Ocean Currents » Kara Lankford http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Wed, 26 Apr 2017 18:18:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 My Vision for the Gulf http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/04/20/my-vision-for-the-gulf/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/04/20/my-vision-for-the-gulf/#comments Thu, 20 Apr 2017 12:55:27 +0000 Kara Lankford http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=14191

Together we can get to a Gulf that is restored, healthy and thriving once more.

April 20, 2017, marks seven years since the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster began, taking the lives of 11 people and severely impacting the Gulf of Mexico.

As someone who grew up and works in the Gulf, I deeply appreciate all that we have accomplished over the last seven years.
Together, we saw the RESTORE Act bring much needed Clean Water Act fines back to the Gulf states, and a global settlement was reached where BP will pay $20.8 billion dollars over 15 years. We now have the opportunity to fix not only the damage from the oil disaster, but also undo decades of environmental problems like water quality impairments. In the past seven years, we invested in scientific research and solutions to restore the Gulf. As a result, we now know more about our wonderful and diverse marine ecosystem with scientists discovering new species in the Gulf.

As a conservationist, I am excited to tackle the challenging work of restoring one of the most important ecosystems in the country.
An effort of this scale—from Texas to Florida, and from upriver to the deep sea—has never before been attempted. We have an unprecedented opportunity to influence the outcome, even in the absence of a guide for decision-makers to follow in order to ensure success. Sure, that’s a little scary, but to me it’s a very exciting challenge!

I am optimistic that our leadership in the Gulf of Mexico can lead the way for large-scale restoration efforts around the world.
Together, we can be an example for how multiple states and federal agencies can cooperate and build on shared strengths to restore an ecosystem that the nation relies upon for food, recreation and thriving coastal economies.

The way forward must be built on:

  1. Coordination and transparency: Wildlife, fisheries and habitats, rivers and estuaries don’t recognize state boundaries. If our restoration and management efforts are to be truly effective, we must commit to regional cooperation and integrated, cross-jurisdictional approaches. There are three major restoration programs in the Gulf recovery process with five states and seven federal agencies in the mix. This is complex, to say the least, but hiccups can be avoided with a formal mechanism for coordination. It will allow for us all to pool and stretch available resources, find synergies between projects and successfully negotiate conflicts that might arise.
  2. Science-based ecosystem approach: Science is the key to success. Countries like the Netherlands have conducted smaller scale restoration efforts and learned that without a strong foundation in science, we are doomed to fail. We must ensure that restoration replicates natural systems where possible, use modeling and science to guarantee the best possible outcomes and know when to change course if our wildlife are not recovering as expected.
  3. Think big! This is an incredible opportunity for the Gulf region to become a world leader in large-scale marine restoration. We shouldn’t be afraid of innovative projects that step outside of our comfort zone. Restoration at this scale calls for more than the usual restoration options. For example, mapping the habitats and species of deep-water coral communities in and around the DeSoto Canyon.

Yes, it’s been seven years since our Gulf got hit with the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.  We’ll always look back at the time with horror and sadness but now, we can also look forward to a Gulf that is restored, heathy and thriving once more.

Take action now. Tell our Gulf leaders to make smart investments in the Gulf beyond the shore.

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Celebrating Alabama’s Women in Conservation http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/03/08/celebrating-alabamas-women-in-conservation/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/03/08/celebrating-alabamas-women-in-conservation/#comments Wed, 08 Mar 2017 14:48:13 +0000 Kara Lankford http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13857

Author Kara Lankford and her mother Toni Lankford, one of the women who inspires her in her work. Courtesy Kara Lankford.

In honor of International Women’s Day, we’re celebrating stand out #WomeninConservtion all week long. Here, Kara Lankford, Interim Director of our Gulf Restoration Program reflects on conservation leaders in Alabama. This piece originally appeared on AL.com

Check back every day for new blogs, and don’t forget to join our Twitter chat today, March 8th, at 1 pm EST! 

I was put on the path to protect the incredible beauty and natural resources in the Gulf of Mexico by the most inspiring and influential woman in my life—my mother Toni Lankford.

On long, rambling walks in the woods, she would point out different plant species and trees and what liked to eat them. She taught me that everything plays a different role in nature and is absolutely necessary to the ecosystem, even venomous snakes!

