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The Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System (GCOOS) today announced the launch of two new data portals designed to help resource managers protect the environmental health of the waterways in the Gulf of Mexico watershed.

The Hypoxia-Nutrient Data Portal, created in partnership with the Gulf of Mexico Alliance, and the Citizen Science Data Portal aggregate information gathered from multiple sources and organizations throughout the Gulf so that the data may be used to support informed strategies for protecting the long-term health of the Gulf and its waterways.

The launch of these new Data Portals is taking place in coordination with the 2016 White House Water Summit (live streaming beginning at 9 a.m. today at www.whitehouse.gov/live which is designed to raise awareness of the importance of water and to catalyze ideas and actions to help address issues through innovative solutions. Safe, sufficient, and reliable water resources are essential to the functioning of every aspect and sector of U.S. society, including agricultural and energy production, industry and economic growth, human and environmental health and national security.

The White House Summit is being held on World Water Day, an annual observance created by the United Nations in 1993 to highlight water-related issues throughout the world. This year’s theme is “Better Water, Better Jobs.”

Forty-one percent of the continental U.S. drains into the Gulf of Mexico through the Mississippi River. The nutrients from human activities that flow with it creates a major “dead zone” — an area with low or no oxygen that has major impacts on fisheries — annually in the Gulf of Mexico. In some years, this dead zone has grown as large as the state of Rhode Island.

“Dead zones can have a destructive affect on Gulf fisheries, which provide 20 percent of the nation’s seafood production and $1 billion in commercial landings,” said Dr. Barbara Kirkpatrick, Executive Director of GCOOS. “A healthy Gulf of Mexico is critical for healthy fisheries and the jobs that depend on them. Our new Hypoxia-Nutrient Data Portal will give us a more precise picture of nutrient inputs into the system — important information that resource managers must have so that we can reduce excess nutrients flowing into the Gulf.”

GCOOS is one of 11 regional programs of the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System. Since its inception, the nonprofit organization has helped move groups away from collecting and keeping their own ocean data to sharing and exchanging information about the Gulf in real-time and near real-time. GCOOS helps to develop data management standards, provides online portals where groups can stream data for widespread access and develops new information products that help make the data more readily useful to the public. The data comes from instruments mounted on things such as buoys, autonomous underwater vehicles and even oil platforms.

About the New Portals

The Hypoxia-Nutrient Data Portal was developed in partnership with the Gulf of Mexico Alliance and aggregates information from multiple sources to support informed strategies needed to reduce nutrient inputs and hypoxia impacts to Gulf coastal ecosystems, extending from the inshore waters of estuaries to the continental-shelf break of the five U.S. Gulf states. The new Portal, which covers the inshore waters of estuaries to the continental shelf break of the five U.S. Gulf states, allows users to inspect base maps of observations down to the station level and is the first and only one-stop shop for resource managers that will allow them to pinpoint problems and take action to reduce excess nutrients in our waterways. Online at http://data.gcoos.org/nutrients/

Gulf-wide, hundreds of grassroots groups monitor environmental conditions in their local areas. Often that information is not shared with management agencies or organizations that could make real-world use of it. The Citizen Science Data Portal is being piloted with three partner organizations and developed and implemented by GCOOS as a cost-effective way to gather localized information over longer periods of time, allowing state, federal and academic programs to supplement datasets with important detail. GCOOS’ unique position as a data aggregator allows the organization to address the challenges inherent in integrating diverse datasets collected with different methodologies and instrumentation so that managers can have confidence in the information. Online at http://gcoos.org/products/ (click on “citizen science”).

“Gulf-wide, citizens’ groups are gathering data about their regions and that’s great,” said Dr. Chris Simoniello, Director of Outreach and Education for GCOOS. “But if the data aren’t widely available, they can’t help when the unexpected happens. For instance, after an oil spill, resource managers must restore habitats that were damaged. But without good baseline information about what a particular habitat looked like before a disaster, it’s impossible to do good, science-based restoration.”

Simoniello is working with three groups in Florida and Texas to host the data that their citizen scientists are gathering — the Galveston Bay Foundation in Galveston Bay, Texas, Nature’s Academy in Bradenton, Fla., and The Florida Aquarium in Tampa, Fla.

Compared to environmental monitoring conducted by state and federal programs and academic institutions, place-based data collected by citizen scientists can be a cost-effective way to gather information in more localized areas over longer periods of time — something often missing in other datasets. Making the information widely accessible can fill data gaps and enable state, federal and academic programs to allocate their budgets more efficiently and effectively.

In addition to having baseline data that can be used to develop science-based restoration projects, the data portal could also be used in classrooms and informal learning venues as a teaching tool. “These organizations will be compiling long data sets that can be used to teach students about the types of information that is gathered about the environment and show them how things change over time,” Simoniello said. “These kinds of lessons are vital for educating students in science, technology, math and engineering.”

Ultimately, the amount of information GCOOS can host will depend on funding availability, Kirkpatrick said. “We hope that we can continue to work with new organizations to expand the amount of data available over time. For now, we’re excited to be piloting this project and making the information our partners are gathering widely accessible.”

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