Ocean Currents » BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Fri, 28 Apr 2017 22:26:28 +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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7 Reasons to Love the Gulf http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/04/18/7-reasons-to-love-the-gulf/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/04/18/7-reasons-to-love-the-gulf/#comments Tue, 18 Apr 2017 12:00:58 +0000 Erin Spencer http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=14182

The Gulf of Mexico is unlike anywhere else in the world. The people and environment of the Gulf combine to form a place with a rich culture tied to the ocean.

In recognition of this week’s seven-year anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, we’ve compiled a list of seven reasons to love—and protect—the Gulf of Mexico. From lip-smacking foods to iconic animals, here are seven reasons to love the Gulf:

It’s an economic powerhouse.

The region is home to robust seafood, commercial and recreational fishing industries that value about $22.6 billion. Those are big numbers not just regionally, but nationally: The Gulf of Mexico accounts for 40 percent of the commercial seafood caught in the continental United States, and 41 percent of all fish caught recreationally. With a gross domestic product of over $2.3 trillion a year, the five Gulf states are definitely an economic force to be reckoned with.

It’s got some serious food. 

Living next to the ocean has many privileges, including access to an abundance of fresh seafood. Combine that with the rich flavors of the American South, and you have a recipe for greatness (literally!). Iconic dishes from the region including seafood gumbo, shrimp poboys, fried snapper, grilled oysters and more—all of which can only come from a healthy, productive Gulf of Mexico.

It’s got a vibe like nowhere else. 

The Gulf region has a rich culture that’s unlike anywhere else in the world. For nearly 87 million people, the Gulf is home, it’s a way of life, and it has its own local cultures and communities. This unique environment draws tourists from all over the country—and the world—to enjoy the beaches, fishing, food and festivals the Gulf has to offer. And so much of the diverse coastal communities, from Cajuns to Native Americans to Vietnamese Americans, rely directly on the sea.

It’s home to some of the most iconic animals in the sea. 

Some of the world’s most well-known ocean animals can be found in the Gulf of Mexico. From the massive sperm whale to the tiniest zooplankton, the Gulf is a complex ecosystem that supports manatees, whale sharks, bluefin tuna and more. Some animals, like red snapper, grouper and gray triggerfish, make up culturally-important fisheries that help drive the local economy. It’s also home to the critically endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, which only has an estimated nesting population of 1,000 females.

It’s got history.

The Gulf Coast has long been home to native peoples and new settlers. Under French, Spanish and later American control, it’s been a place for many European settlers to start new lives in the New World. Like many parts of the U.S., it’s seen terrible moments in history, like the slave trade and the Trail of Tears. The Gulf Coast has also served as a home for revolutionaries during the Civil Rights era, or a refuge for the thousands of Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian families escaping conflict in their homelands in the 1970s. And together as one coastal community, the Gulf has weathered many hurricanes, floods, and of course, the BP oil disaster.

It’s easy on the eyes.

The Gulf of Mexico is one of the most diverse—and beautiful—ecosystems in the world. In the Gulf, you can find barrier islands, deep-sea corals, seagrass beds, salt marshes, mangrove forests, not to mention the sweeping views of the open ocean. It’s safe to say every corner of the ecosystem has its own unique beauty just waiting to be explored. 

It’s in need of some love.

Almost seven years ago, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and sank into the Gulf of Mexico, spilling 210 million gallons of oil and killing 11 people. An estimated ten million gallons of BP oil still contaminates the seafloor today. Trillions of larval fish died, and research expeditions to the blown-out wellhead found dying corals covered in a layer of oil-tainted material. Thankfully, the funding from a BP settlement set aside over $1 billion to restore the deep ocean waters where the disaster took place, presenting a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help the Gulf. Now, more than ever, we need to show the Gulf some love.

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The Gulf Through the Eyes of a Child http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/04/16/the-gulf-through-the-eyes-of-a-child/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/04/16/the-gulf-through-the-eyes-of-a-child/#comments Sun, 16 Apr 2017 13:00:52 +0000 Matt Love http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=14170

We’re looking back on how the disaster has shaped our lives here on the Gulf Coast. We decided to revisit our 2015 interview with Calvin Love, my son, and one of the youngest contributors to our Postcards from the Gulf series. Calvin was six years old at the time of that first interview, and has since moved from his home on the bayous of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to the salty air of the Alabama Gulf Coast where he is now able to more frequently enjoy the natural beauty of the Gulf of Mexico. We’ve invited him to share his story with us again, to understand how his perspective has changed over these years.