She taught me to appreciate nature and everything that it offers us. Her passion for nature shaped my career path and instilled in me a love for the natural environment. I remember listening in awe as she named of all the birds in our backyard. She was a walking encyclopedia. She would have the answer to practically any question. She also taught me about conservation leaders like Rachel Carson and Marjorie Stoneman Douglas—women who inspired the modern environmental movement.

The work I do today to restore the Gulf is a testament to that early foundation. And I am incredibly grateful to also work and learn from a supportive group of women in conservation that are leading the charge for restoring the Gulf in the wake of the BP oil disaster.

The conservation sector in Alabama is largely led by women. Directly after the disaster, we sprang into action to tackle the country’s largest environmental disaster in history. Women played a crucial role from the early days of response and cleanup, to getting the RESTORE Act passed in 2012 and securing an unprecedented $20.8 billion settlement from BP. It’s worth remembering that there have been many amazing Alabama women who made it their life’s work to protect this beautiful place even before the events of April 2010.

Tammy Herrington has spent the past 20 years calling Alabama home. As the Executive Director of Conservation Alabama, she tracks the decisions made by local, state, and national elected officials protecting the people and places in Alabama we all love.

Casi Callaway grew up in Mobile and, other than a stint in Washington D.C., has invested almost 20 years in protecting her favorite watershed. As the Executive Director of Mobile Baykeeper, she protects the health of our coastal communities and environment through education, monitoring and restoration.

It’s my hope that our group of strong women leaders will inspire future generations of women to continue our work to preserve “Alabama the Beautiful.” I have no doubt the work we are doing to restore the Gulf over the next 15 years will leave a lasting legacy, much like the incredible women who helped pave the way for us.

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Small Steps, Big Rewards: An Updated Plan to Restore the Gulf http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/12/16/small-steps-big-rewards-an-updated-plan-to-restore-the-gulf/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/12/16/small-steps-big-rewards-an-updated-plan-to-restore-the-gulf/#comments Fri, 16 Dec 2016 17:43:13 +0000 Kara Lankford http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13512

Today the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council approved their updated comprehensive plan to restore the Gulf after the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. The updated plan includes small yet very important changes that echo the comments from tens of thousands of people like you from across the Gulf of Mexico. You’ll recall back in October we asked you to let the Council know that stronger language was needed within the comprehensive plan to ensure restoration is coordinated, comprehensive and based in science. Specifically, we want the Council to improve its project submission process and look for more ways to incorporate the best available science into their plan. These updates would ensure the best possible outcome for the $1.6 billion in fines available to the Council to restore the Gulf.

I’m happy to report that the updated comprehensive plan addresses all of these concerns. We spoke, and the Council listened! Ocean Conservancy would like to say thank you for voicing your comments to the Council and for your continued engagement on Gulf restoration.

In addition to improving the proposal development and best available science sections, the Council also added clarifying language to the fifth goal in the plan, “Revitalize the Gulf Economy.” The Council points out that a strong economy is based on a healthy environment and that restoration projects and programs contribute to a healthy economy by not only creating jobs but by improving and maintaining a productive ecosystem. We couldn’t agree more. For those who live on the Gulf Coast, it’s clear that our economy and ecosystem are intrinsically linked, and, in order to have a stable economy, we must have a healthy, productive ecosystem.

As we close out 2016, we are encouraged by the progress made this year in the Gulf. Six years after the BP oil disaster began, the legal process finally came to an end with an unprecedented $20.8 billion global settlement with BP. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation continues to make the Gulf’s marine life a top priority, with $26 million in new projects to restore dolphins, sea turtles and fish. And now we can thank the Council for updating the comprehensive plan ahead of schedule and for the many improvements they’ve made. With the first payment from the BP settlement coming in April, we look forward to more exciting accomplishments for the Gulf in 2017.

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Creating a Healthy Future for Sea Turtles http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/09/23/creating-a-healthy-future-for-sea-turtles/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/09/23/creating-a-healthy-future-for-sea-turtles/#comments Fri, 23 Sep 2016 15:11:54 +0000 Kara Lankford http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12954

I wasn’t really awake until our all-terrain vehicle bumped its way to the beaches of the Alabama Gulf coast. I held on tight in the dark and wondered whether this adventure had been such a good idea after all.

