In the wake of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, everyone’s talking about how we restore the Gulf Coast. But the Gulf of Mexico is more than what we can see from the shoreline. If we restore the coast without restoring the deep waters, we’re only addressing half the problem.
That’s why Ocean Conservancy has created Restoring the Gulf Beyond the Shore. It’s a short guide to the wildlife that lives in the Gulf’s waters and it explains why it is so important that we ensure the health and safety of our fish, dolphins, seabirds, and whales (yes, whales in the Gulf!).
With over 15,000 species that call these waters home, and dozens of migratory visitors – Atlantic bluefin tuna, sperm whales and northern gannets, to name a few of my favorites – the Gulf plays host to incredible creatures and complex dynamics connecting land and sea. Even before the BP oil disaster, the Gulf was struggling under the weight of dead zones, overfishing, coastal habitat loss and more. With much of this damage underwater and out of sight, restoration becomes even more difficult to define, because we must imagine what we cannot directly see and estimate what we cannot directly count.
Along the coastline, restoration is defined as replacing something that has been damaged. It is a tangible process that creates new oyster beds, marshes and barrier islands. Beyond where the eye can see, however, restoration must take a different shape. Restoring deep-water species and habitats means gathering knowledge through science and technology that we can then use to reduce human impacts and other sources of stress and give marine species the best opportunity to recover on their own. This approach is known as natural recovery and there are few other ways to restore fish, dolphins, turtles or deep-sea corals.
In an era of shrinking budgets, science and knowledge have been something of a luxury in the Gulf. And now restoration funds resulting from this disaster offer an unprecedented opportunity to repair what was damaged, fix chronic problems and enhance what remains. The decisions we make now will impact the region for decades to come, and the only question that remains is: how do we invest in successful and strategic restoration projects and processes that restore the Gulf, on which so much depends?
The long answer? Restoration must be comprehensive: from the rivers that feed the estuaries, to the deepest expanses of the seafloor, where the BP oil disaster began, to the communities that call the Gulf Coast home. We must make smart and immediate investments that address pressing needs in the Gulf, as well as foundational projects that support ongoing and future restoration efforts. If we are going to use this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to protect and enhance the Gulf and its unique culture, we must ensure that restoration of the marine environment is an integral part of our approach.
The short answer? Let’s make those decisions count.
Want to make a difference for the Gulf? Tell our Gulf leaders to include marine restoration projects as an essential component of Gulf restoration.