Ocean Currents » Michelle Erenberg http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Fri, 26 Aug 2016 16:55:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Postcards from Mississippi http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/07/14/postcards-from-mississippi/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/07/14/postcards-from-mississippi/#comments Tue, 14 Jul 2015 18:07:07 +0000 Michelle Erenberg http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10460

In honor of the 5-year anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, Ocean Conservancy interviewed residents about the spill, its impacts and what the Gulf means to them. Over the 87 days—the length of the spill itself—we are releasing “postcards from the Gulf” to share their stories. This blog is the last of a four-part series featuring some of the full-length interviews from our postcards. Be sure to follow Ocean Conservancy on Facebook and Twitter to see all of the postcards.

The people of Mississippi do not take their environment for granted. Like Captain Louis Skrmetta, whose grandfather founded Ship Island Excursions in 1926 to ferry passengers from the Gulfport Harbor to enjoy Mississippi’s uninhabited barrier islands. For more than a century, the Skrmettas have been working in the seafood, boat building and ferry service industries. Skrmetta and his family make their living off this unique attraction of the Gulf. Mississippi folks aren’t shy about speaking up for their community either. That’s what I find so incredible about Roberta Avila who has been a tireless advocate for more than 25 years and who continues to raise the volume of Biloxi’s voices so they will be heard by restoration decision-makers. These are their stories.

Roberta Avila
Executive Director of the Steps Coalition
Biloxi, MS

What have you learned from the BP oil disaster?

Since the oil disaster, Steps has worked with regional and local groups to ensure residents are informed about decisions that are being made about how to restore the Gulf Coast. There are barriers to participation particularly with the Vietnamese community, many of whom don’t speak English.

I’m still very worried about what we don’t know, like what the effect is of the oil and the dispersant, and when will we know that? It may be 10 years, or 15 years. What we do know is that the oil disaster is having an impact on the sea life and that’s very worrisome. There is a real need to have a better understanding about environmental science and about how everything in the environment is connected.
If we don’t understand how things are impacted we won’t understand what projects to do or why.

What is your hope for restoring the Gulf?

We need to remain vigilant about how this recovery is going to move forward and making sure community members are at the table to talk about what they want to see in their community. Restoration really should be reflecting people’s values. People know what they want– they want a healthy sound so they can fish and clean water so they can swim. They want good seafood.

We need to make sure the funding is there to do the monitoring because we need the data to know how the Gulf is recovering and responding over the long term to the restoration choices we are making, so we are learning from that. We need to create opportunities for residents to be able to be trained and employed to do the work and help them get well-paying jobs restoring the Gulf.

Louis Skrmetta
Ship Island Excursions
Gulfport, MS

What do you love about the Gulf?

I started as a deckhand for my father in the ‘70s and now it’s been 40 years that I’ve been a licensed captain on a ferry boat. My grandfather was a Croatian immigrant that came to southern Mississippi in 1903. I run a business that’s been in my family for almost 85 years and we depend heavily on a clean environment.

What have you learned from the BP oil disaster?

We were having problems before the oil spill with overfishing and poor regulations. Then comes the oil spill and the heavy use of dispersants in the prime areas of these fishes’ prime spawning grounds. I have seen the mullet population around the Mississippi barrier islands literally disappear. In the old days, there used to be hundreds of thousands in the schools. Now when you see a school of mullet, it’s so rare. The same with the dolphins, whose main source of food is these mullet, and they were swimming right where the oil was and where they were spraying the dispersant.

There’s no doubt in my mind that this problem is not over. Yeah, the beaches are cleaner, the oil is out of sight, but we still have a problem of the remnants of oil right off the Mississippi barrier islands. Every time you have a storm or weather event, it’s lifted up and placed on the islands.

What is your hope for restoring the Gulf?

We need to protect and restore the barrier islands, those high quality natural beaches, those wonderful marine forests, the incredible wildlife that depends and lives on those islands, the quality of life the islands provide to the local residents and the visitors, those wonderful sunsets and great water quality coupled with what was once one of the richest seafood producers, the Mississippi Sound. If we do, we could create jobs and sustain our economy and the restoration money could be part of that.

