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Aquarium President and CEO Joins Governor DeSantis' Transition Advisory Committee

Ron DeSantis’ team surprised Roger Germann with a call shortly after the gubernatorial election. Though The Florida Aquarium president and the chief executive officer had stayed clear of the race, the governor-elect wanted Germann to serve on his 40-member Transition Advisory Committee on the Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture.

“It was humbling to get that call,” Germann recalled recently. “But I think it reflected strongly on the work the entire Aquarium team is doing on environmental education, driving tourism and conservation research.”

The transition committee included environmental, development and agricultural perspectives and members’ knowledge and thoughtfulness impressed Germann.

“What I appreciated about Gov. DeSantis is that he wanted to hear from a broad range of backgrounds, not just organizations that would tell him what he wanted to hear,” remarked Germann

“If he had wanted to draw a partisan line, some of the people on the committee would not have been there. It was clear they (DeSantis’ team) wanted information.”

And action.

DeSantis had made water pollution a significant campaign issue, and the advisory panel was charged with advancing quick responses.

 Germann adds, “we had all these issues – red tide, blue-green algae, the aquifer being tainted by runoff, restoring Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades – that had to be addressed.”

The transition group met three times, once in Tallahassee, the other times by teleconference, and mostly agreed on priorities. It made numerous broad recommendations, but Germann said, “It’s up to the agencies to come up with the actual policies.”

DeSantis hurried once in office.

“Less than 48 hours after he was inaugurated, I was standing behind him when he announced a [four-year] $2.5 billion spending plan for the Everglades and water resources. That’s $1 billion more than was spent in the prior four years. He wants to be true to his campaign pledge.”

During the transition sessions, Germann had the opportunity to emphasize how disease, climate change, and pollution are killing the Florida Reef Tract, threatening the Florida Keys’ “economy and way of life.”

The Florida Aquarium and its research partners are on the forefront of coral reef research. The Aquarium has two coral reef greenhouses, or arks, in Apollo Beach. Corals genotypes are studied and preserved even as large sections of Florida’s reefs die. Germann hopes to add more arks. Among the reef-rescue effort’s goals are to grow healthy, disease-resistant corals that can be released into the wild.

(The Aquarium also recently opened the Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Center at the Apollo Beach conservation complex.)

This was not Germann’s first experience providing the government environmental counsel.

While an executive at Chicago’s John. G. Shedd Aquarium, he was appointed by President Barack Obama to the federal Great Lakes Advisory Board, which made recommendations to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The Florida Aquarium was the only aquarium asked to serve on the DeSantis transition committee. Germann hopes the Aquarium’s growing reputation as a conservation leader will help it become a clearinghouse for addressing Florida’s resource challenges.

“Our research partners and we could become a hub for providing the best information available” to state leaders, he said, noting the Shedd Aquarium played such a role on Great Lakes issues. Thus allowing hard science, not hot emotions, to guide policymakers.

The environmental plan DeSantis unveiled in January includes the appointment of a “chief science officer” to assess scientific data and ensure that Florida utilizes the latest research in addressing environmental threats. The Aquarium could be a significant resource to that office.

The plan to appoint the science officer encouraged researchers and environmentalists who feared the new governor would dismiss the threat of climate change, despite the overwhelming consensus among researchers that climate change is real and man-made emissions are a significant factor.

Germann stressed that people should not expect even like-minded leaders to be in lockstep:

“I think this indicates that the governor is going to be his own man on natural resources and the environment. He knows Florida’s economy and environment are intertwined. He may be measured, but I think he will let science and data drive his decisions.”

Before getting into the aquarium-conservation field, Germann was an adviser to several Illinois officeholders. He understands political realities, but he also has observed how running for office is different from executing the responsibilities of that office.

“Once elected, a true statesman realizes the importance of the decisions he or she must make. Facts become more important than politics. It’s simply good government to become more educated about issues and not dig in on your positions.”

 

Story by Joe Guidry, former opinion editor, The Tampa Tribune

 

 

 

 

With Contributions by:

 

Roger Germann, President and CEO, The Florida Aquarium

 

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