Ocean Currents » Rachel Guillory http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Fri, 21 Apr 2017 20:52:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Mississippi’s $10 Million Investment in Sea Turtle and Dolphin Recovery http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/11/23/mississippis-10-million-investment-in-sea-turtle-and-dolphin-recovery/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/11/23/mississippis-10-million-investment-in-sea-turtle-and-dolphin-recovery/#comments Wed, 23 Nov 2016 13:45:22 +0000 Rachel Guillory http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13396

Last week, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation approved nearly $370 million in new projects to help the Gulf of Mexico recover from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. Among these new projects is Mississippi’s Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Conservation Recovery and Monitoring Program, a nearly $10 million, five-year project. This is the largest sea turtle or dolphin recovery project funded by any one state in the six years since the BP oil disaster began, and Ocean Conservancy is thrilled to see Mississippi investing in the health of the Gulf’s marine life.

Mississippi has a small coast, but it has felt the effects of the BP oil disaster on its shores. From 2010-2014, a record number of more than 1,100 marine mammals were stranded on beaches all across the Gulf Coast. The bottlenose dolphin population in Mississippi Sound is expected to take 40-50 years to recover. And an estimated 61,000 to 173,000 sea turtles were killed during the BP oil disaster. These long-lived species will need the help of projects like Mississippi’s to fully recover.

The scope of this project is big—for sea turtles alone, it includes purchasing new fishing gear for fishermen that prevents sea turtles from accidentally getting caught in shrimp nets, hiring a marine biologist to rehabilitate stranded or injured turtles and monitoring the turtles’ movements after they’ve been released back into the Gulf. For both dolphins and sea turtles, this project will expand the Mississippi stranding network to the state’s many barrier islands and collect better data on why and how marine life strand in Mississippi—an important step in tracking the overall health and recovery of Gulf marine life after the BP oil disaster. The project will also increase coordination among the many state and federal agencies, research groups and academic institutions involved in sea turtle and marine mammal studies.

In addition to this nearly $10 million project, Mississippi has another $15 million in Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) funding to help sea turtles and marine mammals recover from the BP oil disaster. Marc Wyatt, Director of the Office of Restoration, Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, explains why Mississippi chose to invest even more money in these species: “Up until now the state had not invested in marine mammals and sea turtles in the restoration landscape. We knew we wanted to, but we wanted to do it in such a way that resulted in a coordinated partnership between everyone involved,” said Marc. “What this will also do is have everyone talking, working towards where we need to go, such that when the NRDA funds are needed, then we already have started down the restoration path and potentially have identified needs.”

Mississippi is not the only state to fund projects to help sea turtles and dolphins. Florida and Alabama have also invested in their capacity to respond to stranded marine life, and a $45 million Gulf-wide project funded last year will enhance sea turtle protection and rehabilitation in Texas and establish a joint United States/Mexico conservation program to protect sea turtle nests. With this new project, Mississippi plans to coordinate data collection efforts and communicate their findings across state and federal agencies to help sea turtles and dolphins across the Gulf recover—not just those in Mississippi waters.

To track the success of this project, and to find out how Mississippi is restoring its birds, beaches, wetlands and many other resources, visit www.restore.ms.

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Remembering the Victims and Survivors of Deepwater Horizon http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/10/01/remembering-the-victims-and-survivors-of-deepwater-horizon/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/10/01/remembering-the-victims-and-survivors-of-deepwater-horizon/#comments Sat, 01 Oct 2016 13:20:37 +0000 Rachel Guillory http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13040

Like many Gulf Coast people, I too had a loved one working on an oil rig the day the Deepwater Horizon exploded. In his first job with the oil industry, my stepdad was working IT on a rig. My mom and I had been glad he got the job as he had been laid off during the recession, but that day I was frantic. Stuck on an airplane when I heard the news, I wracked my brain: What rig was he on? Was he okay? It was two, painful hours before we landed, and I could finally call my mom.

Luckily, my stepdad was safe. I breathed a sigh of relief.

But that day in 2010, I’m sure tens of thousands of families went through the same worry, wondering if their loved ones were safe.

For many of us, then, the new movie Deepwater Horizon, which chronicles the last few hours aboard the rig, may be hard to watch. The movie creates an overwhelming sense of fear, anger and frustration as cement tests are ignored, pressure tests are misread and concerns over the integrity of the oil well are overlooked for the sake of staying on schedule.

