Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Earth Day -- Postponed Again

This year, once again, Earth Day won't be celebrated with the public at the Gulf Ecology Division on Pensacola Beach. As we noted two years ago:
Skipping Earth Day at the GED on Pensacolsa Beach is worse than merely losing one field day trip for school children. Earth Day Week traditionally has been the one time every year when the Gulf Ecology Division opened its doors -- or at least, some of its doors -- to the general public. The GED not only uses the occasion to cleverly educate children about the important scientific work they do, but it goes a long way toward dispelling the faint whiff of mystery that many islanders think hangs over the facility.
It's no mystery why the EPA's annual Earth Day Open House celebrations on Pensacola Beach are no more. According to research ecologist Stephen Jordan, it's the triple whammy of tighter security restrictions after 9-11, the added burden on staff after Hurricane Ivan, and steadily diminished federal funding over the last seven years.

"We just don't have the resources anymore," Jordan told us today. "Everyone here has been so tied up doing more and more with less and less budget."

No one should be surprised to learn that under the Bush administration the EPA "has been plagued by significant budget cuts." Among them are "sizable budget reductions for... science and research."

We always thought Earth Day week at the GED was one of the most fascinating, enjoyable, and intellectually stimulating activities of the entire year on Pensacola Beach. Staff scientists and facility managers spent up to three weeks, Jordan says, preparing hands-on activities for children and multiple outdoor educational exhibits for a walking tour of marine life and ocean ecology. There was always plenty to do, and learn about, for visitors of every age, from one to 100.

On rare occasions, Jordan says, it's still possible for a select few to make special arrangements for a tour of the facility. As an example, he mentioned that a small group of local 5th graders who are taking an advanced science class will be visiting the facility late this week. But that's a special case. Those particular kids are well ahead of their peers in science education.

For the rest of us, all we can say is "Wait 'til next year." If Congress and a new occupant of the White House can get their act together quickly enough to bump up the EPA budget, maybe GED could coordinate a "welcome back" celebration with the reopening of the road to Ft. Pickens, currently scheduled for next Spring.

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