Ocean Currents » gulf of mexico http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Tue, 23 Aug 2016 13:30:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 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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A Road Map for Ensuring BP Dollars are Well Spent in the Gulf http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/08/01/a-road-map-for-ensuring-bp-dollars-are-well-spent-in-the-gulf/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/08/01/a-road-map-for-ensuring-bp-dollars-are-well-spent-in-the-gulf/#comments Mon, 01 Aug 2016 13:56:56 +0000 Matt Love http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12541

For many people, buying a house or a car is one of the biggest purchases you’ll make in your lifetime. Which is why you hire an appraiser or mechanic to inspect that house or car before you sign the contract—you want peace of mind that it’s a good investment.

The principle is pretty much the same whether you’re spending $28,000 or $20 billion. Last year BP agreed to pay more than $20 billion to the American people to help recover from the impacts caused by the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. This week the National Academy of Sciences published a report with recommendations that will help ensure the $20 billion is well spent.

The report walks through how to build a monitoring program that will ensure we are getting what we pay for when we invest in Gulf restoration projects, such as rebuilding important marsh and dune habitats that were devastated by the oil. Or, restoration projects that provide first responder services for bottlenose dolphins that are still exhibiting health problems from the oil. Or, projects that protect Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, which were oiled in the disaster.

Just as auto manufacturers abide by industry standards of quality control to ensure automobile safety and efficiency, standards that have been developed over decades, so must scientists follow recommended standards for tracking the quality and effectiveness of restoration projects developed through decades of scientific research. This report provides those recommendations in a useful road map for the next 15 years of Gulf restoration.

It also acknowledges that the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster was the biggest environmental disaster in U.S. history, and we still have much to learn about how to restore the Gulf of Mexico from such a major disruption. The report’s recommendations ensure that we invest in a process of learning through these efforts and continue to improve as we go. This allows us to both track and account for the impact of investments we’re making now in the Gulf AND learn how to make smarter investments for the future. As the report describes, this is best accomplished by comparing a healthy part of the Gulf with areas that are currently under restoration and with impacted areas yet to be restored. This basic logic will allow scientists to figure out if what we’re doing to restore the Gulf is working, and if not, how to adjust.

While the ecosystem in the Gulf of Mexico happens to be much more complex than an automobile, it is the priceless engine for the health and economy of millions of people as well as the habitat and home of hundreds of species of marine wildlife. That’s why this investment in Gulf restoration is such an important one for the America, and we should do everything we can to make sure it is money well spent.

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Searching for Hope in a Time of Despair http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/07/18/we-rise-and-fall-together-as-one-country-as-one-world/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/07/18/we-rise-and-fall-together-as-one-country-as-one-world/#comments Mon, 18 Jul 2016 21:12:30 +0000 Bethany Kraft http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12428

Because we rise and fall together.

This has been a heartbreaking month – a heartbreaking year – for our country and around the world.

Like you, I’m troubled and heartbroken by the racial inequality and violence that mars our great country. I’ve been thinking about the events in Dallas, Baton Rouge and Minnesota almost constantly. And I am struggling with the fact that whatever I write will not adequately capture or convey my feelings. It certainly doesn’t represent all the conversations that Ocean Conservancy staffs have had as these events have unfolded.

I want to take heart from the fact that across America we are coming together and speaking out on whatever platforms we have. And yet this weekend, we learned of even more heartbreaking news out of Baton Rouge. It feels hopeless, but at the same time I am looking for signs of hope – that together, as one country we can say that it is past time for a change.

The reasons we find ourselves in this moment are rooted deeply in the past. And it taints our present by the persistent challenges brought about by the lack of access to education and opportunities, a vicious cycle of poverty and years of systemic prejudice, segregation and racism.

I grew up in the South, a place of great beauty, great complexity and great contradiction. This is where I found my calling: to restore the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon disaster. And this is also where I am part of a storm that has been building for some time, one that is changing the social landscape and how we must measure truth, justice and peace.

I’m deeply saddened by the disparity, the unfairness and the fear that we have sowed. At times, it seems that these problems are almost too overwhelming to overcome. I see similar issues of separateness, us-versus-them mentalities that have marred the environmental movement. We have to remind ourselves to connect and contextualize our work around the people and communities around us. Because the truth is that we rise and fall together, as one country, as one world.

I am not without hope. I am hopeful that many groups, including Ocean Conservancy, are speaking up, working on honest conversations and meaningful actions to make this world, including my little corner in the Gulf, in a better place. As we stay present to recent events, Ocean Conservancy is strengthening our commitment to become the change we want to see in the world.

