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Sea Grant responds to COVID-19-related challenges across the country


As the country adapts to changes necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, coastal and Great Lakes communities, too, are rethinking how to resume what were once normal activities. Industries like seafood and tourism require unique solutions now to maintain economic livelihoods. Moreover, parents are searching for resources to keep students of all ages engaged and learning while remote. Sea Grant programs are leading responses in these sectors to provide relief to the communities they serve. Here are just a few of the initiatives Sea Grant created or enhanced in recent months.

Seafood and marketing

Restaurants make up a crucial portion of U.S. seafood sales and when restaurants closed early on, some of the hardest hit businesses were in the seafood industry. To help seafood producers who suddenly found themselves with more supply than demand, Sea Grant worked to develop direct marketing strategies as well as encourage seafood consumption at home.

Louisiana Sea Grant revitalized direct marketing resources and created an online store to connect consumers directly with seafood producers. Along with pop-up markets, these efforts helped commercial fishermen, shrimpers, crabbers and oyster harvesters sell a portion of their catch, allowing them to keep a revenue stream during a time of crisis. Within the first month of partnering for online sales with Louisiana Sea Grant, Wendell Verret, director of the Twin Parish Port Commission in Delcambre said, “Online sales have doubled… we’ve definitely seen an uptick.”

In San Diego, California Sea Grant contributes to a seafood direct marketing partnership that provides nutritious meals to food insecure families. In its first six weeks, the Fish to Families program served over 3,600 meals, while supporting San Diego fishermen and hospitality workers.

Florida and Hawaiʻi Sea Grant also used this time to educate communities on the ease of seafood preparation and benefits of consumption, with live cooking demonstrations and a professional development course on cooking with local foods. Florida Sea Grant’s Seafood at Your Fingertips series presented 12 recipes from Florida Sea Grant staff over two months, and it will continue with a second season starting in September. Hawaiʻi Sea Grant’s training focused on Indigenous cuisine, supporting both the restaurant industry and increasing public awareness of local foods.

For businesses in which direct marketing and seafood education was not enough to help keep them afloat, the National Sea Grant Law Center provided information and updates on aid, such as that made available by the CARES Act. Their regular webinars and legal counsel allowed Sea Grant personnel from all programs to share tailored information with their stakeholders.

Coastal tourism safety

While spring and summer months normally bring the height of coastal tourism, businesses and beach-goers found themselves needing a change of plans. Those looking for fun in the sun had to consider safe practices for venturing outside, and businesses had to adapt how they conduct activities in public spaces.

Recognizing this, New York and New Jersey Sea Grant launched a joint social media campaign called “BEach SAFEly”. Each week from July to September, the campaign shares messages like “Grab your sunscreen and sanitizer!”, to remind beachgoers to practice beach safety with consideration for new COVID-19 precautions.

Lake Champlain Sea Grant also spread the word about best practices, adding language about proper disposal of disinfectant wipes to 25,000 business guides. Additionally, the program developed safety signs and rack cards for Lake Champlain and Lake George marinas, reminding boaters of local guidelines for health and safety on the docks, in marina stores, at the fuel pumps, at pump-out facilities and in restrooms.

“We are counting on local tourism this year,” said Sherri Potvin, director of the Lake Champlain Islands Economic Development Corporation. “Everyone wants to do the right thing, for their health, others’ health, and the environment. Sharing information is more important than ever.”

Distance education

With the transition to remote learning, Sea Grant programs worked quickly to develop engaging, online educational content. This not only included lesson plans for teachers but also webinars, videos and activities for students.

One such series in the spring was Michigan Sea Grant’s H.O.M.E.S. at Home, which explored the Great Lakes (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie and Superior) through high-energy live broadcasts with Michigan Sea Grant staff. Each video had activity suggestions, daily challenges and a Q&A portion, on topics like marine debris, coast-inspired art and species of the Great Lakes.

Over the summer, Oregon Sea Grant adapted its annual summer camp programming to a hybrid virtual format. Students could complete previously-mailed “Camp in a Box” activities on their own time then engage virtually with marine educators and researchers. Each session closed the week out with an optional socially-distanced activity on the coast, at a beach or tidepool.

“This truly has been a different but fun way to connect with students this summer. The virtual format allowed us to host students from Virginia, Illinois, and Arizona  – so that is pretty cool!” said Lindsay Carroll, Marine Education coordinator at Oregon Sea Grant.

The COVID-19 pandemic presents new challenges but also new opportunities for creativity and growth. The National Sea Grant Office recently committed $3.4 million for COVID-19 rapid response funding, allowing Sea Grant programs to continue providing assistance to coastal and Great Lakes communities. More information about those funds and how Sea Grant programs plan to use them is available here.

Check out the National Sea Grant Office’s resource pages on aid and assistance for the seafood industry, and at-home educational materials.

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