Matt Love: We last talked with you two years ago. What’s changed in your life since then?

Calvin Love: Now that I live in Fairhope, Alabama, I have friends nearby that I can play with without having to drive to go see them. I like biking to my friend’s house on my own. This summer I moved from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to Fairhope so I can go to the beach whenever I want. The beach sand is really white here and I like to look for sand dollars and cool shells. I haven’t seen any sharks yet but I know they’re out there. For my seventh birthday we went fishing in the Gulf but we didn’t catch anything. I did see a sea turtle though, that was awesome!

ML: There’s a lot of money available to restore the Gulf after the oil disaster (over $20 billion, in fact). How would you spend that money?

CL: I would buy a bunch of fish and put them in little spots all around the ocean. I would buy clean water and put it in the ocean so the fish would have cleaner water. I would make all the people with boats put things on them so they didn’t leak oil into the water. I would have all the trash picked up that falls into the ocean.

ML: Describe one of your best memories of the Gulf.

CL: On my summer break I really liked going out with my aunt and uncle in the big boat with their dog Banzai. He is a big, hairy Golden Retriever. We went to Crab Island in Destin and swam with Banzai. There were a ton of boats all around with lots of people playing and swimming. On our way back we saw a dolphin from the boat and Banzai and the dolphin looked at each other. That was cool.

Calvin Love in 2015

ML: What gives you hope for the Gulf?

CL: I’m hopeful that people with the big boats will stop shipping oil across the Gulf. That people will stop catching too many animals and not kill whales and stuff like that. This gives me hope because people don’t want to keep cleaning up oil spills that’s not their mess.

ML: Thanks Calvin. I think you have a lot of reasons to be hopeful. You were two years old when the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster began, and there is no question that your generation will be dealing with the trails left behind by decisions made before you. But now we are sitting together at a new beginning. We are embarking on one of the greatest scientific endeavors of our time, certainly for the ocean. It is our responsibility to help fix the things we’ve broken so you can thrive in a healthy, flourishing environment. It would be unfair to leave our mess for you to clean up. This broad Gulf restoration effort resulting from the oil disaster represents a contract between our generation and yours: to make the water cleaner, give nature a chance to provide more fish in the ocean and return those top predators you’re hoping to see out there. We are committing to provide that natural playground that supports your health and wellness for many years to come.

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Seven Gulf Animals Worth Protecting http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/04/14/seven-gulf-animals-worth-protecting/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/04/14/seven-gulf-animals-worth-protecting/#comments Fri, 14 Apr 2017 13:03:32 +0000 Marja Diaz http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=14151

It goes without saying that all Gulf animals are worth protecting. But we couldn’t share them all. So like a mother’s abundant, yet somewhat hierarchical, love for her batch of offspring, our list of seven Gulf animals exists with a twinge of favoritism.

In recognition of next week’s seven-year anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, we’ve compiled a list of seven incredible Gulf animals. From ocean Einsteins to bus-sized carnivores, here are seven Gulf animals worth protecting:

1. Whale Shark

Visuals of whale sharks are breathtaking. These gigantic yet gentle globs of mass can live up to 150 years, and are often found gliding with mouths wide open—mouths as wide as five feet. As the largest fish in the world, whale sharks can reach up to 40 feet long and weigh up to 20,000 pounds.

While primarily solitary animals, whale sharks rely on a sixth sense (not the one you’re thinking) to detect the presence of other animals through electromagnetic fields. However, whale sharks are relatively harmless, choosing to feed on plankton instead.

As for the official debate of whale versus shark? Whale sharks are just plain sharks. This means they are fish, and not mammals—the classification of whales. The name “whale” simply comes from a denomination of its enormous size.

2. Bottlenose Dolphin

Fun fact: humans aren’t the only species on a first name basis.

