The Blog Aquatic » Gulf ecosystem http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Thu, 28 Aug 2014 17:32:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 My Personal Journey from Despair to Hope Four Years After the BP Oil Disaster (Part 1) http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/04/17/my-personal-journey-from-despair-to-hope-four-years-after-the-bp-oil-disaster-part-1/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/04/17/my-personal-journey-from-despair-to-hope-four-years-after-the-bp-oil-disaster-part-1/#comments Thu, 17 Apr 2014 12:45:55 +0000 Kara Lankford http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=8090

Kara Lankford flies in a Black Hawk helicopter to assess damage done by the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

Four summers ago, I was in a Black Hawk helicopter overlooking the Alabama beaches, helplessly watching oil roll in from the spill on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. I was working as a natural resource planner for Baldwin County on the Alabama Gulf Coast when Deepwater Horizon exploded, and the first reports of the tragic loss of life stopped me in my tracks. As the days went on, it was evident that this was not only a human tragedy but also a serious environmental disaster. As the oil continued to gush from the well, oil projection maps were published daily, and each day the oil grew closer to the Alabama coast. Suddenly this place where I had spent so many happy days was about to change, and change dramatically.

Mobile, Alabama is my hometown, a small port city on Mobile Bay. I’ll never forget the trips to the beach during the summer with my big sister and fishing at Cedar Point pier near Dauphin Island or Gulf State Park in Orange Beach. I still recall how proud I was to a catch a mullet or a flounder, if I was lucky. These fond memories helped shape my passion for the Gulf and drove me to pursue an environmental degree during college, so that I could help protect the things I loved so much about the coast. Little did I know that the Gulf would experience one of the worst environmental disasters in the world.

While working for the county I attended meetings at Incident Command, the logistics center for the oil spill response. There, the county government decided to place oil booms in strategic locations in an effort to protect the fragile salt marshes. About 200,000 feet of boom was placed in the county limits alone. We flew in Black Hawk helicopters once a week to make sure the boom was still in its proper place. On one flight, we began to see the oil moving in; the colorful sheen was unmistakable. Skimmer boats attempted to remove the oil from the water before it reached the beach, but the beautiful white quartz sand where I used to build sand castles as a kid was already stained orange from the oil. Oil spill cleanup crews took the place of sunbathers and parasails on the beach. Seeing all this from the air was devastating. Reports of oiled pelicans and dead dolphins filled the news stories each evening. I remember thinking that I would have to move elsewhere instead of watch this destruction play out in a place so dear to me.

Eighty-seven days slowly ticked by. After many attempts to cap the well, it was finally over, but not before 4.9 million barrels of oil spilled into the vast Gulf ecosystem. The following months would not bring much peace. By the winter of 2010, I was working as a natural resource advisor to the crews working to clean oil from the Alabama coast. By this time, most of the oil was weathered and in the form of tar balls and large mats just offshore. Most of my time was spent with the crews working in the back bays of Orange Beach. It was amazing how far the oil traveled into the back bays. The crews cleaned tar balls ranging in size from a dime to larger than your hand. On occasion I worked the beach front where heavy equipment called sand sharks sifted the oil from the sand. Each time the Gulf was churned up by even a thunderstorm, more tar balls would wash up on the beaches. This was our new reality.

As 2010 came to an end, I began working for Ocean Conservancy as an outreach specialist in Alabama and Mississippi. My work brought me closer to my fellow Gulf Coast citizens, and I began to consider the resilience we exhibit in the face of disasters. This is home. After a hurricane, we rebuild, but I wondered if it was possible to rebuild after an oil spill. Act now and stay tuned for Part 2 of this post to see if this devastating disaster could somehow be made into a positive opportunity for the Gulf of Mexico.