Then a pop of orange and red burst across the Gulf of Mexico. All that had been asleep was now vivid and busy. Sea gulls and terns swooped above the waves scanning for breakfast. A pod of dolphins broke the surface offshore. Salty fishermen appeared as the mist lifted, persistent, patient. I remember being on the beach early each morning during the BP oil disaster. Even through all the chaos the mornings were always magical as the sun rose over the Gulf. Six years later it is reassuring to see so much is well, but we know that there is still work ahead to restore this environment to its natural state. As I took in all these sights, I reminded myself: I’m here to do a job.

I had signed up with Share the Beach, a volunteer conservation program that monitors and helps protect sea turtles as they are about to hatch. The Gulf is home to many sea turtle species, including: loggerhead, leatherback, hawksbill, green and Kemp’s ridley. Each of these five species is listed as threatened or endangered and could become extinct if measures aren’t taken to support their populations.

One way to help these iconic creatures is to protect their nests and give young turtles the best chance to survive and return to the sea. If we find a nest, we lay metal fencing on the sand to protect the eggs from predators and flag the area so people know it shouldn’t be disturbed. On rare occasions, mother turtles lay their eggs too close to the high tide mark. In those cases, we carefully move the nest and eggs to higher ground so the nest won’t be inundated with water, which might kill the hatchlings.

When the eggs have been incubating in the sand for 55 days, we begin to “nest sit.” Volunteer teams watch the nests around the clock until the babies hatch. Our goal is to make sure the baby turtles reach the Gulf waters without a hitch. Many times, the baby turtles become disoriented, confusing street lights and porch lights on the land with the horizon offshore. If they head to manmade lights, we redirect them to the water. This year, Alabama had a record nesting year, which means there is hope for recovery, resilience and restoration in spite of the many stressors on the environment.

Ocean Conservancy’s new video focuses on that hope. It begins with a sea turtle that hatched in 2010 during the height of the BP oil disaster. Skipping ahead to the year 2045, the sea turtle returns to the same beach where she hatched to lay her own eggs. But, thanks to the efforts of people like you to restore the Gulf, she doesn’t find an oil laden beach; she finds a pristine environment teeming with life. That’s the future Ocean Conservancy works to achieve each day.

Join Ocean Conservancy to help create a healthy future for sea turtles and all who rely on the Gulf.  Last month, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council released its updated plan to restore the Gulf of Mexico. Please join us in thanking the Council for their work and asking them to take the plan a step further. Help us generate 20,000 comments to the Council to ensure a healthy future for Gulf species like sea turtles.


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New Leadership for Ocean Conservancy’s Gulf Restoration Program http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/08/08/new-leadership-for-ocean-conservancys-gulf-restoration-program/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/08/08/new-leadership-for-ocean-conservancys-gulf-restoration-program/#comments Mon, 08 Aug 2016 19:22:30 +0000 Kara Lankford http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12596

Gulf Restoration Program staff Kara Lankford and Bethany Carl Kraft on Monterey Bay in California. Credit: Rachel Guillory

Bethany Carl Kraft has been the eloquent voice and thought leader of Ocean Conservancy’s Gulf Restoration Program for the past five years. Her leadership has taken our team through milestones such as the implementation of the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act (RESTORE Act), a global settlement with BP that includes over $1 billion dedicated to restoration in the open ocean, and a Programmatic Damage Assessment and Restoration Plan that lays out the strategy for restoring the Gulf in the wake of the BP oil disaster.

We have accomplished so much as a team, and it is with a heavy heart that I announce Bethany’s departure as the director of our Gulf Restoration Program. Anyone who has spent five minutes with Bethany understands her love for the Gulf of Mexico and her passion for restoring it. This passion has led her to her new position as the Senior Project Manager, Gulf Coast for Volkert & Associates which she begins this week. In this role, she will be getting her feet muddy once again managing on-the-ground restoration projects across the Gulf region.

As the Ocean Conservancy Gulf Restoration team goes through this leadership transition, we remain strong and ready to tackle the important work that lies ahead. We are committed to ensuring monitoring programs and protocols are in place, maintaining the integrity of the open ocean funding and advocating for coordination among the different restoration programs to avoid duplication and encourage leveraging.

I’ll be taking over as interim director of our program and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to lead this dedicated team. I’ve been with Ocean Conservancy for almost six years and I can say throughout every transition this team has stayed the course and kept the end goal of comprehensive restoration of the Gulf at the forefront.

Ocean Conservancy would like to thank Bethany Carl Kraft for her outstanding leadership of the Gulf Restoration Program. She leaves behind a legacy of enthusiasm for restoring the Gulf for future generations and an ecosystem focus that will continue on in her absence.