The film points to the oil and gas industry’s overall lack of commitment to safety as the root cause of the disaster, just as the National Oil Spill Commission found in their 2011 report to the President. In the movie, before the first explosion even happens, we see that the phones don’t work, fire alarms need new batteries and even the air conditioning is going out. Mark Wahlberg, portraying chief electronic technician Mike Williams, calls out this climate of risk when he tells BP well site leader Donald Vidrine, played by John Malkovich, that it seems BP is “running out of gas while landing the plane.” The Deepwater Horizon was behind schedule, and BP was intent on finishing the job quickly so the rig could move onto another well site.

Once the blowout occurs, chaos ensues because the rig crew was not properly trained on how to respond to such a disaster. Captain Curt Kuchta screams at dynamic positioning officer Andrea Fleytas for sounding a distress signal. Transocean rig boss Jimmy Harrell is half-blinded in the first explosion by falling insulation and glass and struggles to regain command of his rig. Ultimately, Vidrine, along with his partner Robert Kaluza, were both charged with 22 counts of manslaughter, all of which were eventually dropped. In real life, many feel that Vidrine and Kaluza were simply the fall guys for BP as the key decisions that led to the disaster ultimately came from their bosses in Houston. The movie emphasizes this sentiment by portraying Vidrine as a vulgar character, a symbol of BP’s negligence. But where Vidrine and Kaluza were found at fault, 11 heroic men had worked furiously to try to prevent the disaster.

Movie director Peter Berg said during a National Public Radio interview that one of his motivations for making the movie was to recognize their dedication in the face of danger. It’s no coincidence that most of the 11 men who died were members of the drilling crew. “They stayed at their workstations,” Berg told NPR, “when they could have jumped off the rig onto the lifeboats. They stayed on the rig and attempted very hard and courageously to try and prevent that blowout. And they died trying to prevent it.”

Eleven families lost a loved one that day. But we know it could have been a loved one from any of tens of thousands of families. Six years later, as we work to restore the Gulf from the BP oil disaster, it’s important that we keep this loss as part of our  perspective. Because even though we now have an opportunity to make the Gulf even healthier than it was in 2010, we paid a dear price for this chance. We owe it to the victims and survivors of the disaster to get Gulf restoration right.

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5 Things Sea Turtles Need to Survive http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/09/26/5-things-sea-turtles-need-to-survive/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/09/26/5-things-sea-turtles-need-to-survive/#comments Mon, 26 Sep 2016 16:14:12 +0000 Rachel Guillory http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12999

Sea turtles have a strong sense of place—when it’s time to nest, they return to the same beach where they hatched decades before. Many residents of the Gulf Coast share that same sense of place (my own family has lived in Louisiana for more than ten generations!)

That’s why sea turtles are a great mascot for the Gulf Coast. It’s also why Ocean Conservancy’s new video outlining a vision for a healthy Gulf is told from the perspective of a loggerhead sea turtle. In honor of the star of our video, here are five things that sea turtles need to survive and thrive.

1.     A nice beach to nest on

Most sea turtles (with the exception of the Kemp’s ridley) nest at night, and always on the same beach where they were born. If a beach is crowded with lights, noise or debris, a mother sea turtle is less likely to nest there. In 2010, fewer loggerhead sea turtles nested in the Florida Panhandle because workers covered the beaches that summer, cleaning up after the BP oil disaster. Scientists also moved thousands of sea turtle eggs from Alabama and Florida beaches to Florida’s Atlantic Coast that summer, so that the hatchlings wouldn’t be killed by oil as they swam into the Gulf. Because those sea turtles were born on the Atlantic Coast, they may never come back to the Gulf.

2.     The quickest route to the sea

When baby sea turtles hatch, they instinctively run for the bright horizon offshore. But bright lights from roads, buildings and even flashlights can confuse hatchlings, causing them to run in the wrong direction. You can prevent this by using a red filter on your flashlight when you’re on the beach at night, and turning off any lights that face the ocean.

3.     A safe place to grow up

Once they’ve made it to the ocean, many young sea turtles rely on floating seaweed mats, called sargassum, to hide from predators. Sargassum is not just a nursery for little sea turtles—young fish also find safe haven here.