More blogs from this series:
Postcards from Alabama
Postcards from Louisiana
Postcards from Florida

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What does the BP Settlement Mean for the Gulf? http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/07/13/what-does-the-bp-settlement-mean-for-the-gulf/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/07/13/what-does-the-bp-settlement-mean-for-the-gulf/#comments Mon, 13 Jul 2015 17:24:56 +0000 Michelle Erenberg http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10446

Now that the fireworks have died down, we wanted to check back on the big announcement from BP earlier this month. BP, the Department of Justice and the five Gulf states announced they had reached a settlement for $18.7 billion to resolve outstanding fines and claims from the 2010 oil disaster. We’ve spent the week diving into the numbers and here’s a little more about what we know and what questions remain.

The agreement provides $8.1 billion for Natural Resource Damages, including $1 billion in Early Restoration previously committed by BP. Nearly 70 percent of the $1 billion for Early Restoration has already been spent, with another $134 million set to be spent this summer on 10 new projects. It is unclear at this point how the remaining $168 million Early Restoration funds will be allocated. However, in the coming months, we hope to see a draft Damage Assessment and Restoration Plan (DARP) from the Trustees that could lay the path forward for those remaining funds and the $7.1 billion in payments to be made over the next 15 years. This is an important fund for the Gulf’s fish and wildlife beyond the shore, as it includes $1.24 billion for “open ocean” projects, as well as $350 million for “regionwide” projects. While the exact definition of the terms “open ocean” and “regionwide” remain unclear, Ocean Conservancy is encouraged by this news, as we have long advocated for a comprehensive, regionwide approach to restoration, including the offshore environment.

In our earlier blog, we hailed the $350 million to continue assessing the damage caused by the disaster, but it is unclear if this funding will be available for ongoing assessments, or if it is only available to reimburse outstanding assessment costs. Further information is also needed to understand how much funding could be reserved for future damages and how those funds will be allocated. Long-term research and monitoring are critical to understanding if and how the Gulf is recovering, and BP should bear the responsibility of this cost.

Over the next 15 years, BP will pay $5.5 billion in Clean Water Act penalties.

Of this $5.5 billion, 20 percent, or $1.1 billion, goes to the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund for responding to future oil spills. The other 80 percent, or $4.4 billion, will be allocated according to the RESTORE Act. $1.32 billion will be allocated to the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council to be used to restore and protect the natural resources of the Gulf. We are eager to find out more about how these funds will impact the RESTORE Council’s planning and project funding. This chart details the allocations of Clean Water Act fines through the RESTORE Act.

Adding to all of this the $2.544 billion directed to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation in 2013 and the $800 million directed to the RESTORE Act from the settlement with Transocean in 2013, these are significant resources to fund projects benefiting the natural resources of the Gulf Coast.

Before the settlement, our Gulf leaders faced challenges in planning for restoration, due to the uncertainty around how much money would ultimately be available and when. With those questions now answered, decision-makers will be able to move forward with recovery and restoration planning that takes more comprehensive approach and a long view of the Gulf’s resources.

How they set about that task will be critical. We will continue to encourage decision-makers to coordinate planning efforts across these funding mechanisms, create more transparency, and meaningfully engage the public. There is also an enormous opportunity here to appropriately leverage these funds so we get the most bang for these bucks. This is going to need to be a team effort, as Bethany wrote earlier this month, we all need to continue to work together to seize this opportunity.

For an in-depth analysis of the $18.7 billion BP settlement, download our fact sheet.

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Postcards from Louisiana http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/04/21/postcards-from-louisiana/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/04/21/postcards-from-louisiana/#comments Tue, 21 Apr 2015 12:00:49 +0000 Michelle Erenberg http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10123

In honor of the 5-year anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, Ocean Conservancy interviewed residents about the spill, its impacts and what the Gulf means to them. Over the next 87 days—the length of the spill itself—we will be releasing “postcards from the Gulf” to share their stories. This blog is the second of a four-part series featuring some of the 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.

Chief Albert Naquin
Isle de Jean Charles Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw
Pointe-aux-Chenes, LA

At the edge of Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana there is a narrow road bordered on both sides by piles of rocks and nearly open water peppered with the remnants of what was once thick marsh. This road leads to a small island, only a couple miles long and a half -mile wide. The island, called Isle de Jean Charles, is home to a Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indians, who settled there more than two centuries ago. The land, which sustained this tribe for generations, is vanishing.

Chief Albert Naquin has served as tribal leader since 1997. He reflects on what life was like on the island: “The land has changed in my lifetime from what it was to what it is today. When I was growing up, we could catch our fish, catch our seafood and wildlife that we needed to survive. Now we have no land; basically it’s all water.”