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Honoring the Women Who Led the Response to the BP Oil Disaster http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/04/18/honoring-the-women-who-led-the-response-to-the-bp-oil-disaster/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/04/18/honoring-the-women-who-led-the-response-to-the-bp-oil-disaster/#comments Mon, 18 Apr 2016 12:00:50 +0000 Kara Lankford http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11925

Former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson knows what it’s like to be the only woman in the room. Here she is briefed on Deepwater Horizon response activities with President Obama and other response leaders. Credit: The White House

If you caught our tweet chat for International Women’s Day last month, I’m sure you noticed that there are some amazing women in conservation on the Gulf Coast. As we approach the 6-year memorial of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, I can’t help but think of the incredible women who led the Gulf region through that terrible tragedy with grace and confidence. As a woman in the conservation field, I am always inspired by those who go before me and pave a clearer path for women in science and leadership. The battles they overcome are experiences we can learn from and hopefully not have to revisit. Let’s take a moment to highlight a few notable women who led the charge in the beginning of the BP oil disaster.

Lisa Jackson became the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in 2009. Little did she know the following year would bring her back to her roots to New Orleans to fight one of the largest environmental disasters in U.S. history. With Jackson as the lead, EPA oversaw the incredible task of monitoring and responding to environmental and public health concerns during the BP oil disaster. President Obama appointed Jackson as chair of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, where she focused her efforts on figuring out how to restore the Gulf beyond just BP. By asking big-picture questions like “What does the Gulf Coast region need to be resilient?,” Jackson set up the current Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council to tackle the long-term environmental issues facing the Gulf.

Dr. Jane Lubchenco served as the administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) from 2009 to 2013, and she is the first woman to serve in this post.  During the BP oil disaster, Dr. Lubchenco lead the response effort for NOAA as the agency tracked the oil and predicted where it would go, closed the fisheries in the Gulf to keep our seafood safe, worked to protect endangered species from the oiled areas, and assessed the damage to the Gulf’s natural resources. Now a professor at Oregon State University, Dr. Lubchenco continues to weigh in on the ecosystem wide impact of the BP oil disaster: “The bottom line is that oil is nasty stuff. Yes, the Gulf is resilient, but it was hit pretty darn hard.”

Trudy Fisher is the first woman to serve as Executive Director of the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality. Fisher served as Mississippi’s trustee under the Natural Resource Damage Assessment, and after passage of the RESTORE Act she served as the governor’s designee on the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council.  Fisher was the public facing voice in Mississippi during the BP oil disaster and she was always committed to reassuring the public that her agency was focused on restoring the Gulf and Mississippi coast: “Our singular goal in the aftermath of the oil spill is to make Mississippi whole. Nature and its enjoyment are fundamental to Mississippians, whose lives are integrally bound up in the pleasure of hunting, fishing, bird watching, and other nature-related activities.“

Cyn Sarthou is the Executive Director of the Gulf Restoration Network, a nonprofit organization that is committed to uniting and empowering people to protect and restore the natural resources of the Gulf Region. Guided by the very capable hands of Sarthou, GRN has been involved in the recovery from the BP oil disaster from the beginning. A strong voice for environmental restoration, Sarthou frequently speaks up for the communities and wild places around the Gulf that few others will. That type of authenticity has gained her well-deserved respect and admiration in the Gulf coast communities. She is quick to point out that the economy of the Gulf relies on a healthy, functioning ecosystem and funds from the global settlement must be used to restore the environment accordingly: “The funds from this settlement provide a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to repair the Gulf in the wake of the BP disaster and make our coasts and communities stronger and more resilient for future generations. We must not squander this opportunity.”

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Postcards from Alabama http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/04/13/postcards-from-alabama/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/04/13/postcards-from-alabama/#comments Mon, 13 Apr 2015 13:00:58 +0000 Kara Lankford http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10064

To commemorate five years since the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster began, Ocean Conservancy interviewed residents about the disaster, its impacts and what the Gulf means to them. Over the next 87 days—the length of the disaster itself—we will be releasing “postcards from the Gulf” to share their stories. This blog is the first in a series of full-length interviews from our postcards.  Be sure to follow Ocean Conservancy on Facebook and Twitter over the next couple of months to see all of the postcards.