We must reflect on what got us here and consider what we can do as individuals and as communities to overcome the despair and reach for peace, equality and justice.

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Successful Recreational Red Snapper Management Wins 5 Year Extension http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/06/24/successful-recreational-red-snapper-management-wins-five-year-extension/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/06/24/successful-recreational-red-snapper-management-wins-five-year-extension/#comments Fri, 24 Jun 2016 16:58:10 +0000 J.P. Brooker http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12354

I’m glad to end this week with great news for both fishermen and fish in the Gulf of Mexico.

On June 23, federal fisheries managers in the Gulf voted strongly in favor of keeping an innovative concept that is working well to provide recreational red snapper fishermen greater access while delivering greater economic stability for charter captains.

Amendment 40, known to fishermen as Sector Separation, allowed separate management of private recreational anglers and for-hire charter vessels that fish for red snapper. Approved by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council in 2014, it sought to ensure that conservation goals stay on target. It was designed to allow for greater precision in managing the unique needs of two very different sets of fishermen with accountability as the key. It limited the likelihood that the fishery as a whole took more fish out of our ocean than allowed by law.

The net effect ensures red snapper harvests are sustainable and the stock continues to rebuild.

When it was passed, the Council placed a three-year “sunset provision” to test the concept. Unless a move was made to extend Sector Separation, it would expire after the 2017 season. This week, the council voted 12 to 5 in favor of continuing the program for another five years. Now charter captains and private recreational fishermen have more time to continue to develop strategies that will rebuild the stock while also expanding access to the fishery and increasing angler satisfaction.

Sector Separation provides a framework that could allow anglers more days on the water while also improving accountability for the overall recreational sector of the fishery. It has proven to be a true success, especially for the charter-for-hire fishery.  Charter-for-hire fishermen have immersed themselves in helping managers make decisions that will work for their fishery, are able to take their clients fishing for 46 days while still remaining under their portion of the overall recreational quota. We can attribute this to the customized management strategies that for-hire fishermen have willingly applied to their fishery.

I was at the Council meeting this week when the votes came in favoring Sector Separation. It was encouraging to hear the community speak up strongly in its favor. This Council decision will not only sustain the highly successful recovery of red snapper stocks in the Gulf, but also continue to benefit communities that rely and enjoy this prized ocean resource.

Ocean Conservancy has championed this issue for years and is committed to protecting its integrity. This extended sunset provision on Sector Separation is a beautiful thing.

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Shell Spills 88,000 Gallons of Oil in Gulf http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/05/13/shell-spills-88000-gallons-of-oil-in-gulf/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/05/13/shell-spills-88000-gallons-of-oil-in-gulf/#comments Sat, 14 May 2016 01:16:06 +0000 Bethany Kraft http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12067

Today, the Coast Guard reported that Shell’s Brutus oil platform, about 90 miles off the coast of Louisiana, has spilled more than 80,000 gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. This is a bad week for Shell—just Monday, Shell gave up most of its oil and gas leases in the Chukchi Sea off the coast of Alaska. Although it is too early to know the extent of environmental damage from the Shell spill, we do know that the Gulf of Mexico is still damaged from the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster six years ago.

Thankfully, the leak has been secured, and clean-up efforts are underway, as a result of NOAA and the Coast Guard’s immediate response. There are 52,000 boreholes drilled into the Gulfseafloor, the result of a century-old search for oil and gas. Much of the time, offshore oil production proceeds relatively safely and without much public interest, but when things go wrong in the Gulf of Mexico, they can really go wrong.

As soon as the news broke last night, my news feed was filled with rhetoric from two extremes: those who say that drilling is an economic imperative and a matter of national security, no matter the cost, and those who say that all drilling must stop now, no matter what.

But that cannot be the singular focus when the risk associated with oil and gas exploration and drilling is something that the people who make their homes in the Gulf region grapple with every day. The Gulf is a complex place and the undeniable reality is that thousands of people rely on it for their livelihood.

For our ocean and the people that rely on it, we can and should do better in the Gulf–and other places where drilling occurs.

Here are a few places to start:

1. Better monitoring

Our Charting the Gulf report revealed that that Gulf’s offshore wildlife and habitats are not monitored to the same degree as those in the coastal areas. This monitoring is vital for species like bottlenose dolphins, which will likely need 40-50 years to fully recover from the BP oil disaster, along with deep-water corals, which could need hundreds of years to improve.

