News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy
About Libby Fetherston
Libby Fetherston is Ocean Conservancy's Marine Restoration Strategist. After years working to implement sustainable fisheries policies in the southeast United States and throughout the country, Libby is now focused on ensuring restoration from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster includes essential Gulf of Mexico marine projects and priorities. In her free time, Libby can be found exploring Tampa Bay’s parks, slowly, with a toddler.
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!).
Photo: Kelly the Deluded via Flickr Creative Commons
As we watched the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster unfold on beaches and in bays of the Gulf of Mexico four years ago, we wondered, too, about the impacts beyond what we could see on shore. Some of the answers to that troubling question are rolling in. We previously learned about damage to fish embryos, and the latest news involves mahi-mahi, or dolphinfish. These fast-growing, colorful predators are a favorite target of recreational fishermen and restaurant-goers alike across the Gulf, and despite their savage speed, it seems they could not outrun the impacts of BP’s oil.
A new study from the University of Miami last week demonstrated that even “relatively brief, low-level exposure to oil harms the swimming capabilities of mahi-mahi, and likely other large pelagic fish, during the early life stages.” And while it’s troubling to hear that oil reduces the fish’s ability to swim fast – a necessity for finding food and evading predators –the more disturbing revelation is how little oil exposure it takes to cause this damage to such an economically important fish.
Four years ago today, this image appeared on televisions around the world. And soon after that, we saw the 24-hour live feed of the well at the bottom of the Gulf, endlessly pouring gallon after gallon of oil into the water.
Almost immediately, the coastal impacts of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster were easy to spot — oiled beaches, marshes, and pelicans. And now, four years later, we have both an opportunity and an obligation to restore the Gulf with the billions of dollars from BP. It’s easy to imagine how we would repair the coast — replant marsh grasses, rebuild barrier islands and restore oyster reefs.
Whales are mysterious creatures, as the scene that unfolded in the Everglades last week has taught us. Over 50 pilot whales stranded themselves in a remote part of Everglades National Park, and scientists are still unsure what caused this to happen. Strandings are not uncommon, because whales are very social animals, and they are known to gather around a sick member of their pod.
This pod of short-finned pilot whales traveled into just three feet of water – a far cry from the deep Gulf of Mexico where they are common – and responding to this emergency fell to a few knowledgeable groups. A group of 31 first-responders spent days helping the whales to navigate unfamiliar shallows for a 20-mile return journey to more suitable waters. In the end, the pod was last seen swimming back out to sea, but 22 of their members died in the Everglades.
In a significant step forward in restoration of the Gulf of Mexico’s natural resources, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), in partnership with the five Gulf states and two federal agencies, announced over $100 million for restoration projects across the Gulf. A total of 22 projects will restore a number of Gulf habitats and species, ranging from coastal dunes in Texas, to oyster reefs in Alabama and shorebird nests in Mississippi.
Funding for these projects comes from the criminal settlement against Transocean and BP, which were finalized late last year. These funds must be used to remedy the harm caused to our natural resources in the Gulf due to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, and these are some of the first fine monies to be put toward restoration. (Click here to read more about the ongoing civil trial and what’s at stake.)
We are particularly excited about two projects in Florida that support restoration of offshore Gulf species: enhanced reef fish (think: red snapper) health assessments and turtle-friendly beach lighting. Marine restoration projects like this are part of the comprehensive approach that Ocean Conservancy advocates.
UPDATE (July 17, 2013): Success! The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council has voted to raise this year’s catch limit for red snapper from 8.46 to 11 million pounds due to the successful rebuilding of this iconic species. This action marks a historic moment in the management of the red snapper fishery, as catch levels are the highest they’ve been in 25 years.
It’s summer in the Gulf of Mexico, and another recreational red snapper fishing season has come and gone too quickly. Usually at this time of year, anglers and fishery managers are taking stock of what was caught in the short snapper opening and wondering what the limit will be next year. The answer will come sooner than usual.
The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council is holding an emergency meeting this week to decide how many more red snapper can be caught this year. A science panel recently announced that an increase is possible, and now managers need to settle the questions of how much and by when?
The good news is that the red snapper population is on the rise and soon the catch limit will be too. The law governing our nation’s fisheries, the Magnuson-Stevens Act, has rebuilt a record number of fish populations around the country, and red snapper is one of the most visible success stories.
UPDATED (September 28, 2012): Like Dr. Seuss says “Say! What a lot of fish there are.” But while there are many fish in the sea, there used to be more! A new study in the journal Science says global fisheries are in decline, but recovery is possible with the right management tools. For the first time, researchers spearheaded by California Environmental Associates took a good look at the world’s nearly 10,000 fishing areas. Only 20% of these areas are managed, leaving the rest with no management or oversight. Researchers suggest that with the right management tools, fisheries currently in decline could reach sustainable levels in only a few short years. This could increase the amount of fish in the ocean by 56%. Dr. Seuss would surely have been proud to protect his old fish and new fish.
ORIGINAL POST (September 20, 2012): US seafood landings have reached a 17-year high, according to a NOAA’s fisheries report that provides a snapshot of the amount of fish brought back to the docks in 2011. Higher fish landings show the Nation’s fisheries conservation and management law, the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA) is working to end overfishing and restore depleted fish populations. This progress means more opportunities for families to enjoy fishing as recreation and fresh seafood, and greater prosperity for the fishing industry.
This encouraging report shows success in fisheries management through MSA is attributed to addressing the problem of overfishing. But, we can’t afford to stop now. NOAA’s report says “U.S. fishermen and businesses have played a critical role in this monumental achievement and the stewardship practices that have come to define U.S. fisheries.” Working together to successfully implement MSA is creating sustainable fisheries, greater economic returns and positioning the U.S. system as a global model.