At 1,400 miles in length, the Great Barrier Reef is the largest living structure on our planet and consists of more than 600 types of hard and soft corals. Thousands of varieties of fish and molluscs call this breathtaking maze home. And if that isn’t enough to impress you: the Great Barrier Reef is so massive it can be seen from outer space. Yes…outer space! Needless to say, visiting this special place has been on my bucket list since I was a kid and saw my first film chronicling the explorations of Jacques Cousteau and the crew of the Calypso.
It was spectacular. I shared turquoise blue waters with blacktip reef and tawny nurse sharks, took flight with white-spotted eagle rays, and floated quietly in the presence of loggerhead sea turtles. Best of all, I got to rub elbows with the folks who make the GBRMP possible. And I learned that they spend a lot of time thinking about the same issues as we do: education and outreach, partnerships and local engagement, long-term monitoring, and best practices for enforcement.
Deep-water corals keep good records, which come in handy in the case of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. Researchers from Penn State University discovered this week that the impact of the BP oil disaster on corals living in the cold waters at the Gulf of Mexico seafloor is bigger than predicted.
This study joins dozens of others on fish, dolphins and birds as part of the ongoing Natural Resource Damage Assessment, a legal process that’s critical for tracking the damage that started four years ago at the bottom of the Gulf. Scientists first discovered corals coated in a brown substance only 7 miles from the now-defunct BP well in late 2010. The oil left over from the disaster is more difficult to find in the deep sea (in contrast to the coastline, where the occasional 1,000-pound tar mat washes up on shore), so scientists must look to corals for clues on how the marine environment was impacted. “One of the keys to coral’s usefulness as an indicator species is that the coral skeleton retains evidence of the damage long after the oil that caused the damage is gone,” said lead researcher Charles Fisher.
The BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster harmed communities from Texas to Florida and damaged the Gulf ecosystem from the ocean floor to the surface across a vast swath of waters and shoreline. Restoring these damaged resources will require a comprehensive, Gulf-wide restoration plan that covers coastal environments, blue-water resources and Gulf communities.
Because wildlife like birds, fish and marine mammals move throughout the ecosystem making use of coastal, nearshore and offshore environments, effective restoration requires a holistic approach. For example, restoration efforts for oyster reefs or barrier islands in Texas should complement the work done in Alabama or in Florida so that the full suite of species and habitats can recover.
The state and federal officials responsible for creating such a plan, the Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA) Trustees, are making decisions about how to spend the balance of the $1 billion committed by BP for early restoration. The decisions they make about early restoration and about the longer-term restoration program to follow have the potential to pay enormous dividends to the Gulf for generations.
To help the Trustees build an effective plan, a coalition of nonprofit groups, including Ocean Conservancy, has created a portfolio of 39 projects that reflect an integrated and Gulf-wide approach to restoration. Continue reading »
As an ocean scientist I am personally familiar with the struggle between dread and hope. This duality is deeply entwined in all of our work here at Ocean Conservancy. Understanding the seriousness of what ails the ocean and what it will take to address these problems often keeps me up at night. But it is the knowledge that much can be done to turn the tide – that there is hope for our oceans – that gets me out of bed each morning.
Anxiety can be paralyzing. But if we let fear over the extent of the ocean’s problems overwhelm us, the future will undoubtedly be bleak. Yet, so too can false hope also prevent timely or adequate action or send us in search of solutions not based on scientific fact. We must face this scientific reality if we are to address the seriousness of the challenges before us.
Last week, The New York Times published a powerful opinion piece starkly laying out an ocean future devoid of coral reefs. Corals are under assault from a “perfect storm” of overfishing, ocean acidification, and pollution and their future is very much at risk. But the piece’s author Roger Bradbury went further, concluding that “there is no hope of saving the global coral reef ecosystem” and accusing conservationists of “persisting in the false belief that corals have a future.” He calls for a radical reallocation of funding from trying to save coral reefs to coping with the fallout from their inevitable collapse.