Ocean Currents » gulf of mexico http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Sat, 01 Oct 2016 13:20:37 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Remembering the Victims and Survivors of Deepwater Horizon http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/10/01/remembering-the-victims-and-survivors-of-deepwater-horizon/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/10/01/remembering-the-victims-and-survivors-of-deepwater-horizon/#comments Sat, 01 Oct 2016 13:20:37 +0000 Rachel Guillory http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13040

Like many Gulf Coast people, I too had a loved one working on an oil rig the day the Deepwater Horizon exploded. In his first job with the oil industry, my stepdad was working IT on a rig. My mom and I had been glad he got the job as he had been laid off during the recession, but that day I was frantic. Stuck on an airplane when I heard the news, I wracked my brain: What rig was he on? Was he okay? It was two, painful hours before we landed, and I could finally call my mom.

Luckily, my stepdad was safe. I breathed a sigh of relief.

But that day in 2010, I’m sure tens of thousands of families went through the same worry, wondering if their loved ones were safe.

For many of us, then, the new movie Deepwater Horizon, which chronicles the last few hours aboard the rig, may be hard to watch. The movie creates an overwhelming sense of fear, anger and frustration as cement tests are ignored, pressure tests are misread and concerns over the integrity of the oil well are overlooked for the sake of staying on schedule.

The film points to the oil and gas industry’s overall lack of commitment to safety as the root cause of the disaster, just as the National Oil Spill Commission found in their 2011 report to the President. In the movie, before the first explosion even happens, we see that the phones don’t work, fire alarms need new batteries and even the air conditioning is going out. Mark Wahlberg, portraying chief electronic technician Mike Williams, calls out this climate of risk when he tells BP well site leader Donald Vidrine, played by John Malkovich, that it seems BP is “running out of gas while landing the plane.” The Deepwater Horizon was behind schedule, and BP was intent on finishing the job quickly so the rig could move onto another well site.

Once the blowout occurs, chaos ensues because the rig crew was not properly trained on how to respond to such a disaster. Captain Curt Kuchta screams at dynamic positioning officer Andrea Fleytas for sounding a distress signal. Transocean rig boss Jimmy Harrell is half-blinded in the first explosion by falling insulation and glass and struggles to regain command of his rig. Ultimately, Vidrine, along with his partner Robert Kaluza, were both charged with 22 counts of manslaughter, all of which were eventually dropped. In real life, many feel that Vidrine and Kaluza were simply the fall guys for BP as the key decisions that led to the disaster ultimately came from their bosses in Houston. The movie emphasizes this sentiment by portraying Vidrine as a vulgar character, a symbol of BP’s negligence. But where Vidrine and Kaluza were found at fault, 11 heroic men had worked furiously to try to prevent the disaster.

Movie director Peter Berg said during a National Public Radio interview that one of his motivations for making the movie was to recognize their dedication in the face of danger. It’s no coincidence that most of the 11 men who died were members of the drilling crew. “They stayed at their workstations,” Berg told NPR, “when they could have jumped off the rig onto the lifeboats. They stayed on the rig and attempted very hard and courageously to try and prevent that blowout. And they died trying to prevent it.”

Eleven families lost a loved one that day. But we know it could have been a loved one from any of tens of thousands of families. Six years later, as we work to restore the Gulf from the BP oil disaster, it’s important that we keep this loss as part of our  perspective. Because even though we now have an opportunity to make the Gulf even healthier than it was in 2010, we paid a dear price for this chance. We owe it to the victims and survivors of the disaster to get Gulf restoration right.

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Recreational Fishing: Protecting a Way of Life http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/09/08/recreational-fishing-protecting-a-way-of-life/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/09/08/recreational-fishing-protecting-a-way-of-life/#comments Thu, 08 Sep 2016 17:00:54 +0000 Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12832

By Dennis McKay

All my life, I’ve measured the “good life” with days on the water fishing. Escaping work, shunning worry and forgoing the pressures of daily life to enjoy the elemental world of water, weather and a fish has defined the happiest moments of my life. Actually, it’s a natural inheritance since my family has called Alabama and these Gulf waters home for several hundred years.

