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Marine Gang marks Gulf awareness with cruise

Most of the more than 100 business owners and civic leaders who boarded the dinner boat Admiral at noon Friday got what they expected _ a pleasant luncheon and speeches about the Gulf of Mexico.

But a few brave volunteers found more in store. Six lunches cooled uneaten while six guests donned costumes and reappeared as Lefty Lobster, Grumpy Grouper and other members of the Marine Gang. The Marine Gang costumes usually appear in educational skits for schoolchildren.

Organizers of the two-hour event hope the other business leaders get just as involved during the coming year to mark the "Year of the Gulf." Sponsored by the Clearwater Chamber of Commerce and several other civic organizations, Friday's luncheon kicked off Pinellas County's contribution to the five-state Gulf of Mexico program.

"The Gulf of Mexico, which we love so very much, is in peril," Pinellas County Commissioner Barbara Sheen Todd told the group. "It's going to take those of us who are loving it to death to make sure that it doesn't die."

The Gulf of Mexico program started in 1988 to involve state and local agencies and interested citizens in developing a strategy to protect and restore the Gulf environment. As part of the program, President George Bush has declared 1992 the Year of the Gulf in an effort to focus national attention on the body of water that has been dubbed "America's Sea."

Todd, who has worked closely with the Gulf of Mexico program, urged local businesses to get involved this year and to plan promotions and other programs focusing on the Gulf. Hotels, for instance, could make videos about the Gulf available to guests, she said.

The year will culminate with a five-state symposium in Pinellas County.

Friday's luncheon guests had a two-hour lesson in the woes facing the Gulf. Surrounded by states housing one-sixth of the country's population, the Gulf slowly is being choked by pollution from industry and development.

"The good news is that each of us has an opportunity to do something about it," Todd said. "This is the first time the Gulf of Mexico has received national attention."