Guardians of the Gulf

Latest update September 6, 2019 Started on March 20, 2019

Led by the USF College of Marine Science, this program will inspire and empower Boys & Girls Club participants to become true Gulf ambassadors at a time when our coastal environment needs them the most.

March 20, 2019
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Hi All! We continue to keep all of those affected by Hurricane Dorian in our hearts and minds and prayers. It was great to see the overwhelming donations being collected around the corner from us at Albert Whitted Airport. We’ve already sent 6 plane-fuls of hopefully helpful items, and more is on the way to the Bahamas.

Here in St. Pete I think we had 11 rain drops of Dorian’s rain and a few puffs of breeze. We were truly fortunate this time around.

We wanted to share our excitement about the Tridents coming in – and last week we got one in the test tank here at the USF College of Marine Science! It was the quickest dip in the test tank that the tank has likely ever seen, because we need to tend to hurricane prep. But we just couldn’t wait.

Enjoy some photos and a short video. Sarah, our fearless operator, had a blast figuring out the controls, and I’m happy to report she is an absolute pro after just a couple minutes. But I couldn’t resist posting the video of the first time she had it in the water when she had it do an aquatic version of a wheelie!

Hope you’re having as much fun as we did on this particular day!

Check out the video

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We’ve started to dry out here a bit in St. Pete during an exceptional rainy season that has thwarted some of our field test plans for the moment. We’ll get there! Mother Nature’s in charge, and we will certainly heed her wishes.

[Side note: these epic rains could be part of a “new normal,” and comprise part of the huge puzzle of reasons why we want to develop the “Guardians of the Gulf” project focused on coastal resiliency! We are excited to empower our youth with knowledge about what our precious coasts face, give them a voice in these complex challenges, and inspire them with the ability to innovate and act.]

Side note aside, it’s a perfect moment to share how excited we are to partner with the Boys & Girls of the Suncoast. We will pilot our plans for “Guardians of the Gulf” with one club in St. Pete with a seriously cool history: the historic Royal Theater!

The Royal Theater was built in 1948 and served as a central hub of entertainment and the arts for the African American community until 1966. It boasted music entertainment, dance performances, movies, community talent shows, and more! What’s more, it is the only remaining theater that historically served the African American population during the era of segregation. As such, it has been designated an historic landmark by the City of St. Petersburg.

The building was donated to the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Suncoast in 1976 and now serves as a chartered Club site for about 55 youth per day between the ages of 5-18 years.

The theater’s signature Quonset-hut design was a popular method of construction after World War II because the buildings were light, portable, and relatively cheap. The name is derived from the city where the buildings were produced: Quonset, Rhode Island.

We’ve got some ideas brewing for fun indoor marine science activities for our Boys & Girls Club participants that will capitalize on the building’s unique shape. Stay tuned!

And get this: when it opened, admission prices were 40 cents for adults and 14 cents for children. Alternatively, children could get in by bringing bottle caps from RC Cola or Whistle sodas! Reports suggest the magic number for entry was 7.

We’re planning a site visit to the Royal Theater soon, and will be sure to share some more pics! For now, enjoy a historic photo and one from today. What a special spot the Royal Theater plays in St. Pete’s community and history.

Thanks for following along!

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In The Field


As part of our project with the Boys & Girls Club of the Suncoast, we will soon be installing a small artificial reef at the Clam Bayou site!

Artificial reefs are more frequently being used both nearshore and further offshore to help create habitat for many species of reef fish, invertebrates, as well as other marine plants & animals. Pinellas County alone has 42 (!!!) artificial reef sites that it has installed that range from 200 yards to 38 miles from the shoreline (

In order to make sure we place the reef in the best spot available, we went out to Clam Bayou last week to snorkel around and scout out some spots. Unfortunately, a TON of rain has been dumped on St. Petersburg over the last week or so which equals water within Boca Ciega Bay that could only be described as…less than desirable 😊 We aren’t fretting too much though because this is the nature of working so close to a developed shoreline sometimes, especially during the rainy season! We expect that as the amount of rainfall comes down as we get more into Fall & Winter, the visibility will be back where we need it to be.

Despite the soupy waters, we were still able to get some good information about what’s around Clam Bayou’s dock and where the best spot to put our mini artificial reef will be as shown in the map below.

Once the mini-reef is installed, we plan to do regular dives with the Trident drone to see who and what are around! Because we can’t always take the ambassadors from the Boys & Girls club with us, we hope to stream these dives live to the Club - it'll be a great way to share how this mini-reef is being populated and who might be home.

With our own little mini-reef, we look forward to demonstrating to our Guardians of the Gulf what sort of impact these structures can have and we can’t wait to see what sort of creatures make the reef their home!

We also have tremendous gratitude for Spectrum who is going to be helping us install an underwater camera right next to the mini-reef which will live-stream the scene 24/7! That way, our ambassadors at the Boys & Girls club can tune in at any time to see who’s around. Also, thanks to Ocean Habitats (,,) the company that manufactures the Mini-Reefs – we can’t wait for ours!

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We were just informed that we will secure a Trident drone shortly! Our application was accepted, and it sure helped to have a community of followers to our blog.

I just celebrated by downing an ocean roll, which is like a cinnamon roll but filled with cardamom – yum. Doing this has made me feel a little like the photo below - but it was worth it!

From the bottom of our bellies and hearts we THANK each of you for signing up to follow us! We look forward to keeping you posted on our progress.



