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Lengthy Gulf Restoration Plan Needs to Dive Deeper

Posted On February 3, 2014 by

Photo: Blair Witherington

If you’re like me, the recent holiday season has erased some of your memory (I think it’s all the sweets), and you may be in need of a refresher on where we left off last year in the Gulf restoration process. Last month, the Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment trustees released a long-awaited draft Early Restoration Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS). This was exciting news for the Gulf of Mexico, because the PEIS is critical for laying the groundwork for a comprehensive, long-term and integrated restoration process in the wake of the BP oil disaster.

Ocean Conservancy’s experts have been going through the nearly 2,500-page document with a fine-tooth comb over the last several weeks, and we can now present you with our preliminary views. When the PEIS process started last summer, over 1,000 of our supporters sent messages to the trustees with specific recommendations on what should be included in this document to ensure the Gulf ecosystem is made whole.  Let’s see how well the trustees did:

Lots of fishing piers, but not enough fish

While the 44 projects included in this phase of restoration are a big step toward restoring the Gulf, only nine of those projects are truly ecosystem restoration projects. The other 35 are meant to compensate the public for the lost days at the beach, on a fishing pier, or out on a boat in 2010 when oil was still spewing into the Gulf. This means building new boat ramps, fishing piers, and beach boardwalks. The questions remains: Without restoring fish populations, what will we be fishing for on those new piers? In order to restore the public’s use of the Gulf, we must first restore the Gulf itself.

Need to dive deeper

We are also disappointed to see that the offshore environment, where the disaster began, is left out of the picture. The project types listed in this plan do not include restoration of key species and habitats, such as dolphins, seabirds, Sargassum and corals. As you know, dolphins in Barataria Bay are suffering from poor health; deep-water corals are showing signs of oil damage, and Sargassum mats – the floating seaweed that serves as a home for the Gulf’s tiniest creatures, including juvenile sea turtles – were burned during the oil cleanup process. Given this growing list of evidence against BP, we must encourage the trustees to hold them accountable for this damage and include these restoration strategies in this plan.

The release of the draft PEIS is a step in the right direction, and we must urge the trustees to make the necessary changes and additions in order for this to be a truly holistic, ecosystem-based restoration plan.

Ocean Conservancy’s goal is to send 1,500 public comments from Gulf state residents to the trustees before the comment period ends on February 19. If you live in the Gulf or know someone who does, please share this message  and help ensure the health of the Gulf ecosystem for generations to come.

For our full analysis of this big legal document, download our assessment.