Three years ago, on April 20, the lives of 11 men were cut short as a rig most of us had never heard of exploded, creating a fiery hell on the surface of the ocean and wreaking 87 days of havoc beneath the surface as oil spewed uncontrolled into the depths of the Gulf of Mexico.
That spring and summer, as families of the 11 men mourned and the world watched live feeds of the wellhead blowing millions of barrels of oil into the waters we rely on for our food and our livelihoods. We saw images of oiled pelicans and birds washed up on shore. We saw vast amounts of a dispersant known as Corexit sprayed on the surface and at depth to make the oil “disappear” and, ostensibly, prevent a greater disaster on shore. We flew over blue-green water marked with long streaks of orange-colored dispersed oil and watched dolphins weave in an out of those toxic ribbons.
As we look forward to opportunities that arise for restoration and recovery from this tragedy, we must not forget the size of this disaster. We have one Gulf and one chance to do this right. This opportunity for restoration comes at a dear price and it is up to all of us to honor the lives lost by restoring the resources that make life on the Gulf possible.
So where are we three years on? There has been some progress in the last three years that we should recognize and celebrate, but there is still a lot of work to do.
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As we begin week two of BP’s trial in New Orleans, I can’t help but think back to the earliest days of the spill when oil spewed uncontrolled from the depths of the ocean and snaked its way toward shore.
I was at Incident Command in Mobile, Ala., when people were just starting to realize how serious that spill was going to be. The command center housed hundreds of people, from local elected officials to Coast Guard officers to the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And of course, BP was there en masse.
It was a surreal experience, but one of my most vivid memories of that time was the look on the faces of the BP employees. It was a cross between disbelief and sheer panic. Looking into their eyes, you could tell that they literally had not thought this type of disaster could ever occur. They were really scared.
But by the end of the summer, those looks were gone. They were replaced by perfect sound bites, slick slogans and promises to “make it right.” And when the well was capped after 87 days, the story faded in most of the country, replaced by commercials about the Gulf being better than ever.
In the past three years, BP has spent inordinate amounts of time and money shirking responsibility, pointing fingers at others and downplaying the seriousness of the disaster. Now is the time for BP to be held responsible.
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As someone who’s worked in the Gulf region on environmental issues for years now, it sometimes seems like I’m up to my neck in plans and meetings. But now there is a real chance to work together to restore Gulf and its communities, and you can be part of the solution.
“The Path Forward to Restoring the Gulf Coast” is the first iteration of a plan to restore the Gulf Region that has been released by the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council in anticipation of potentially billions of dollars that are coming to the Gulf Coast as a result of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council was created by the RESTORE Act, a bill that directs a significant portion of the Clean Water Act fine money paid by BP and other responsible parties to be used to restore the Gulf ecosystem. This is the first time that such a large amount of money has been dedicated to restoring the Gulf’s environment.
Over the next several weeks the Restoration Council will be convening a series of public meetings throughout the region to hear from citizens about what they think restoration and protection of our resources should look like. They will develop a comprehensive plan to address the decades of ecosystem challenges in the Gulf region and provide a blueprint for citizens, environmental organizations, fishermen, scientists and elected officials to work together to restore our environment and economy to an even better condition than it was before the oil disaster.
This is where you come in. Continue reading »
Oil on the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, with a drilling rig in the background. Photo by Brandon Shuler
Passed in July 2012, The RESTORE Act directs money from penalties in response to the BP oil disaster to the Gulf Coast, but has only been a written law – a promise to the citizens of the region – until now. A newly announced $1.4 billion settlement between the Department of Justice and Transocean Ltd will provide some real green to the RESTORE Act and help to begin the restoration of the Gulf of Mexico’s coastal and marine resources.
Holding all parties responsible for their role in the BP oil disaster is imperative to provide some of the financing needed to restore the Gulf’s ecosystems and people. Transocean will plead guilty to violating the Clean Water Act and pay over a billion dollars in fines.
It is great news that a combined $300 million from the settlement will be directed to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and National Academy of Sciences. Using and improving science is extremely important not only in recovering from disasters, but in gaining a better understanding of the Gulf’s resources so we can provide better protection for these resources so critical to the culture and livelihoods of the Gulf Coast and the Nation.
This new settlement is a great step forward, but the biggest step is yet to come. BP still needs to be held fully accountable and it’s unfortunate that we still have no resolution of civil and administrative claims. We deserve nothing less than a trial resolution that recognizes and compensates the people of the Gulf for all that has been lost.
As we move forward, we must not forget the off-shore environment, where this disaster began. Restoration of the Gulf requires an approach that addresses marine resources as well as coastal environments and Gulf communities.
We must focus our effort, energy and funding to restoration of our coastal and marine environments as well as our coastal communities if we are going to realize our vision of a vibrant and healthy Gulf region. Ocean Conservancy encourages everyone to continue to be involved in the restoration process and to work together to make sure all liable parties are held accountable and that we have a Gulf of Mexico stronger than before.
