Wetland Watchers Win Gulf Guardian Award!

STENNIS SPACE CENTER, Miss. – The Gulf of Mexico Program today presented the LaBranche Wetland Watchers with a first place Gulf Guardian Award for 2004 in the Youth and Education Category. As a double honor, the Wetland Watchers’ coordinator, Barry Guillot, also received the 2004 first place Gulf Guardian Award in the individual category. The award ceremony was held aboard the Creole Queen Riverboat in New Orleans, La.

The LaBranche Wetland Watchers is a school-based service-learning project designed to integrate environmental issues into the curriculum. More than 3,800 fifth through seventh grade students have participated in service trips to and adopted sites near the Bonnet Carre Spillway. Students plan and participate in activities such as water quality monitoring, macro-invertebrate collection and identification, litter clean-ups, soil and plant identification, tree planting, and mapping out a public nature trail.

Students have spoken to more than 40,000 people across southeastern Louisiana. Through education, service, and awareness, students led a community effort for wetland conservation. The service site has exhibited some of the greatest amount of land loss along the Lake Pontchartrain shoreline. It faces development problems with a proposed airport, has huge litter and dumping problems, and suffers greatly from salt water intrusion. It is the focus of many federal and state restoration projects and refinery mitigation projects and serves as a microcosm of problems that wetlands are facing locally and globally. The primary objective of the LaBranche Wetland Watchers is to encourage wetland conservation through Education, Service, and Awareness.

Barry Guilllot, a seventh-grade science teacher, worked with his students to create the LaBranche Wetland Watchers project in 1998. Guillot is the backbone behind this nationally recognized project that enables more than 1,000 students each year to meet required academic standards through activities that also benefit the environment. To ensure success and funding, Guillot writes grants, gains and maintains partnerships, and coordinates and attends a multitude of functions. According to Leslie Rodrigue of the Cresent Soil and Water Conservation District, without Guillot, there wouldn’t be a Wetland Watchers project. Guillot’s project is one of the finest examples of outdoor education anywhere.

“The LaBranche Wetland Watchers program at Hurst Middle School is a shining example of service-learning excellence in education,” said Louisiana Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu. “Mr. Guillot and his students are to be commended. The Wetlands Watchers program is a true service-learning model, integrating academic objectives and service. The Louisiana Serve Commission, in the Office of the Lieutenant Governor, offers Learn and Serve America grants to encourage and promote programs such as Wetland Watchers. I know that other teachers and students throughout Louisiana will be inspired after learning about the great work of Mr. Guillot and his caring group of young people,” added Landrieu.

The Gulf of Mexico Program initiated the Gulf Guardian awards in 2000 as a way to recognize and honor the businesses, community groups, individuals, and agencies that are taking positive steps to keep the Gulf healthy, beautiful and productive. The Gulf of Mexico Program began in 1988 to protect, restore, and maintain the health and productivity of the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem in economically sustainable ways. Award entries were received from Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. A first, second, and third place award are given each year in six categories – individual, business, youth and education, nonprofit organizations, government, and partnership efforts.

“The Gulf Guardian Award winners for 2004 are prime examples of collaborative environmental efforts leading to neighborhood solutions that transcend political boundaries,” said Benjamin Grumbles, EPA Assistant Administrator for Water in Washington, D.C. “I commend all of the winners for their innovative partnerships, common sense ideas, and hard work. Their efforts are making a difference in protecting and restoring the Gulf of Mexico.