Around the world, the Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society runs special programs to make citizens Ambassadors of the Environment. Those somewhat exotic places include Catalina Island in California, Hawaii, Grand Cayman, Puerto Rico, San José Del Cabo in Mexico, Marco Island in Florida and Fiji.
And, it’s coming soon to Gulf Shores.
Dr. Richard Murphy, who has worked on Cousteau family projects since 1968, was in town recently to help kickstart the same program for the city.
“What we’ve learned through our own personal experiences is getting ourselves out into nature and being engulfed in the natural world is a transformative experience,” Murphy told the City Council on June 3. “We all came home different people from those expeditions that you’ve probably seen on television. Jean-Michel and myself felt there was a need and an opportunity to take that kind of experience and package it for the public in what we now call the Ambassadors of the Environment.”
It will be a centerpiece of the city’s new Restore Act-funded Gulf Coast Center for Ecotourism and Sustainability. Murphy and another Cousteau veteran, Travis Langen, and naturalist Estelle Davies were working on setting up the program. Langen was hired away from the Catalina Island program to run the new center in Gulf Shores.
“We have been real busy establishing the roots of this organization, meeting with a lot of our community partners,” Langen said. “We’ve got some really exciting programs we are ready to launch this summer in collaboration with the city schools. We are developing the curriculum for the Gulf Coast Ambassadors of the Environment program this week.”
The trio went out into the community to meet with local leaders and also explore the natural environment of the coastal area to get ideas for the program.
“What we’re happy to do here is explore the environment exactly as we used to on expedition,” Murphy said. “Learning from the experts, learning from the people who are involved in management of tourism and things like that and figuring out what are the most exciting resources that we can capitalize on to build experiences, particularly for kids. But not only kids in the Ambassadors of the Environment program. We’re here to learn, to observe, to find out who we can partner with and create the actual curriculum and list of activities that will eventually be offered to people who participate in our program.”
At the June 10 meeting, the council accepted about $1 million for the first step in bringing the center to fruition. The money will go for planning, engineering and design services and should be completed in nine to 12 months. Phase II with the actual construction of the center is expected to begin in 2020. The total amount of the Restore grant earmarked for the project is $9.7 million.
“Our intention is for the city to make this project a model for a low-impact development,” Gulf Shores Environmental Grants Coordinator Dan Bond said. “We intend to make it a real example of how you can build something and have it immersed in the environment and be supportive of the natural environment its surrounded by.”
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