Greetings from the Lone Star State! Amidst the hustle and bustle of last minute Christmas preparations, and visiting with family (and family dogs–there are 4 at my feet as I write!), I feel compelled to take a moment to thank our members and supporters who took time this month to support Ocean Conservancy’s work to ensure that Gulf Restoration moves forward in a way that protects the wildlife, people and places that make the Gulf a national treasure. After exceeding our goal of 30,000 petition signatures to support sea turtle nesting ground restoration, the project has officially been approved for funding.
Restoring the Gulf from not only the oil disaster but also from decades of problems like wetland loss, nutrient pollution and loss of habitat is a huge undertaking, and a complex challenge. In the Gulf Restoration Program, we focus on all of the moving pieces that will hopefully create a coordinated effort for restoration on a scale not often seen. From advocating for the RESTORE Act, to participating in countless public meetings, from testifying in front of Congress, to working with the people who make their living on the water, from advocating for science to support restoration, to pushing for projects that will have a significant impact on the species we love– we do it all, and we do it with all our heart. Even so, it’s easy to get lost in the details, to keep one’s head down and just keep pushing, sometimes not even coming up for air when it’s time to celebrate important victories.
But you have reminded me that there is much to celebrate. Continue reading »
We are very excited to announce that our own Kara Lankford received the Alabama PALS (People Against a Littered State) Governor’s award for her long-time work with the Alabama Coastal Cleanup. She was recently honored at an awards ceremony in Montgomery.
We are not surprised others have taken notice of Kara’s commitment and enthusiasm to keeping our ocean clean and healthy. “Not everyone has a job they like, much less one they can say they love,” she said of the award. “In that respect I feel honored. I love my job. Since graduating from college I have had the opportunity to work in my field of environmental sciences and have always loved my work. Winning an award for doing something that brings joy and gratification isn’t something I expected. However, it is always nice to be recognized for something you are passionate about.”
The Alabama Coastal Cleanup first appeared on Kara’s radar when she was an intern with the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program. One of her supervisors asked if she’d like to help out because of her success as zone captain for the Mobile Bay causeway site. This sounded like a great experience and a fun day so she was eager to help out. Little did she know this site was the largest in the state of Alabama and saw between 200-300 volunteers!
The team worked tirelessly that morning to get volunteers signed in, hand out trash bags, weigh the trash individually with a bathroom scale and reward participants with t-shirts. It was a long, exhausting day and she was completely inspired by the idea of everyone around the world cleaning our waterways of trash on the same day. She felt that seeing the amazement on the Boy Scout troops’ and families’ faces as they filled the dumpsters to capacity was the best kind of marine debris education anyone could offer. As she says, “It was a hands-on, real life example of how marine debris can impact our ocean and I was hooked.”
Kara has been the zone captain for the Mobile Bay causeway site for about 8 years now. This past year, 2012, the team had a record of over 300 volunteers. Congratulations to Kara, and here’s to many more years as the zone captain for the causeway.
Oiled beach at the Pensacola, Florida pier during the BP oil disaster.
Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection will receive $10 million from a settlement between the US Department of Justice and MOEX Offshore, which resolves civil penalty claims against the Macondo well investor for their role in the BP oil disaster. The Sunshine State will use $5 million to reduce urban stormwater runoff and nonpoint source pollution, and the other $5 million will be used to provide conservation easements for lands around the panhandle of Florida.
Florida’s Governor Scott said “millions will go into clean water projects, so Florida continues its progress in protecting and restoring our state’s natural waterbodies.”
Ocean Conservancy knows the importance of taking the entire ecosystem into account during restoration and supports the State of Florida’s $10 million investment in conservations easements and improving water quality. The culture and the economy of the Gulf Coast depend as much on the health of the ecosystem as the wildlife that thrives there does, and this decision will not only provide relief for citizens, but also for oysters and other wildlife in Pensacola Bay and other areas of the Panhandle.
The Gulf sustains a robust seafood industry as well as recreational fishing and tourism activities. The five Gulf states have a gross domestic product of over $2.3 trillion a year. This is a place where the culture and the economy depend on the health of the ecosystem—as does the wildlife that thrives there.
Despite this abundance, the region faces significant challenges from not only the recent BP oil disaster but decades of degradation from coastal erosion, pollution, overfishing and excessive nutrient runoff that has produced a dead zone of depleted oxygen. These problems threaten fish, wildlife, the places where they live and the people who depend on a healthy ocean for jobs and business.
The BP oil disaster demonstrated how every part of the Gulf, from far offshore waters and fisheries to coastal wetlands and communities, are connected and interdependent. The region needs science-based restoration that takes the entire ecosystem into account. This includes both coastal and marine (offshore) environments. Ocean Conservancy is pleased science-based restoration, which includes the entire ecosystem from the coastal and open water environments, is a focus for the State of Florida.