News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy
About Bethany Kraft
Bethany is the Director of the Gulf Restoration Program, living and working in New Orleans, Louisiana. Bethany’s love for the ocean began as a child, and playing in the ocean still makes her feel as giddy, excited, and grateful as it did when she was little. She shares the same sentiment about all things banana-flavored.
I live in a world where time is marked by the storms that alter the face of the landscape and change people’s lives: Betsy, Camille, Frederick, Opal, Ivan, Katrina, Isaac. Hurricanes are a fact of life in the Gulf, and I feel confident in saying that folks on the Gulf Coast are sending their thoughts and prayers to those most severely affected by Hurricane Sandy because we understand the extent of the work and time it will take to recover. We will nod our heads in understanding when you start a sentence five years from now with “Before Hurricane Sandy” because that’s how we speak, too.
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, there was a lot of talk about the city of New Orleans and its vulnerability to hurricanes and flooding. Some people even said that the city shouldn’t be rebuilt, that it would be a waste of resources to build back in a place hanging on by a fingernail to the last fringes of marsh that are losing ground every day to a hungry and unforgiving sea.
Yesterday I wrote about Hurricane Isaac’s impacts to our coastal environment as well as the unfortunate reminder that an unknown quantity of BP oil still lingers in the Gulf, needing only time and the right conditions to once again wreak havoc on our beaches, marshes and coastal communities.
Events like hurricanes serve as sobering reminders of how critical coastal restoration initiatives are to the long-term sustainability of our Gulf communities, our economies and, of course, our natural resources. But as critical as restoration of our coastal resources are, they are only part of a larger picture of ecosystem restoration in the region. Restoration of our marine resources are equally important to preserving our coastal way of life.
Ocean Conservancy views restoration of the Gulf ecosystem as a three-legged stool. Each leg depends on the other for balance and function. If you lose one leg, you no longer have a strong base, and you will almost certainly topple. The three legs of restoration in the Gulf are: restoration of the coastal environment, the marine environment and coastal communities.
We must focus our effort, energy and funding resources to all three of these vital areas if we are going to realize our vision of a vibrant and healthy Gulf region. Is it a lot of work? Yes. Are there competing needs for limited funds? Yes? Do we have to find a way to do all three? Absolutely. Continue reading »
Tar balls photographed by Louisiana state response teams on Elmer’s Island in Jefferson Parish on September 1, 2012. Credit: Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries
Last week was a long one for Gulf Coast residents as we watched Hurricane Isaac waffle about where to land before settling on coastal Louisiana, causing massive flooding from storm surge in Mississippi and Louisiana and bringing businesses and communities to a grinding halt for over a week.
As if we didn’t have enough to deal with, what with hurricanes and flooding and power outages and devastation for too many people, we also had the pleasure of remembering (in case any of us had forgotten) that we are still in the grips of responding to and recovering from the BP oil disaster.
Far from magically disappearing, oil has persisted in the marine environment for over two years now, and the force of Hurricane Isaac has churned up an ugly reminder of how much work we still have to do to restore the Gulf ecosystem. Tarballs and mats are showing up from Louisiana to Alabama, even forcing the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to issue a closure for commercial fishing in the area of a large oil mat off Elmer’s Island.
This visible image of Tropical Storm Isaac taken from NOAA’s GOES-13 satellite shows the huge extent of the storm. The image was captured on Aug. 28 at 8:40 a.m. EDT. Credit: NOAA
I wrote a blog post about the start of hurricane season back in June, and I am writing this one today in Hurricane Isaac’s sights. Hurricanes are anything but predictable, and this one in particular has been hard to track. Would it rain and blow into the Republican Convention in Tampa? Head West towards Texas? Now, less than 24 hours away from landfall, it looks like Isaac has made up his mind to aim for somewhere in Louisiana or Mississippi, which means rain and wind anywhere across the Gulf Coast, and hopefully not much more than that. We hope.
If you are watching the approach of the storm on TV, you’d think that hurricanes are some sort of spectator sport or reality TV show. DEVASTATION! MANDATORY EVACUATION! DESTRUCTION! It turns what is a serious event into a sort of comic theater. Note to newscasters: Gulfport is in MS and Mobile Bay in in AL. Just sayin’. (Sorry, I’ve been seeing silly screen shots on Facebook all morning that are geographically confused).
In the midst of the TV hullabaloo, I thought I’d take a few minutes to tell you what I think about Hurricane Isaac while safely tucked away from the weather, listening to the weather radio and wondering what the day will bring. Mind you, these thoughts are mine alone, and not meant to represent those of Gulf residents, generally. Continue reading »
Bethany Kraft works with volunteers to build an oyster reef in Alabama. Photo by: John Wathen
I keep a small pile of fused oyster shells on my fireplace mantel. They are bleached from hundreds (thousands?) of years of sun exposure, chipped from their brackish home by hands that have since turned to dust. I imagine the way the oysters tasted to the man or woman who walked the same shores I walk now. I wonder if in eating the soft briny flesh of the oyster, they had in mind some approximation of the feeling Ernest Hemingway would describe in A Moveable Feast centuries and worlds away from the ones who used to call the Gulf Coast home:
As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.
Oysters aren’t unique to the Gulf, of course. They can be found the world over, though not nearly to the extent of 1,000 or even 100 years ago. Though they resemble breathing rocks more than crabs or mullet, they are surprisingly sensitive. Large fluctuations in salinity can wreak havoc — too much freshwater kills the oysters, while a high level of salinity encourages the proliferation of the predator oyster drill in places like the Gulf Coast. Issues like ocean acidification that weren’t on the radar 100 years ago now require our thoughtful consideration if we are to preserve this ancient food source. Already scientists have linked changes in ocean chemistry to deaths of oyster larvae in the Pacific Northwest. For critters whose only modes of transport are the lazy drift of currents in the larval stage and the wrenching upward motion out of the sea and onto our dinner plate, every change in the status quo, from oil spills to floods to ocean acidification, is cause for concern.
Oysters are living sculptures of sustenance and shelter and construction material. They also filter pollution from the water, and their reefs help break down wave energy and protect shorelines. As far back as human memory can reach, they’ve always been here, welcoming any human or animal with a hunger and the right tools to pry open the shell to partake, tying us to those who came to the shore before us to enjoy its bounty. It’s up to us to protect and preserve the reefs we rely on so that we aren’t the last generations to benefit from all the oyster provides.
There is nothing more satisfying than when wonderful surprises turn up in unexpected places — like a $5 bill left in your blue jeans, or loggerhead sea turtles in Mississippi. Wait, what?
Yep. After an absence of 20 some odd years, two loggerhead sea turtle nests on Mississippi’s coast have scientists scratching their heads over what Institute for Marine Mammal Studies executive director Dr. Moby Solangi is calling a “very important and significant phenomena.”
Experts are not sure why these turtles chose to nest on the Mississippi coast this year. Whether due to a loss of ideal habitat in other areas, or competition for prime nesting space, this year is an usual one for sea turtles in the Gulf. Continue reading »
For most folks, June 1st passes much like any other day (although it is Oscar the Grouch’s birthday and official “flip a coin” day), but for people who call the Gulf coast home, it’s a significant day on the calendar. It marks the start of hurricane season, which runs until November 30.
Like many people, I find myself equally fearful of and fascinated by these intense weather events. Talk to anyone who’s lived on the coast for more than 5 years and I bet they have a hurricane story for you. Continue reading »