Alabama is a special place, not only because of its unique landscape and abundant wildlife but also because of its people. Those of us who grew up in coastal Alabama did so with fishing pole in hand and feet in the water. It’s a privilege to work each day to preserve and protect this beautiful place alongside incredible people like Tammy and Matt. Here are their postcards.

Tammy Herrington
Executive Director of Conservation Alabama
Mobile, AL

What do you love about the Gulf?
The Gulf of Mexico is this vast and mysterious creature that pulls us to its shores and provides such abundance to our communities. It makes this area of the country unique, and it ties together all of us who rely on it. I love eating the shrimp, crabs, oysters and fish that it provides. I love the many cultures of people that live along the Gulf, and all of this together is my home and the reason I work so hard to protect it.

How did you feel when the BP oil disaster began?
When we first heard about the blowout on the rig, we didn’t believe it would impact Alabama, but that quickly changed. As gallon after gallon of oil spewed into the Gulf with no end in sight, I realized for the first time in my life that we could lose all the things I love about my home—the Gulf of Mexico and the abundance that comes from it, the beautiful sugar sand beaches, eating the seafood, all of it. I looked at my husband weeks into the disaster and said to him, “What if we have to leave?” The idea of raising my children elsewhere or not being able to offer them the childhood I imagined was inconceivable to me.

What have you learned from the BP oil disaster?
Now I have a renewed passion and appreciation for the Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf Coast. Our communities are resilient and have managed to once again make it through a devastating disaster. I am proud to call the Gulf Coast my home. As research continues to show what has been lost or damaged, my hope is that we can use that knowledge to restore and protect the Gulf of Mexico, the abundance that comes out of its waters and the communities that rely on it.

What is your hope for restoring the Gulf?
The BP oil disaster was an environmental disaster that impacted the economy and the communities along its shores. I want to see us restore our natural resources and make our communities stronger and more able to avert this type of disaster in the future.

I’ve lived in four of the five Gulf states, and there is no other area of this country I love more. When I graduated from college I couldn’t wait to leave, but once I did, I realized how passionate I am about my home and its people. There are many cultures across the five Gulf states, but we are tied together by our connection to this vast body of water. We must work together to protect our home and our heritage so we can pass it along to the next generation.

Matt Seese
Mobile Bay Kayak Fishing Association
Mobile, AL

What do you love about the Gulf?
I grew up on the Gulf Coast and fell in love with the creatures that live in its waters at a very young age. Fishing from the shore, my pirogue, or my little flat boat was how I tried to spend every free minute I had. From running on mud flats catching minnows with my brothers, to throwing a cast net for shrimp every night of the hot summers, I was, or was trying to be, on the water.

How did you feel when the BP oil disaster began?
I was saddened by the loss of life and thought about how devastating it must have been for the families of those killed in the explosions to get that horrible phone call. I was angry at the response from those responsible and frustrated by the lack of progress in capping the well. Shortly after the spill, we decided to “go to the beach one last time” and rented one of those condos on sale. I sat on the balcony and watched the sheen of oil come in with the tide and smelled that undeniable odor that told us the oil was here. I watched a woman trying to rinse the oil off of her child’s feet.

Now, the spill seems to have fallen away from most people’s purview. The booms that surrounded Mobile Bay are long gone. For me, it’s still there like an old wound. I wonder about the long-term effects of that much oil and that much dispersant and how it will affect the Gulf. Selfishly, I wonder how it impacted the speckled trout and redfish populations and if I can still chase my dream of the eight-pound trout.

What have you learned from the BP oil disaster?
I think the biggest takeaway for me is the widespread effect that the health of the Gulf has on our coastal communities.  We sort of knew that already, but sometimes it takes a major event to truly quantify the economic and social impacts that nature has on our everyday lives. I also learned that not only is nature resilient, but so are the residents of the Gulf Coast. Whether it’s a man-made disaster like the oil spill or a natural disaster like a hurricane, we are overcomers. We find ways to pull together across social, political, racial and economic divides to help out when we get knocked down.

What is your hope for restoring the Gulf?
I would like to see the Gulf Coast made whole in terms of habitat restoration, recreational accessibility, and sustainable commercial viability. By restoring the habitats and allowing everyone the recreational access to see what a treasure the Gulf really is, we can bring necessary attention to the restoration efforts. I would also like to see an emphasis on fisheries science to help monitor the health of both recreational and commercially important species.

More blogs from this series:
Coming soon.

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