Researchers discovered that, like us, dolphins have unique ways of addressing individual members of a pod. In the way that we use first names to call each other’s attention, dolphins use signature whistles to call specific members of their pod.

As Einsteins of the sea, dolphins are some of the smartest mammals around, known for their craft, cunning and social skills.

3. Sperm Whale

Perhaps best known for the role of “whale” in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, sperm whales didn’t have the best reputation in the past. These carnivores are known for their massive size (longer than the average transit bus) and gigantic heads—holding the largest brain of any living mammal on earth! While brain size does not equal intelligence, they are relatively vocal and communicative animals.

Sperm whales often travel in groups, up to twenty large, and even practice communal childcare! Pods are typically made up of female and their young, while males tent to travel solo, or drift between groups.

Finally, their heads account for one third of their body and are filled with a curious substance called spermaceti. Although scientists still aren’t 100% sure of its use, some believe the spermaceti help these toothed whales regulate their buoyancy, helping them to dive down to 3,000 feet deep.

4. Atlantic Bluefin Tuna

When you think of tuna, whether in the context of small metal cans on store shelves or gripping tales from tanned fisherman, these apex predators play a major role in a balanced Gulf ecosystem. Prized by recreational and commercial fisheries, bluefin tuna are the largest of the tuna species, reaching up to 6.5 feet and swimming at speeds up to 45 mph. Oddly enough, these top predators are warm-blooded, meaning they can regulate their own body temperature.

5. Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle

The Kemp’s ridley sea turtle is one of the smallest turtles in the sea, weighing in at about 100 pounds. These stalwart swimmers will travel hundreds of miles to reach their nesting grounds, and often return to the same beach where they hatched.  Sadly, many of their nesting areas on the Gulf Coast are threatened by urban development and sea level rise, and the lives of these reptiles have become increasingly difficult since the BP oil disaster. Today, their female nesting population is estimated at only 1,000 individuals.

6. Brown Pelican

Brown pelicans are both stunning flyers and impressive divers. While relatively clumsy on firm ground, they spend their time between water and air, plunge diving into the ocean to stun small fish upon impact and scooping them up into their extendable throat pouch. They can also hold up to three gallons of water in their pouch.

Although pelicans were once placed on the Endangered Species List due to pesticide pollution such as DDT, they’ve since become a recovery success story.

7. Manatee

Everyone’s favorite sea cow comes in at number seven as a staple of the Gulf ecosystem. These warm water drifters can eat about 120 pounds, or 10% of their body weight, each day. As a distant relative of the elephant, these buoyant animals have thick, wrinkled skin that often hosts growing algae.  Finally, despite their small eyes and tiny ear holes, manatees can see and hear very well!

As we approach the seven-year anniversary of the BP oil disaster, we are seven years closer to fully restoring the Gulf and better understanding the ecosystem and wildlife that speeds, drifts and thrives off its shores. This month, the first payments of the $20.8 billion BP settlement are being issued—something we’re lucky to have seven years after the disaster began. The Exxon Valdez oil spill case dragged on for 20 years in court, resulting in a much lower penalty. This seven-year anniversary is an opportunity, and we are lucky to continue improving our Gulf ecosystem for the incredible wildlife beyond its shores.

Looking for more information on ocean animals? Check out our wildlife fact sheets.

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Growing Up on the Gulf http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/04/11/growing-up-on-the-gulf/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/04/11/growing-up-on-the-gulf/#comments Tue, 11 Apr 2017 13:00:52 +0000 Matt Love http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=14099

It’s been seven years since the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster began, and we’re looking back on how the disaster has shaped our lives here on the Gulf Coast. We decided to revisit our 2015 interview with Cole Kolasa, one of the youngest contributors to our Postcards from the Gulf series. At the age of 19, Cole has already been advocating for our ocean for nearly a decade. As a member of SCUBAnauts International in high school, Cole has studied corals on Florida’s Gulf Coast, and he has watched the BP oil disaster unfold as he grew up. We’ve invited him to share his story with us again.

Matt Love: We last talked with you two years ago. What’s changed in your life since then? What have you learned about the Gulf and/or the BP oil disaster since then?

