The GCFI Education Initiative began in 2000 when NOAA’s Caribbean Fisheries Management Council sponsored the first ever GCFI Student Award for Outstanding Achievement. Since then, the Education Initiative has expanded to offer multiple opportunities for students and fishers. In 2003 in Tortola in the British Virgin Islands, GCFI held a roundtable dedicated to charting ways forward.
In 2005, GCFI is offering several travel awards, Student Awards for Academic Achievement, awards for fishers, and other opportunities for travel.
The Education Initiative is divided into four compartments targeting specific parts of the community.
- Primary and Secondary Education – GCFI regularly engages in encouraging marine conservation among primary and secondary students. GCFI has encourage the participation of students at the annual conference. GCFI, through its capacity-building activities, has also involved schoolchildren in a number of local activities. In 2016, GCFI, through the Ocean Innovation program (a partnership with NOAA), funded a group of high school students to conduct targeted research on ways to reduce the exposure of coral to increased sea surface temperatures.
- University Education – GCFI continues to focus education efforts on providing opportunities to students in universities in the region. Most of the activities focus on providing support to travel to the annual GCFI conference. The awards include those recognizing outstanding oral or poster presentations at the conference (supported by the SeaGrant programs of the Gulf of Mexico) , travel awards to help cover the costs of attending the annual meeting (supported by Puerto Rico SeaGrant), awards for students focusing their research on recreational fisheries (the Ron Schmied Award supported by the International Gamefish Association), and an award for a student focusing their research on fish spawning aggregations (supported by SCRFA.org).
- Fishers and community – GCFI provides an annual award (the Gladding Memorial Award) to a fisher who has dedicated their life to sustainable fishing and who has served as a model for their community. The award provides travel to the annual GCFI conference where they are recognized and can participate with past award winners in the annual Fishers’ Forum. This award is supported with a partnership from Shell Oil and Exploration and NOAA.
- Managers – GCFI, through a partnership with UNEP-CEP and NOAA, provides annual travel support for MPA managers to attend the GCFI conference and to participate within the MPA session. GCFI has also begun partnering with the University of Florida, the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism, and Puerto Rico Sea Grant to help support a fisheries officer attend UFL for a semester to study a topic which will assist them in their job duties in their home country (the Professional Development Program).