In the past several decades, erosion of the marsh around the island has introduced more salt water from the Gulf, changing the brackish water necessary to sustain the estuaries that provided the fish, shrimp and oysters on which the tribe depended. Chief Naquin understands the value of the marsh for the island and would like to see restoration efforts focused on restoring marsh in areas that are left out of levee protection systems.

“For restoration to be a success, I’d want to put some marsh back to stop the tidal surge. It’s the water that’s causing us the harm more than the wind. When I was growing up, you’d have to climb over the marsh to get to the beach. If we could get some of that back, it could stop the salt water from coming in.”

Beyond the impact on fisheries resources, the marsh serves another life-sustaining purpose: protection. The island was once surrounded by tall marsh grasses that caught the wind and buffered the island against storm surge and flooding.  With nothing to slow them down, storms bring with them frequent floods which have had a devastating impact on the families living on the island. “I left out the island when I was young,” Chief Naquin explains, “I guess I’m not so resilient. I fought a flood once as an adult, married with a child. We had about an inch of mud in the house after Hurricane Carmen in 1974. At that time we had about 65 homes, and today there are only 25.”

Many families have moved off the island leaving behind the most vulnerable and those with the least means. “We have some younger folks there, but I don’t know if the island’s going to last for them to see it. They may have to pack up and go. But there are others who have homes that are paid for. They can’t afford rent, or another mortgage, so they have to stay there. The displacement has had a big impact on the next generation. They want to be close to mom and dad, but they can’t.”

The cultural heritage and traditions of the tribe are threatened by the fracturing of this community. Chief Naquin and the members of the tribal council are struggling to hold the community together. In recent years, most of the tribe’s members have come to understand that their survival as a tribe will likely depend on relocating and beginning a new community further from the eroding coast. For Chief Naquin, this is not something that could happen in some distant future, the needs of this community are urgent.

“We can’t restore this community or the environment around this community, because we would have to continue to have money to keep it up, because we still have storms washing it away. For me, what’s important is to invest in a new community and to put money into a fund that would sustain the community. If we had that, we wouldn’t have to ask for help because we would have our own. That’s my goal, to be self-sufficient again with the tribe. But I’m running out of time.”

More blogs from this series:

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Communities Come Together to Restore the Gulf http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/04/02/communities-coming-together-to-restore-the-gulf/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/04/02/communities-coming-together-to-restore-the-gulf/#comments Wed, 02 Apr 2014 13:30:48 +0000 Michelle Erenberg http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=7970

Great things happen when people come together and collaborate on a shared vision, especially when that shared vision is a healthier Gulf of Mexico. This notion rang true at a series of workshops Ocean Conservancy helped to coordinate in Mobile and Baldwin counties on the Alabama Gulf Coast. These “Community Conversations” were an opportunity to share information with and collect ideas from residents and business owners about the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s (NFWF) Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund.

As you might remember, NFWF established this fund with $2.544 billion from a settlement resolving the criminal cases against BP and Transocean as a result of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. Alabama will receive $356 million over the next five years to fund projects that benefit Alabama’s coastal and marine wildlife and habitats. Last fall, 22 projects were selected to restore and protect our natural resources around the Gulf Coast. Alabama received $12.6 million for three projects, which will restore oyster reefs and watersheds around Mobile Bay.

As NFWF begins to look toward the next phase of funding, it is important that communities begin to think about their priorities for restoring the natural resources in the coastal and marine environments.

Providing a forum and an opportunity for a conversation about community restoration priorities, the workshops proved to be a great success, with a total of nearly 100 people in attendance. Not only did residents have the opportunity to share their ideas for Gulf restoration with their neighbors, but the director of the Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund for Alabama, Florida and Mississippi was on hand to give more information about the purpose of the fund and the process of soliciting and selecting project proposals. Officials from the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, as well as local elected officials, were also there to hear what folks had to say. The most valuable part of these workshops was the hour spent in small groups with community members talking about restoration priorities and activities needed in their communities.

Those who attended identified their top priorities for restoration in Alabama, including improving water quality and restoring estuaries, rivers, streams, wetlands, marshes and oyster reefs. Many people expressed a need for better public access to beaches and water. It was clear that their vision for Alabama focused on investments in sustainable, resilient environments and economies; a sustainable fishing industry; clean waters, bays and estuaries; and a good quality of life for all people living on the coast.

The feedback from these community conversations will be compiled into a report to be given to restoration authorities, including NFWF and state agencies, to inform their decision-making. Meaningful public engagement is critical to the success of restoration in the Gulf, and Ocean Conservancy is proud to help our local leaders in that effort.

For more information about Gulf restoration through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, check out our fact sheet.

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