Cole Kolasa: Since we last spoke I’ve made the transition into college and have been living on the opposite coast of Florida. Any time not spent at school is spent on the East Coast surfing or fishing wherever the conditions are good at the time. I’ve definitely picked up a few new favorite areas such as Matanzas Inlet and River, Mosquito Lagoon, and other various spots along the Indian River. I definitely miss the Gulf, and anytime I’m home I make sure I pay a visit to the “Nature Coast.”

Since we last spoke I haven’t heard too much about the oil spill. I did meet with some officials for our county’s water management system who told me that there were in fact dispersants added to the waters in our area meant to break down any oil that came into our area. At the same time there was a large decline in the coral population I was researching due to too much algae and invasive encrusting sponge growth. I’m not sure if the decline in coral health was due to the dispersants but it would’ve been useful information at the time of my research.

2015 Interview with Cole Kolasa

ML: There’s a lot of money available to restore the Gulf after the oil disaster (over $20 billion, in fact). How would you spend that money?

CK: I think I’d put it into making the coastal areas affected back to the way they were 100 years ago. “Re-Floridifying,” if you will. I hear stories from my dad and grandparents about the way things used to look like, and I wish I could see that today. So often now it seems that it’s hard to come by areas that haven’t been affected by development or other unnatural causes, and it’s been my goal to find those areas in the Gulf. That’s definitely one of my main goals for the upcoming kayak-packing trip I’m planning from Pensacola to South Florida. I know I’ll pass by some of the MOST developed areas along the Florida coast, but I’ll also see some of the least. I’m really looking forward to those moments.

ML: Describe one of your best memories of the Gulf.

CK: This past summer I was working a lifeguarding job close to the Gulf, and anytime I wasn’t working I was out fishing and exploring the nearby tidal creeks in my flats boat or kayak. There wasn’t a day I wasn’t on the water. I found some really interesting areas, met a lot of locals and new people, and really just felt like I was a part of these small coastal communities that dot the coastline. I really felt in touch with my surroundings and my little stretch of coastline I’ve grown up on.

ML: What gives you hope for the Gulf?

CK: Today you see a lot of people who are really starting to be interested in getting outdoors and exploring what’s around them. Maybe it’s just because I’m in college and meeting a lot of youthful people who are willing to take that initiative to get outside, but I really believe that more and more people are starting to pick up that kind of active lifestyle. That by itself will bring attention to the Gulf. More attention will mean more people will want to get involved and hopefully through that there will be more time and money put towards keeping our Gulf the way it should be, the old Florida way.

ML: Thank you Cole, for sharing your experiences over the last couple of years along the Gulf. I can’t help but think you represent a prominent cadre within your generation that recognizes and loves the quiet natural beauty still alive and well along the Gulf. I think you are right. There is a renewed interest and appreciation of the many benefits we now know these areas provide to our overall well-being. We owe it to all of you to emerge from the BP oil disaster with a path to provide long-lasting hope for sustaining a healthy future for the Gulf of Mexico.

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The Next Chapter in Restoring the Gulf Beyond the Shore http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/03/29/the-next-chapter-in-restoring-the-gulf-beyond-the-shore/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/03/29/the-next-chapter-in-restoring-the-gulf-beyond-the-shore/#comments Wed, 29 Mar 2017 13:00:38 +0000 Andrea Dell'Apa http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=14026

Almost seven years ago, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and sank into the Gulf of Mexico, spilling 210 million gallons of oil and killing 11 people. An unprecedented $20.8 billion settlement between the U.S. government and BP was finalized in April 2016. But until now, the full amount of funding has not been available to restore the wildlife and habitats affected by the BP oil disaster.  Payments from this settlement begin next month, including $1 billion set aside to restore the Gulf’s open ocean environment such as corals, fish, dolphins, turtles and more.

To highlight the importance of open ocean restoration, Ocean Conservancy has developed Restoring the Gulf Beyond the Shore – Part II. This informative guide includes what we consider the most effective, practical and innovative approaches to achieve successful Gulf-wide restoration beyond the shore in the next few years. A valuable resource to decision-makers, this guide is a natural evolution of the broad set of projects that we proposed in 2014. Part II focuses specifically on fish populations, as well as corals and deep-water communities, as these resources were severely injured by the oil disaster. Corals and fish also represent the marine resources for which the majority of available funding to restore the open ocean is allocated.