4.     Lots of food to eat

The leatherback sea turtle’s favorite food is jellyfish. But a floating, clear plastic bag can look an awful lot like a jellyfish dinner. When sea turtles consume marine debris by mistake, it can get stuck in their stomachs and cause major damage. Reducing the amount of trash in the ocean means turtles can steer clear of plastic and stick to the jellyfish meals they love.

5.     Your help

All sea turtles are affected by ocean trash, whether mistaking the trash for food, getting a flipper caught in a discarded six-pack ring or being unable to surface for air while accidentally stuck in a fishing net. For every sea turtle that hatches, only one out of 100 will survive to adulthood. Let’s make their chance of survival a little better by keeping our beaches clean and our trash out of the ocean.

Right now, our Gulf leaders are updating a plan to restore the Gulf of Mexico. The new plan is a step in the right direction, but there is more work to be done to protect sea turtles and all who rely on the Gulf.

Send a message to the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council today and ask them to ensure a healthy future for the Gulf.

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Meet the Scientists Studying the BP Oil Disaster in “Dispatches from the Gulf” http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/04/19/meet-the-scientists-studying-the-bp-oil-disaster-in-dispatches-from-the-gulf/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/04/19/meet-the-scientists-studying-the-bp-oil-disaster-in-dispatches-from-the-gulf/#comments Tue, 19 Apr 2016 13:00:39 +0000 Rachel Guillory http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11930

In the new documentary “Dispatches from the Gulf,” the scientists are the heroes. The film airs for the general public for the first time via livestream on April 20 at 2pm and 7pm eastern. I got a sneak peek of the film, and trust me—you won’t want to miss it.

Since the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster began in 2010, hundreds of scientists around the country have been documenting the impacts of the tragedy on the wildlife and habitats of the Gulf of Mexico. This documentary tells the stories of these scientists, from the University of Miami team that built the equivalent of a treadmill for mahi mahi to test their endurance and see how oil has affected their hearts, to Christopher Reddy, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute scientist who scours the beach for tar balls with a simple tote bag and pair of purple gloves.

Their stories are pretty inspiring. For me, the most memorable part was watching Dr. Mandy Joye, professor of marine sciences at the University of Georgia, climb into the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) “Alvin”—the same ROV that explored the wreckage of the Titanic. Dr. Joye then traveled 90 minutes in the Alvin to the bottom of the Gulf, where she found a shocking amount of oil on the seafloor.

The work these scientists are doing is important to understand how the Gulf’s wildlife and habitats are recovering—or if they’re not recovering, why. For the creatures that live in the deep, blue ecosystem of the Gulf, expanding research and monitoring is one of our only options for restoring their populations. In the case of the Exxon Valdez oil disaster, the herring fishery collapsed unexpectedly after four years. The Gulf supports a giant seafood industry, and we don’t want to see a similar crisis strike here. That’s why we need science to understand how our fish and wildlife are coping with the stress of the BP oil disaster.

If there is something to be gained from this tragedy, it is knowledge. Many of the lessons we are learning about the Gulf in the aftermath of the BP oil disaster can be applied elsewhere in the world. If a researcher from the other side of the world wants to know how fish and corals in the deep sea are affected by exposure to oil, they will turn to our scientists in the Gulf. The Gulf stands on the forefront of a unique opportunity to lead in the field of marine science, but only if we make science a priority in the effort to restore the Gulf.

Don’t forget to catch the livestream of the documentary tomorrow, April 20 at 2pm and 7pm EDT, and follow the conversation on Twitter.

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Our Gulf Heroes: The People Behind the Recovery from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/08/25/our-gulf-heroes-the-people-behind-the-recovery-from-hurricanes-katrina-and-rita/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/08/25/our-gulf-heroes-the-people-behind-the-recovery-from-hurricanes-katrina-and-rita/#comments Tue, 25 Aug 2015 12:30:36 +0000 Rachel Guillory http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10671

Ocean Conservancy, along with many communities along the Gulf of Mexico, is commemorating 10 years since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck the Gulf Coast. While many of the stories you may hear this week focus on Katrina’s impact on New Orleans, we must not forget that coastal communities in all five Gulf states were affected that summer in 2005. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita served as a wake-up call for me, as they did for many others. These record-breaking storms taught me that my home, the Gulf Coast, was extremely vulnerable and, more importantly, irreplaceable. The devastation that those hurricanes caused is the reason I work to protect the Gulf, and the people and wildlife who call it home.

