Photo: Sarah West
2010 marked a changing point both for the Gulf and for me personally. There is a distinct dividing line ̶ before the disaster and after the disaster. I’ve now worked for Ocean Conservancy for over three years and, as I look forward to the potential opportunities that will arise to make the Gulf healthier, stronger and more resilient. I find myself hopeful. Many times it takes a tragedy or a disaster to make us appreciate what we have. I took the Gulf and all the things it offered throughout my life for granted. Now more than ever I want to protect, preserve and restore this beautiful place. The long road to restoration won’t be a walk in the park. In fact, it will be a marathon.
As impacts emerge, I’m reminded that, even though the oil has stopped flowing, the harmful effects will be felt for years to come. Over the course of the last year, three important stories have emerged about impacts to the Gulf ecosystem:
- Dolphins in Barataria Bay are showing severe signs of poor health;
- An area of 24 square kilometers at the bottom of the Gulf surrounding the blowout site was severely impacted; and
- Multiple studies have been conducted to determine how oil impacts offshore marine fish, such as bluefin tuna.
Kara Lankford flies in a Black Hawk helicopter to assess damage done by the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.
Four summers ago, I was in a Black Hawk helicopter overlooking the Alabama beaches, helplessly watching oil roll in from the spill on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. I was working as a natural resource planner for Baldwin County on the Alabama Gulf Coast when Deepwater Horizon exploded, and the first reports of the tragic loss of life stopped me in my tracks. As the days went on, it was evident that this was not only a human tragedy but also a serious environmental disaster. As the oil continued to gush from the well, oil projection maps were published daily, and each day the oil grew closer to the Alabama coast. Suddenly this place where I had spent so many happy days was about to change, and change dramatically.
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Photo: Blair Witherington
If you’re like me, the recent holiday season has erased some of your memory (I think it’s all the sweets), and you may be in need of a refresher on where we left off last year in the Gulf restoration process. Last month, the Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment trustees released a long-awaited draft Early Restoration Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS). This was exciting news for the Gulf of Mexico, because the PEIS is critical for laying the groundwork for a comprehensive, long-term and integrated restoration process in the wake of the BP oil disaster.
Ocean Conservancy’s experts have been going through the nearly 2,500-page document with a fine-tooth comb over the last several weeks, and we can now present you with our preliminary views. When the PEIS process started last summer, over 1,000 of our supporters sent messages to the trustees with specific recommendations on what should be included in this document to ensure the Gulf ecosystem is made whole. Let’s see how well the trustees did:
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Photo: U.S. Coast Guard
The Gulf of Mexico received an early gift during this holiday season with the release of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) Early Restoration Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS). While this acronym may sound highly technical, the PEIS is an important milestone for public engagement in the early restoration process after the BP oil disaster, and Ocean Conservancy applauds the NRDA Trustees for this achievement.
You can find the full document online here. It’s nearly 2,500 pages, but don’t worry; in the coming weeks, Ocean Conservancy will conduct a thorough review of the entire PEIS and the projects in it and share our findings with you.
So why is a PEIS so critical to restoring the Gulf?
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Credit: Erika Nortemann/TNC
Last weekend my coworkers and I had the unique opportunity to get our feet wet in Mobile Bay and help our partners build a living shoreline. This amazing restoration project took place at Pelican Point near Fairhope, Alabama. Over 600 volunteers, including 300 airmen from Keesler Air Force Base, turned out early Saturday morning to help construct what in a few years will become an oyster reef teeming with life.
A living shoreline is an innovative approach to protecting an eroding shoreline, as well as creating habitat for the creatures that live in the bay. The Pelican Point living shoreline was created using structures called “oyster castles,” which are made up of interlocking concrete blocks. These concrete blocks weigh about 35 pounds each, so volunteers not only got to participate in building a reef, they also got a great workout! Continue reading »
Recently I had the pleasure of fishing with local fishing celebrity Gary Finch of the Gary Finch Outdoors TV show. When I first met Gary, he was speaking to a crowd about ocean conservation, and before too long we scheduled a fishing trip together. Little did I know we were going out with one of the best boat captains in south Alabama, William Manci of Eastern Shore Outfitters.
My colleague Bethany Kraft and I arrived at the boat launch ready to enjoy a great day of fishing. The weather was perfect–warm with a hint of fall in the air. As we headed out into Mobile Bay, the water was as smooth as glass. Dolphins played in the boat wake, and pelicans dove for breakfast as we skimmed across the water. We anchored near a natural gas rig and put our game faces on. Soon we were catching speckled trout and a few white trout. As the day went on, the fish got bigger and feistier, and we started catching Spanish mackerel. I got a bite just about every time I threw my line in the water. It was amazing! Continue reading »