Walton says 2020 is for honoring the Gulf

Nathan Cobb
Walton Sun

SANTA ROSA BEACH — For Melinda Gates, Walton County’s coastal resource liaison, the Gulf of Mexico is more than just an attraction. It’s the backbone of the county’s economy.

To appreciate the tides that make South Walton tick, county commissioners recently named 2020 as the year to embrace the Gulf and recognize it’s importance to the nation.

Gates said the local resolution is part of a larger mission created by the Gulf of Mexico Alliance, a regional nonprofit organization that spans the five states along the Gulf Coast: Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.

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“We’re just showing support of the program,” Gates said. “The Gulf is a huge economic stimulant for Walton County and the entire region.

“We are a tourist-based economy, and if we don’t take care of the Gulf and its resources, then we wouldn’t have the tourism industry that we have,” she added.

According to Darryl Boudreau, a member of the Florida chapter of the Nature Conservancy, the Gulf of Mexico Alliance was formed by five “Gulf governors” who hoped for the states to collaborate on issues.

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As part of the 2020 initiative, the alliance created a “paddle the Gulf network of blue-water trails” to “get people out and enjoying paddling the rivers that lead into the Gulf,” Boudreau said.

The public paddling events will be held in each of the five states that boarder the Gulf.

“The whole idea is to raise awareness of the beauty and the value of the Gulf of Mexico and it’s importance to the rest of the United States,” Boudreau said.

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The organization also posts a daily tweets to highlight a different topic about the economic driver.

Boudreau said the mission stemmed from a lack of appreciation. He hoped for it to not only emphasize the Gulf, but help boost funding to enhance it.

This year also marks the 10th anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

“There’s a lot of people that have at least heard about the Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes, and people talk about them and their issues, but you don’t hear the same level of conversation about the Gulf of Mexico,” Boudreau said. “But when you look at the importance of the Gulf of Mexico and what it generates in terms of energy production, seafood production and tourism, it’s a significant portion of the U.S. economy.”