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No Truth in Advertising: BP Avoiding Gulf Restoration http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/08/22/no-truth-in-advertising-bp-avoiding-gulf-restoration/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/08/22/no-truth-in-advertising-bp-avoiding-gulf-restoration/#comments Thu, 22 Aug 2013 18:47:24 +0000 Bethany Kraft http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=6554 Boom and pelicans in the Gulf of Mexico

Photo © Cheryl Gerber / Ocean Conservancy

Have you seen the BP commercials about the company taking responsibility for the worst oil disaster in U.S. history? I for one usually see at least one every week. That’s because for the past three years, the company has spent hundreds of millions on advertising trying to clean up their image. But unfortunately, BP hasn’t been as diligent about spending money to actually clean up the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon disaster they claim to be taking responsibility for.

Even as their advertisements continue to run on air, BP is now fighting its own settlement and refusing to provide much-needed funding to the people impacted by the disaster and to restoration efforts critical to bring back the health of Gulf ecosystems and marine life.

Why? Because BP claims that the people who lost their jobs and their way of life are trying to scam the company. This despite the fact that while BP makes about $4 billion in profit every three months, many people who lost their livelihoods have waited more than three years to receive compensation for their losses.

Instead of taking responsibility for the oil disaster in the Gulf and all of the repercussions to the people and wildlife who call the Gulf region home, BP is going out of its way to shirk responsibility for paying economic claims they already agreed to in court.

Now BP is taking a step even further by suing the U.S. government, claiming that being barred from pursuing new federal contracts (keep in mind that this was part of the punishment the company received for the oil disaster in the first place) is potentially costing them billions of dollars.

Despite BP’s completely astonishing legal maneuvers recently, there is progress being made. This week the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council released its Comprehensive Restoration Plan. Ocean Conservancy (and about a thousand of our supporters—thank you!) provided comments on what the plan should include to ensure that restoration is truly comprehensive. Read more about our recommendations here.

RESTORE Act funding is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something great for the Gulf. The task before the council is to use the plan as a blueprint to guide the development of a science-based process to ensure that projects ultimately selected for funding will contribute to a vision for comprehensive restoration of the Gulf ecosystem from coastal areas to the marine environment.

But a plan is only as good as the funds to implement it. As the news reports regarding BP continue to come out—detailing their court battles over settlement payments to oil spill estimate—one thing is for sure: We need to ensure the communities and livelihoods that were damaged by this disaster get the resources they need to recover. Restoring the Gulf to health after decades of degradation, including, most recently, the BP oil disaster, will ensure that we enjoy these benefits for many years to come.

We look forward to the council meeting next week and sharing our insight with members regarding what is now needed to get the plan to a place where it can be funded and implemented.

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Spotted! It’s Whale Shark Season in the Gulf of Mexico http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/07/29/spotted-its-whale-shark-season-in-the-gulf-of-mexico/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/07/29/spotted-its-whale-shark-season-in-the-gulf-of-mexico/#comments Mon, 29 Jul 2013 17:30:28 +0000 Alexis Baldera http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=6402 whale shark

A whale shark swims at the West Flower Garden Bank in the Gulf of Mexico. Credit: Ryan Eckert / Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary

It’s prime time for spotting whale sharks in the Gulf of Mexico!

Whale shark sightings in the Gulf are recorded and tracked by the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory at the University of Southern Mississippi. According to their data set, 85 percent of sightings in the Gulf since 2002 have occurred from June to October and peaked in July.

Take a look at the map below from our Gulf of Mexico Ecosystem: A Coastal and Marine Atlas to see where sightings have occurred in the past.

whale shark map from Gulf AtlasWhale sharks have been observed in groups of more than 100 individuals near a salt dome formation called Ewing Bank off the coast of Louisiana. Although whale sharks can be found in many seas around the world, aggregations this large are rare.

If you happen to have the fortune of spotting a whale shark, you can contribute to the ongoing effort to better understand this species by reporting it to the whale shark sightings database. Little is known about whale sharks’ distribution, movement and behavior in the Gulf, so tracking these animals can increase our understanding of their role in the Gulf ecosystem.

Each whale shark’s spots are unique and photos can be used to identify and track individual animals throughout their lifetime. If you plan to be on the water in the Gulf over the next few months, keep your eyes peeled for these gentle giants. Growing to over 45 feet, they are the largest fish in the world.

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