While Ocean Conservancy’s Gulf Restoration Program did not yet exist in 2005, we work with a number of amazing organizations and community leaders who spearheaded the recovery efforts after Katrina and Rita. In 2010, many of these folks once again answered the call to serve their communities when the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster began. Although there are many more than we can list here, these are a few of our Gulf heroes.

1. The Steps Coalition

Named after the phenomenon following Hurricane Katrina where many people returned to their homes to find nothing but the steps to their front doors, the group set out to build a healthy, just and equitable Mississippi Gulf Coast in the wake of the storm. Their work spans a variety of issues affecting Mississippi, from ensuring that Mississippians get fair access to health care, to protecting historic black communities like Turkey Creek from flooding, to reminding our Gulf Coast leaders that meaningful public engagement is essential for Gulf restoration to be successful in the wake of the BP oil disaster.

2. Gulf Restoration Network

For over 20 years, Gulf Restoration Network has served as the prominent regional voice for environmental issues across the Gulf of Mexico. This organization serves as a watchdog for communities on the Gulf Coast, and no fight is too small. With a long history of speaking up for sensitive, wild places and coastal communities, they monitor our beaches for tar balls that continue to wash ashore from the BP oil disaster,  bring together fishermen and chefs to talk about sustainable fishing, and actively advocate for our leaders to make decisions that protect people, wildlife and natural habitats.

3. The Nature Conservancy

Even before the BP oil disaster began, The Nature Conservancy was working to restore the oyster reefs, wetlands and coastal forests along the Gulf Coast. Together with our own Bethany Carl Kraft and many other leaders in Alabama, they helped create 100-1000: Restore Coastal Alabama, an ambitious campaign to build 100 miles of oyster reefs that will in turn support more than 1000 acres of coastal marsh and seagrass. Oyster reefs and marshes serve as natural buffers to the storm surge that accompanies hurricanes, by breaking down the waves and thus preventing loss of life and property in our communities.

4. National Wildlife Federation

Louisiana loses a football field-sized area of wetlands every hour, due in part to cypress logging, leveeing the Mississippi River, channels cut through the wetlands for oil and gas pipelines, as well as invasive species like nutria. For these reasons, Louisiana is at extreme risk to sea level rise and storm surge caused by hurricanes. The Mississippi River Gulf Outlet was a navigation channel that eroded the wetlands around it and caused extensive damage to communities in the New Orleans area during Hurricane Katrina. The National Wildlife Federation, along with many other organizations, fought hard to have the channel closed and the wetlands restored. This new report outlines the work that has yet to be done to complete the rebuilding of this important wetlands area.

It is vitally important that we restore the Gulf not just to repair what was damaged by the BP oil disaster, but to promote resilience against future storms and sea level rise. Climate change can make hurricanes stronger and more frequent, and restoring the Gulf with fines from BP gives us the opportunity to also adapt to these changing conditions. If we continue to see hurricanes with the destructive strength of Katrina and Rita, and, subsequently Gustav, Ike and Isaac, we must build up our coastal defenses and invest in making communities more resilient so we can bounce back from these events. The Gulf of Mexico is unlike any other place on earth, and the residents of the Gulf Coast deserve a healthy Gulf where they can work, play and live. Personally, I can’t imagine living anywhere else.

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Postcards from the Gulf http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/07/15/postcards-from-the-gulf/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/07/15/postcards-from-the-gulf/#comments Wed, 15 Jul 2015 16:24:13 +0000 Rachel Guillory http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10472

Today marks five years since the oil stopped pouring out of BP’s well in the Gulf of Mexico. Even though the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster began on April 20, 2010, it took 87 days for BP to cap the well and stop the flow of oil. In honor of the occasion, Ocean Conservancy interviewed Gulf residents about the disaster, its impacts, and what the Gulf means to them. We have been sharing their stories on Twitter and Facebook over the past 87 days.

