Ocean Currents » BP 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 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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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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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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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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Monitoring What Matters in the Gulf http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/02/16/monitoring-what-matters-in-the-gulf/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/02/16/monitoring-what-matters-in-the-gulf/#comments Tue, 16 Feb 2016 20:12:24 +0000 Chris Robbins http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11505

More than $48 million has been invested in saving sea turtles after the BP oil disaster. Yet we know next to nothing about them once they hatch and head out to sea. (Photo by Ben Hicks)

Every winter since the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, scientists gather in the Gulf to unveil the latest research findings on the disaster’s environmental impacts. This year’s Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and Ecosystem Science Conference offered much of the same, but it was also different than in previous years. While the ink on the BP settlement dries, the Gulf scientific community is at a turning point, taking stock of the science gaps, needs and next best investments.

Almost six years after the BP oil disaster began, the program is now poised to evolve from one solely focused on the oil disaster to one that can serve the region more broadly by supporting science that could inform billions of dollars in restoration in the region.  The pivot to a wider focus was evident with talks on marine wildlife as indicators of ecosystem health, coastal vulnerability to rising sea levels, and online tools for turning many terabytes of ecosystem data into useful knowledge for policymakers and resource managers.

The BP disaster’s lingering environmental impacts remain a priority for long-term monitoring. And yet, as the Gulf undergoes rapid change, there is still so much we don’t know about how other human impacts acting alone or together will play out in the ecosystem. While many programs have been monitoring Gulf species, waters and conditions, there are large and persistent gaps in ecosystem knowledge, as described in our latest report, Charting the Gulf: Analyzing the Gaps in Long-Term Monitoring of the Gulf of Mexico.

Filling every gap in monitoring or research is neither optimal nor cost-effective. Indeed, funding is finite, and we must be strategic about our investments. The challenge facing restoration and research programs is deciding which science investments will provide the most insight into the health and recovery of the Gulf ecosystem.

Simply put, we need to monitor what matters.

Now is the time to identify ecosystem science investments for the next 5 to 10 years. The challenge is twofold: 1) prioritizing and plugging important holes in knowledge about species, habitats, natural processes or environmental stressors of greatest concern; and 2) monitoring restoration efforts across jurisdictions and time, such that after two decades we can truly assess the effects of billions of dollars on the ecosystem beyond the scale of individual projects.

Gulf leaders are in a position to chart the future of science to generate the information restoration programs need to be successful. Stay tuned as we continue to prioritize and advance Gulf restoration science needs with our partners in government, academia and the private sector.

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The RESTORE Act in Action: Council Releases $183 Million in Projects to Restore the Gulf http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/08/13/the-restore-act-in-action-council-releases-183-million-in-projects-to-restore-the-gulf/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/08/13/the-restore-act-in-action-council-releases-183-million-in-projects-to-restore-the-gulf/#comments Thu, 13 Aug 2015 18:37:09 +0000 Bethany Kraft http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10650

Today, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council released its first list of projects totaling $183 million to restore the Gulf in the wake of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. This is the first funding allocated under the RESTORE Act, which directs 80 percent of Clean Water Act civil penalties related to the BP oil disaster to the Gulf Coast for environmental and economic restoration.

We are digging into the details of the project list, but our initial reaction is largely positive– not only because the projects selected will likely achieve important environmental benefits, but because the Council has also taken a few lines straight out of Ocean Conservancy’s and other partners’ playbooks.

Here are a few quotes from the draft project list we find especially compelling (and familiar):

“The Council also plans to leverage other restoration resources and to combine projects in a way that produces environmental benefits greater than the sum of the individual activities.  Effective leveraging of existing resources is critical for maximizing the ‘bang’ for each coastal restoration ‘buck.’”

“Many stakeholders cautioned the Council against distributing the available funds in a way that supports disconnected (although beneficial) restoration projects. In other words, the Council was asked not to engage in ‘random acts of restoration.’”

“The Council proposes to invest in a broader monitoring and coordination effort that would build on existing programs and establish protocols and standards to enable data to be aggregated. This investment would help the Council evaluate progress towards comprehensive ecosystem restoration and leverage ongoing efforts.”

“…Monitoring, community investments, and other Gulf-wide activities designed to lay a foundation for comprehensive restoration and effective use of future funding opportunities.”

This draft project list is really good news, and it’s a product of the hard work that Ocean Conservancy, along with our partners and supporters like you, have put into this effort over the last five years. Here is a short timeline that shows how today’s announcement came to be.

  • In the weeks and months following the oil disaster, countless groups like the Women of the Storm began a concerted effort to ask our House and Senate members to draft a bill that would send BP fine money to the Gulf of Mexico for restoration.
  • On July 21, 2011, Senators Mary Landrieu (LA) and Richard Shelby (AL) introduced the RESTORE Act, a bill that would send 80 percent of any Clean Water Act civil penalties to the Gulf for economic and environmental restoration. Environmental organizations, sportsmens groups and the business community banded together to support RESTORE, and with these new alliances in place, we worked tirelessly at the local, state and national levels to build the bipartisan support needed to pass the bill.
  • On June 29th, 2012, the RESTORE Act passed both the House and Senate as an amendment to the transportation bill by votes of 373-52 and 74-19, respectively. And though the Act wasn’t a perfect vehicle, we celebrated in the Gulf for its potential to fund critical restoration initiatives in the region.
  • In January 2013, Transocean Deepwater Inc. announced it had reached a settlement with the U.S. Dept. of Justice to settle a number of claims, agreeing to pay $1 billion in civil penalties for violations of the Clean Water Act. This agreement sent $800 million to the Gulf Restoration Trust Fund, effectively putting the RESTORE Act into action for the first time.
  • Today, August 13, 2015, the Council announced its first set of proposed restoration projects, funded by the Transocean settlement.

Progress takes time. Solutions are hard-won and we have to overcome politics, complexity and moments of crippling doubt to get there, but it is so worth it. Look how far we can go when we work together to build a better world.

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