As with any natural inheritance, I tend to be protective of my roots. Supporting my protective bent, the United States has some of the best fisheries management practices in the world. The overall law, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, is effective because it is implemented using science-based rules, such as annual catch limits and rebuilding timelines, as currently defined by National Standard 1 (NS1). The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) is responsible for establishing and assessing these rules, and the nation’s eight regional fisheries management councils are mandated to execute them.

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, overfishing was so out of control that there were days it was hard to catch a decent sized fish. The fish were small because the vast majority were immature because fishermen from every sector, commercial and recreational, were catching the mature fish more quickly than the juveniles could recruit into the fishery. Frankly, for me it was depressing. I knew what the Gulf was capable of producing, but it was heartbreaking to think that in our rush to enjoy fishing we had nearly destroyed the things we love. The Gulf’s depleted fish stocks were a wake-up call for me, and the MSA provided the opportunity to correct the Gulf’s overfishing trend.

Since 2006, with the MSA’s newest reauthorization containing the explicit mandate to rebuild the nation’s fisheries with the NS1 science-based tools, recreational and commercial fishermen alike have sacrificed and worked with fisheries managers and scientists to halt overfishing, allowing over 30 fish stocks to rebound in the last ten years to sustainable, rebuilt levels.

For example, consider the Gulf’s iconic red snapper. In 2007, fisheries managers had to set the annual catch limit of red snapper at 5,000,000 pounds because the fish stock was decimated. The commercial and charter-for-hire fleets put their heads down and partnered with managers and scientists and worked within the MSA’s inherent flexibility and the Council process to develop fishery management plans that complied with NS1, while working with the sector’s respective fishing styles.

As a result of this hard work, today the catch limit is at 14,000,000 pounds. In other words, in only eight years commercial and recreational fishermen, by embracing NS1, are now allowed to catch almost three times the weight of fish, while continuing to rebuild the red snapper population.

The NS1 successes are not confined to the Gulf’s red snapper, though. Using NS1’s science-based information to make sound management decisions for the Gulf’s fisheries has created more successes across the board. Indeed, NS1 has restored several popular Gulf fish species including: red grouper, gag grouper, yellowtail snapper and king mackerel.

Given the Gulf’s successes, it’s ludicrous that in the next few weeks NOAA Fisheries is contemplating weakening NS1 by relaxing the science-based tools that have proven successful for red snapper and countless other species of fish. Why in heaven’s name would NOAA pick apart an effective management approach that has restored such a high-value resource as our fisheries?

NOAA Fisheries is planning to alter NS1 by replacing strong, science-based rules with weak guidelines that allow fisheries managers to delay ending overfishing by several years, even when managers know overfishing is occurring. The new rules also propose removing the MSA’s oversight of requiring the Secretary of Commerce to review all stock rebuilding plans to determine if they were making progress. Under the new rule, the Secretary is only required to determine if the fishery management plan is being implemented as intended, not necessarily if the fish stock is, or is not improving.

As a recreational fisherman I don’t make my livelihood by fishing. I don’t work as a charter boat captain; I don’t market fish. But NS1 has protected my natural inheritance and way of life. And in the Gulf, heritage runs deep. Thanks to NS1, red snapper have not only increased in number and size, but they have begun to return to fishing grounds in mid- and southern Florida waters where they have not been seen in decades, returning back to me and others the Southern ways of life our Grandfathers enjoyed and instilled in us.

So my children and their children can enjoy and experience their natural inheritances and the Gulf’s way of life, please tell President Obama to protect sustainable fisheries management and defeat the changes proposed for NS1.

Dennis McKay is recreational fisherman in East-Central Alabama.

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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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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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