Here is a collection of all 28 postcards. Click on the postcards to enlarge them. Be sure to check our past blogs for an in-depth look at some of their stories.

AlbertNaquin_Postcard AlexisBaldera_Postcard BernieBurkholder BethanyKraft_Postcard BeverlyMBurkholder_Postcard BobbyNguyen BonnySchumaker_Postcard CalvinLove_Postcard ColeKolasa FrankHernandez_Postcard GregSteyer JamesCowan JimFranks JJGrey LandryBernard LouisSkrmetta MarieGould MattSeese_Postcard PatsyParker_Postcard PaulDavidson RichieBlink RobertaAvila RobertCarney RoxanneOchoa Ryan Tammy_HerringtonPostcard TereseCollins TroyFrady_Postcard ]]>
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Deepwater Horizon Victims on BP: “I Can Make Them Pay, but I Cannot Make Them Apologize.” http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/10/30/deepwater-horizon-victims-on-bp-i-can-make-them-pay-but-i-cannot-make-them-apologize/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/10/30/deepwater-horizon-victims-on-bp-i-can-make-them-pay-but-i-cannot-make-them-apologize/#comments Thu, 30 Oct 2014 14:00:49 +0000 Rachel Guillory http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9443

My stepdad was working on a rig in the Gulf of Mexico when I heard that one of BP’s drilling platforms had exploded that Tuesday night in April 2010. Luckily he was not on the Deepwater Horizon, but I wondered who was—did I know them? Did their families live nearby?

There are many sides to the tragedy of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, and a new documentary released yesterday, “The Great Invisible,” delves into the lives of the survivors, the decisions made by BP and Transocean to forgo safety measures, and the frustration that many communities felt as they pieced their lives and livelihoods back together after the well was capped.

To me, the most compelling stories from the documentary were those we don’t often hear—the stories of survivors Doug Brown and Stephen Stone. Doug was hired by Transocean as chief mechanic for the Deepwater Horizon, and he’d worked on the platform since it was first built in 2001. Before the explosion in 2010, Doug had complained to Transocean that the reduction in mechanical staff posed a real safety issue.

But staff cuts were not the only issue aboard the Deepwater Horizon. “There were 26 different mistakes made,” said Keith Jones, father of Gordon Jones—a drilling engineer who died in the Deepwater Horizon explosion. The cement hadn’t cured, he said, there was rubber in the drilling mud and the hydraulics for the blow-out preventer were not working. These stories from staff aboard the Deepwater Horizon support the presidential oil spill commission’s conclusion that the BP oil disaster was caused by a culture of complacency, rather than a culture of safety.

Guilt is a prevailing sentiment among the survivors interviewed for the documentary. Despite his complaints about staff issues, Doug feels guilty as a lead Transocean staff member aboard the platform and even planned to commit suicide after the explosion. Stephen Stone worked as a roustabout on the Deepwater Horizon. “I didn’t really tell anybody that I was involved,” he said, “because I didn’t know if I should be proud of it or embarrassed by it, you know? And I still don’t know.” Keith said he had felt proud when his son Gordon got the job. “I bragged about getting my son work on the Deepwater Horizon,” he said. Gordon and his wife were expecting a second child when he was killed in the explosion.

Keith attended the screening at the New Orleans Film Festival last week. When asked by an audience member if there was any amount of money or convictions that he felt would truly hurt BP the way they have hurt his family, Keith, a lawyer based in Baton Rouge, said of his opponents in court, “I can make them pay, but I cannot make them apologize.”

BP is facing a fine as high as $17 billion to restore the Gulf of Mexico. Many survivors of the explosion, including Stephen and Doug, are still waiting on their settlements. But no amount of money will ever really reverse the damage caused, nor could it bring back Gordon and the 10 other people whose lives were lost.

The film’s director Margaret Brown, a native of Mobile, Alabama, said that she felt inspired to create this documentary because, even though she grew up on the Gulf Coast, not until the BP oil disaster did she fully understand that there is a “factory under the Gulf of Mexico that we’re all connected to.” That factory has led to great wealth in our region for a century now, but it also comes at great cost. As we work to ensure that the fish, birds and other wildlife in the Gulf are recovering, our thoughts are with the people and families who were directly affected by the BP oil disaster and who are also still recovering.

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