Ocean Currents » Chris Robbins http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Thu, 26 May 2016 14:11:41 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Monitoring What Matters in the Gulf http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/02/16/monitoring-what-matters-in-the-gulf/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/02/16/monitoring-what-matters-in-the-gulf/#comments Tue, 16 Feb 2016 20:12:24 +0000 Chris Robbins http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11505

More than $48 million has been invested in saving sea turtles after the BP oil disaster. Yet we know next to nothing about them once they hatch and head out to sea. (Photo by Ben Hicks)

Every winter since the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, scientists gather in the Gulf to unveil the latest research findings on the disaster’s environmental impacts. This year’s Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and Ecosystem Science Conference offered much of the same, but it was also different than in previous years. While the ink on the BP settlement dries, the Gulf scientific community is at a turning point, taking stock of the science gaps, needs and next best investments.

Almost six years after the BP oil disaster began, the program is now poised to evolve from one solely focused on the oil disaster to one that can serve the region more broadly by supporting science that could inform billions of dollars in restoration in the region.  The pivot to a wider focus was evident with talks on marine wildlife as indicators of ecosystem health, coastal vulnerability to rising sea levels, and online tools for turning many terabytes of ecosystem data into useful knowledge for policymakers and resource managers.

The BP disaster’s lingering environmental impacts remain a priority for long-term monitoring. And yet, as the Gulf undergoes rapid change, there is still so much we don’t know about how other human impacts acting alone or together will play out in the ecosystem. While many programs have been monitoring Gulf species, waters and conditions, there are large and persistent gaps in ecosystem knowledge, as described in our latest report, Charting the Gulf: Analyzing the Gaps in Long-Term Monitoring of the Gulf of Mexico.

Filling every gap in monitoring or research is neither optimal nor cost-effective. Indeed, funding is finite, and we must be strategic about our investments. The challenge facing restoration and research programs is deciding which science investments will provide the most insight into the health and recovery of the Gulf ecosystem.

Simply put, we need to monitor what matters.

Now is the time to identify ecosystem science investments for the next 5 to 10 years. The challenge is twofold: 1) prioritizing and plugging important holes in knowledge about species, habitats, natural processes or environmental stressors of greatest concern; and 2) monitoring restoration efforts across jurisdictions and time, such that after two decades we can truly assess the effects of billions of dollars on the ecosystem beyond the scale of individual projects.

Gulf leaders are in a position to chart the future of science to generate the information restoration programs need to be successful. Stay tuned as we continue to prioritize and advance Gulf restoration science needs with our partners in government, academia and the private sector.

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On Gulf Science, BP Puts Up a Fight Instead of Making This Right http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/04/24/on-gulf-science-bp-puts-up-a-fight-instead-of-making-this-right/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/04/24/on-gulf-science-bp-puts-up-a-fight-instead-of-making-this-right/#comments Thu, 24 Apr 2014 21:26:03 +0000 Chris Robbins http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=8124

Photo: Tom McCann

A recent Financial Times article reported that BP rejected the government’s $147 million request to fund Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) activities in 2014 as part of ongoing efforts to quantify and remedy environmental harm related to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. The law requires that responsible parties of oil spills, including BP, pay for reasonable costs of assessing oil spill damage to the environment. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) submitted the request, which was the latest in a series of routine requests the NRDA Trustee agencies have submitted since the disaster in 2010. Undertaking scientific study and analysis is the only way for the Trustee agencies to document environmental harm caused by the disaster and to estimate the cost of restoration, for which BP and other companies found liable are responsible. The NRDA injury studies will help guide the types of actions needed to restore resources injured by the disaster. By law, BP may participate in NRDA studies the company funds, but the Trustee agencies analyze the raw data independent of BP and form their own conclusions about natural resource injuries.

BP’s refusal to pay for NRDA activities already underway is not helpful, nor does it uphold the spirit of working in good faith that BP continues to tout in full page newspaper ads and TV commercials to this day. This may be a smart legal strategy, but it’s a form of posturing that won’t get us any closer to understanding the environmental harm that was done or the actions needed to restore coastal and marine species, habitats, and the goods and services that support ocean-dependent businesses and a way of life. NOAA’s request covered a wide range of scientific activities for natural resources such as bluefin tuna, sea turtles, dolphins, oysters, coastal wetlands and sargassum, a floating brown alga teeming with marine life. These species and habitats are priorities for continued study because they are among the hardest hit, according to experts and publicly available data and research. Now, because of BP’s refusal, NOAA  essentially must seek an advance from the National Pollution Funds Center (NPFC) to carry out this science. The NPFC, administered by the U.S. Coast Guard, is the mechanism set up to adjudicate funding requests for NRDA studies when responsible parities deny those requests.

BP has a legal right to dispute the Trustees’ interpretations of the science, but denying the funding to collect, analyze, and manage the information that supports restoration amounts to sidestepping their repeated commitment to making the Gulf ecosystem whole. The company has a civic duty and a legal obligation to fund the science that is so fundamental to clarifying and repairing harm to the environment. BP, in its own words, should “make this right” by doing right and support this research in the Gulf.

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