Earlier this summer a few of our team members joined Dr. Mark Luther on a short expedition in Tampa Bay. We left from the docks off the USF College of Marine Science (see cool aerial footage of our campus here). Dr. Luther sometimes hires commercial divers to help him retrieve sensors around the bay that need servicing. This is just one of many marine-related careers we look forward to introducing to participants at the Boys & Girls Club as part of our project.

Check out images below! You'll see the videographer capturing the action, and the divers getting suited up and heading down to explore the seafloor!

Maybe next time we’ll have our Trident drone to fly around when the diver descends so we can really “see” what that’s like – and how cool it'll be to be able to beam the footage back to the Boys & Girls Clubs live!

If anyone’s got his finger on the pulse of Tampa Bay, it’s Dr. Luther! We’re grateful to have his support on our new project, where we will leverage the many sensors he has around the bay as part of the USF Center for Maritime and Port Studies.

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We have so much to share with the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Suncoast (and eventually others) in our new project once we get up and running.

One thing we can’t wait to do is use the Trident to fly around the sunken treasures and reef habitat off the Florida Gulf coast. We’ll compare these habitats to a new mini reef that we’ll deploy off our Clam Bayou site. There are WWII tanks, an old barge, pieces of old bridges, and more – right off St. Petersburg Beach in our backyard!

Take a look at the video below and see for yourself!

The image below is a bathymetry map of a spot about 100 nautical miles west of Tampa Bay called The Elbow. We’d love to fly the Trident around this popular fish hangout, too! It sits in nearly 180 feet of water. The red color indicates the top of ridge in the Elbow reaches nearly 25 feet above the surrounding seafloor– about the height of a typical telephone pole.

Image credit: USF College of Marine Science

In the video sequence, the top left square shows bathymetry, which indicates the topography of the seafloor. The bottom left square shows vertical relief of the structures surveyed, and the right panel shows backscatter that indicates whether the seafloor is made of sand or rock.


SITE VISIT: July 11, 2019

Our vision for Guardians of the Gulf is bold. Instead of merely “bridging the gap between science and society," we aim to create true ambassadors for change at a time when our coastal environments need it the most.

As much as we’d love to take kids with us out on the boats every day to see and explore our beautiful Gulf coast – and appreciate why and how it’s at risk from escalating threats – that’s just not possible. So we will use the power of technology to take them where they can’t normally go.

In addition to our Trident (Can’t wait to work with our technology partner Spectrum to be able to send video back live from the Gulf!), we will leverage the power of:

-Wireless technology

-Existing live data streams (To help us monitor the “pulse” of the Gulf)

-Webcams on mini-reefs, and more!

On July 11th several team members did an important site visit to one of our primary locations – Clam Bayou in St. Pete. This is one place we will set up an artificial reef with a webcam such that the kids at the Boys and Girls Clubs can ‘tune in’ any time to see who’s colonizing and swimming around. We already have a bunch of sensors recording data about the weather and the water in this location as well.

In particular we tested the wifi technology on site and the webcam that we'll mount on one of the artificial reefs!

We can't wait to fly the drone around this and other reef sites around Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico! So grateful to have the help of Spectrum, our technology partner, in this exciting new initiative.

P.S. The webcam worked!

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Thanks Lee! We'll try to keep 'em coming. So excited about this project, and the great team behind it.
Expedition Background


Florida is ground zero for climate change and a kaleidoscope of natural hazards that threaten its future. We are watching scientific predictions unfold like a live action movie in a way that demands innovation, action, and meaningful community engagement.

As a leader in coastal resiliency with programs focused on red tides, sea level rise, fisheries management, oil spill response, and more, the USF College of Marine Science is excited to partner with the Boys & Girls Club of the Suncoast to develop Guardians of the Gulf. This bold new program, based in St. Petersburg, FL, will empower young people toward increased understanding, innovation, and action toward resiliency.

Their future, and Florida’s, depend upon it.


We are in the early stages of this project. We are building a web-based education program with newsy broadcasts and digital experiences that are sprinkled with opportunities for live, real time conversations between scientists at sea, in the lab, or on the dock with kids in Boys & Girls Clubs. The digital part of the program will be complimented by targeted hands-on and field-based activities that reinforce concepts, stimulate inquiry, and sustain engagement.

We are building the program under the auspices of St. Petersburg’s “smart city” initiative. See the story here. St. Pete joined the ranks of U.S. Ignite's Smart Gigabit Communities in January 2019.

Additional partners include St. Petersburg’s Innovation District, U.S. Ignite, Spectrum, City of St. Pete, St. Pete College, and more. The project joins a spate of professional groups that do not traditional work together (certainly not on a daily basis!), including ocean scientists and marine technology experts, storytelling experts, nonprofit leaders, social scientists, informal educators, and a strong technology partner to forge new paths in community education, strength, and resilience in the face of coastal hazards that threaten our coast.


We’re excited to pilot our ideas for the project with a focus on sustainable fisheries. We can’t wait to use the Trident drone to fly around an artificial reef we will deploy with the kids at our Clam Bayou site in St. Pete – and some offshore reefs and even WWII wrecks we know will knock their flip flops off. Some of the kids with whom we will work have never even been to the beach!

With our community’s youth as our primary partners, we’re sure to build a program that inspires their interest in our coastal environment and motivates them to protect it.

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