The Gulf is home to various species of fish, including tunas, billfish, red snapper and other reef fishes that are important for commercial and recreational fisheries. These species play a crucial role as top predators in coastal and offshore waters, and support a healthy food chain and ecosystem. The Gulf seafloor also hosts many corals, ranging from shallow to deeper waters. Coral reefs serve as the foundation of the Gulf food web, provide essential habitat and shelter for many of the fish species that support the local and national fishing economy and represent a natural wonder for all who get a glimpse of them.

In a nutshell, restoration is the process of repairing and rebuilding what has been damaged. Many lessons have been learned worldwide on how to effectively restore coastal resources. When stepping into the deep blue sea, restoration is much more challenging as the costs and complexity of any approach increase dramatically. Restoring deep-water species and habitats demands innovative approaches and the gathering of new scientific information that can help us reduce human impacts and other sources of stress on marine wildlife and accelerate their recovery. To attain this goal, we should also recognize that restoration of fish, corals and deep-water communities needs to be integrated, because these resources are ultimately connected. After all, it’s hard to imagine healthy coral reefs without lots of different fishes and other marine life swimming around them, right?

We now have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to repair and rebuild what was damaged, and support the Gulf and its unique culture. Restoration at this scale has never been attempted before, and we must ensure that ongoing and future restoration efforts in the open ocean utilize the most effective approaches that can allow resources to recover faster and thrive for generations to come.

With this $1 billion fund, we finally have a chance to restore the Gulf beyond the shore. It’s now the time to make wise investments for the Gulf’s open ocean.

Restoring the Gulf Beyond the Shore Part II

Download as PDF


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Why are Whales Stranding in the Gulf? http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/01/10/why-are-whales-stranding-in-the-gulf/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/01/10/why-are-whales-stranding-in-the-gulf/#comments Tue, 10 Jan 2017 14:00:56 +0000 Matt Love http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13592

In recent months, two young sperm whales stranded themselves along the coast of Louisiana. These events highlight the importance for quality health and diagnostic information for the marine mammals in the Gulf of Mexico. What could kill one of the greatest predators to ever exist on earth?

These animals are harmed by many of the same factors that harm us, like food scarcity, chronic exposure to pollutants, disease and a poor environment. For humans, we have the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to control and prevent disease and injury. To operate effectively, the CDC relies on consistent and timely data gathered across the U.S. and beyond. Somewhat analogous to the CDC for marine mammals like dolphins and whales, the Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program compiles data on diseases and the well-being of sick or injured animals.

However, there has been a long-standing problem with this program in the Gulf. Appropriately trained staff available to collect priceless data points to understand emerging health concerns, or who have the capacity to help recover a live whale or dolphin, have always been stretched thin. The limited support available to the diverse group of organizations that collect this information has caused problems with data consistency. Lack of consistency inhibits development of an effective database that enables detection of longer-term trends across the region.

But this situation is beginning to change in the Gulf. Much needed capacity is now growing thanks to investments resulting from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster and partnerships with aquariums in the region. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation has provided grants to Mississippi, Alabama and Florida to improve rehabilitation capacity and increase the ability to better assess long-term trends in Gulf populations from the condition of stranded animals. SeaWorld has formalized a partnership with the Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network to provide rehabilitation facilities in San Antonio along with providing additional diagnostic and veterinary capabilities.

Each of these investments is an important step in our ability to diagnose and solve problems that are harming these majestic creatures of the ocean. The Gulf of Mexico is blessed with a diversity of marine mammal species, and with the $144 million included in the BP settlement to help marine mammals recover from the BP oil disaster, we have a real opportunity to improve the health of these animals. However, we cannot claim to spend this money wisely to mitigate harm if we do not understand trends in their overall health. In other words, we can’t manage what we don’t know. To do this we must continue to capitalize on every opportunity to build a world-class network of trained response teams, diagnostic capabilities and epidemiology information systems. Without this capacity we severely hinder our ability to ensure these species are plying the oceans for generations to come.

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