhD, head of the Escambia County Department of Health, handled water quality and human health questions, while Bill T. Mahan, Jr, Franklin County Extension Director/Sea Grant Agent, took on seafood safety issues. Tim Simmons, an air quality supervisor with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, responded to questions related to airborne chemicals.
A member of the audience presents a question to the “Environmental Response” panel at the Pensacola forum. Photo Credits: Carrie Stevenson
On the Environmental/Wildlife Response panel, Ken Rice, Director of Wildlife Operations for the Mobile Sector of the Deepwater Horizon Response, was present to answer any questions related to wildlife.
Meeting coordinators and facilitators included Coastal Sustainability and Sea Grant agents representing four counties, including Carrie Stevenson and Andrew Diller (both from Escambia), Chris Verlinde (Santa Rosa), and Brooke Saari (Okaloosa/Walton). The mayor of Pensacola, Mike Wiggins, welcomed the audience, and between panels the Escambia County Board of Commissioners’ Chairman, Grover Robinson, updated the crowd on local response to the spill.
The program format was simple—after introductions and an overview of the meeting’s purpose, members of the first panel spoke briefly on their areas of expertise. Audience members with questions were given a numbered card, and came up in numerical order to ask questions at a podium. Each panel was given about an hour to handle questions. Feedback from the program was overwhelmingly positive. A number of attendees stated they now felt confident that knowledgeable locals were focusing on water quality, and were reassured to hear local mental health facilities were planning to coordinate larger efforts to help the community handle oil spill-related stress. Approximately 125 people attended the event, and more forums may be planned as the effects of the spill become better understood over time.