Today Ocean Conservancy released a new report, Charting the Gulf: Analyzing the Gaps in Long-term Monitoring. As one of the authors of this report, I’ve had the privilege of collecting information and meeting with scientists from around the Gulf to compile a comprehensive view of their work, and it’s my hope that this will make the jobs of those scientists and other Gulf leaders much easier by providing a map of existing information for restoring the Gulf.
A couple of weeks ago I went on a mackerel fishing trip out of St. Petersburg, Florida, with a 35-year commercial fishing veteran. It was a beautiful day and there was the slightest tinge of autumn out on the Gulf of Mexico, and we quickly caught the day’s order of Spanish and King mackerel. Heading back through John’s Pass I asked my friend, who also fishes for Gulf snapper and grouper, how business has been and without missing a beat he said “The last two years have been the best of my career.”
We did it! You asked our Gulf leaders to restore the Gulf beyond the shore, and they heard you! When the details of the $20.8 billion settlement were released last month, more than $1 billion was set aside to restore the open ocean.
But there’s a catch…the Trustees charged with restoring the Gulf have proposed to take ALL of their federal overhead expenses for the next 15 years out of the open ocean fund. That funding is critical for restoring Gulf wildlife in the deep sea, where an area 20 times the size of Manhattan remains polluted with BP oil!
Since the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster began over five years ago, various settlements with BP and Transocean have given way to a veritable alphabet soup of restoration processes: NFWF, NRDA, RESTORE, NAS and so on. Each process has its own set of funding and restrictions, which can exhaust the many dedicated people who are engaged in restoration with multiple sets of public meetings and comment periods. But the fish and crabs and wetlands in the Gulf don’t care where the money comes from to restore their health and their habitats.
We know that not everyone has the time to peruse hundreds of pages of information, so Ocean Conservancy and the National Wildlife Federation partnered to summarize what we now know about impacts. This summary is based on five years of government research, which recently became available when the details of the BP settlement were released last month.
The final months of 2015 are shaping up to be very busy in the Gulf of Mexico! In July BP and the U.S. government announced that they were nearing a settlement agreement, and on October 5, that draft settlement agreement was released for public comment. This clarity around just how much funding will be available for Gulf restoration in the coming years means that decision-makers are working overtime to issue project lists, plans and regulations that will guide spending of fine money for the next 18 years. That’s a long time!
Here is a quick breakdown of what’s happening, what it means and how you can make your voice heard.
Ivan. Camille. Katrina. On the Gulf Coast, these names are as familiar to us as those of close family members. But while the names of the strongest hurricanes live on in our memories, the lessons they teach us about risk and vulnerability are often lost in the post-storm chaos of rebuilding our lives to some semblance of normal.
This year we mark 10 years since Hurricane Katrina and 5 years since the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. Both disasters reminded us that a healthy ecosystem is critical to our protection from natural and human-made disasters.