2. Commitment to restoring the Gulf beyond the shore

This new spill is one of a long list of stressors on the Gulf’s wildlife and habitats in the open ocean. BP has paid $1 billion to restore the open ocean, but the future of the deep waters of the Gulf is anything but secure. We must hold our Gulf leaders accountable and restore the Gulf’s deep sea, where the BP oil disaster began and where other spills are likely to occur.

3. Better response planning and risk assessment

The BP oil disaster taught us many lessons about the risks associated with oil drilling in the Gulf, especially the lack of updated response technology. We must apply these lessons to not just the Gulf, but in all areas where drilling and shipping pose a critical risk for our ocean.

I’m proud to live and work in the Gulf. While we tend to make national headlines when there’s been a disaster, the Gulf is beautiful, resilient and is on the path to recovery – as long as we stay committed and work together.

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Beyond BP: Restoring Our Gulf of Mexico in the Era of Climate Change http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/04/20/beyond-bp-restoring-our-gulf-of-mexico-in-the-era-of-climate-change/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/04/20/beyond-bp-restoring-our-gulf-of-mexico-in-the-era-of-climate-change/#comments Wed, 20 Apr 2016 14:27:25 +0000 Bethany Kraft http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11951

Photo: NOAA

The future of the Gulf is being shaped everyday. Six years after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, which took the lives of 11 workers, the grand experiment in the Gulf of Mexico continues to unfold in a unique crucible of complex science and complicated politics.

Over $25 billion in settlements finalized from BP and other parties is earmarked for environmental and economic recovery in the Gulf . While it not nearly enough to fully restore the Gulf, if invested wisely, it is enough to catalyze a transformation in working with nature to enable coastal communities to thrive.

The Gulf of Mexico became an immense emergency room during the hours, days and weeks following the explosion on April 20, 2010. Unprepared for the previously unthinkable worst case, first responders triaged the situation with the controversial use of dispersants applied a mile below the sea’s surface. Scientists grappled with the appallingly large knowledge gaps about the Gulf environment and how it would respond to a huge volume of oil. Across the coast, we rallied with coastal communities to respond to the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, straining the capacity of our nation’s disaster response system.

Six years on, we recognize a unique opportunity born from tragedy that is much bigger than the Gulf itself. It is the nation’s first real test case for whether and how we can best restore natural resources at a scale large enough to slow or even reverse the rate of environmental decline. Many places around the country and the globe struggle with environmental degradation exacerbated by development, loss of ecological connectivity and function, and the expected impacts of sea level rise. These places can benefit from the hard lessons we have learned in the Gulf.

By using the restoration funds as a down payment on the larger goal of ecosystem resilience, the Gulf can serve as an example to others grappling with climate change and restoration. This funding represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for ecosystem restoration in a region that has suffered decades of degradation without major federal investments, earning it the name “the national sacrifice zone.” The reality is that 31 states across the U.S. send their pollution downstream into the Gulf, including “dead zone”-causing pollution from farms in the Midwest. Yet the Gulf provides a large part of the seafood we eat, as well as the oil and gas we use. For all that we as a nation rely on the Gulf, we fail to invest the resources to fix it.

The Gulf of Mexico is now on course, for better or worse, to be the leading example of restoring a large ecosystem and the resulting economies that are based on often conflicting uses. However, our needs in the Gulf of Mexico, like many other regions of the world, far outstrip the available resources. We will have to work smarter rather than harder, and adopt a creative and innovative approach to defining the problem and implementing the solution. For ecosystem restoration to fulfill its promise as a key component of responding to climate change, we need a far more comprehensive approach to designing, funding and implementing restoration.

As restoration work gets underway in the Gulf, a number of guiding principles are critically important in driving the successful investment of billions of dollars. Some of these lessons are being learned the hard way, as state and federal officials grapple with requirements to think comprehensively while being responsive to both local needs and political pressures.

These principles include: transparency and public engagement, the consolidation of multiple restoration activities under one governing body, restoration objectives that take into account the anticipated impacts of climate change, fostering a culture of innovation and adaptation, and recognizing that restoration must be coupled with better policy decisions around development and extractive activities. Collectively, these efforts represent a replicable, scalable structure that can be adapted to restoration efforts in different ecosystems and management frameworks.

If the previous century was characterized by the loss of habitat and ecosystem services that communities rely on to thrive, then the next must be defined by a commitment to working with nature. This partnership will restore ecological functions, stabilize our fisheries and our shorelines and help us adapt to a changing climate.

This journey can and should start in the Gulf of Mexico.

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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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