Ocean Currents » gulf restoration http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Fri, 20 Jan 2017 13:00:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 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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Honoring the Women Who Led the Response to the BP Oil Disaster http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/04/18/honoring-the-women-who-led-the-response-to-the-bp-oil-disaster/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/04/18/honoring-the-women-who-led-the-response-to-the-bp-oil-disaster/#comments Mon, 18 Apr 2016 12:00:50 +0000 Kara Lankford http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11925

Former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson knows what it’s like to be the only woman in the room. Here she is briefed on Deepwater Horizon response activities with President Obama and other response leaders. Credit: The White House

If you caught our tweet chat for International Women’s Day last month, I’m sure you noticed that there are some amazing women in conservation on the Gulf Coast. As we approach the 6-year memorial of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, I can’t help but think of the incredible women who led the Gulf region through that terrible tragedy with grace and confidence. As a woman in the conservation field, I am always inspired by those who go before me and pave a clearer path for women in science and leadership. The battles they overcome are experiences we can learn from and hopefully not have to revisit. Let’s take a moment to highlight a few notable women who led the charge in the beginning of the BP oil disaster.

Lisa Jackson became the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in 2009. Little did she know the following year would bring her back to her roots to New Orleans to fight one of the largest environmental disasters in U.S. history. With Jackson as the lead, EPA oversaw the incredible task of monitoring and responding to environmental and public health concerns during the BP oil disaster. President Obama appointed Jackson as chair of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, where she focused her efforts on figuring out how to restore the Gulf beyond just BP. By asking big-picture questions like “What does the Gulf Coast region need to be resilient?,” Jackson set up the current Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council to tackle the long-term environmental issues facing the Gulf.

Dr. Jane Lubchenco served as the administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) from 2009 to 2013, and she is the first woman to serve in this post.  During the BP oil disaster, Dr. Lubchenco lead the response effort for NOAA as the agency tracked the oil and predicted where it would go, closed the fisheries in the Gulf to keep our seafood safe, worked to protect endangered species from the oiled areas, and assessed the damage to the Gulf’s natural resources. Now a professor at Oregon State University, Dr. Lubchenco continues to weigh in on the ecosystem wide impact of the BP oil disaster: “The bottom line is that oil is nasty stuff. Yes, the Gulf is resilient, but it was hit pretty darn hard.”

Trudy Fisher is the first woman to serve as Executive Director of the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality. Fisher served as Mississippi’s trustee under the Natural Resource Damage Assessment, and after passage of the RESTORE Act she served as the governor’s designee on the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council.  Fisher was the public facing voice in Mississippi during the BP oil disaster and she was always committed to reassuring the public that her agency was focused on restoring the Gulf and Mississippi coast: “Our singular goal in the aftermath of the oil spill is to make Mississippi whole. Nature and its enjoyment are fundamental to Mississippians, whose lives are integrally bound up in the pleasure of hunting, fishing, bird watching, and other nature-related activities.“

Cyn Sarthou is the Executive Director of the Gulf Restoration Network, a nonprofit organization that is committed to uniting and empowering people to protect and restore the natural resources of the Gulf Region. Guided by the very capable hands of Sarthou, GRN has been involved in the recovery from the BP oil disaster from the beginning. A strong voice for environmental restoration, Sarthou frequently speaks up for the communities and wild places around the Gulf that few others will. That type of authenticity has gained her well-deserved respect and admiration in the Gulf coast communities. She is quick to point out that the economy of the Gulf relies on a healthy, functioning ecosystem and funds from the global settlement must be used to restore the environment accordingly: “The funds from this settlement provide a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to repair the Gulf in the wake of the BP disaster and make our coasts and communities stronger and more resilient for future generations. We must not squander this opportunity.”

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Monitoring What Matters in the Gulf http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/02/16/monitoring-what-matters-in-the-gulf/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/02/16/monitoring-what-matters-in-the-gulf/#comments Tue, 16 Feb 2016 20:12:24 +0000 Chris Robbins http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11505

More than $48 million has been invested in saving sea turtles after the BP oil disaster. Yet we know next to nothing about them once they hatch and head out to sea. (Photo by Ben Hicks)

Every winter since the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, scientists gather in the Gulf to unveil the latest research findings on the disaster’s environmental impacts. This year’s Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and Ecosystem Science Conference offered much of the same, but it was also different than in previous years. While the ink on the BP settlement dries, the Gulf scientific community is at a turning point, taking stock of the science gaps, needs and next best investments.

Almost six years after the BP oil disaster began, the program is now poised to evolve from one solely focused on the oil disaster to one that can serve the region more broadly by supporting science that could inform billions of dollars in restoration in the region.  The pivot to a wider focus was evident with talks on marine wildlife as indicators of ecosystem health, coastal vulnerability to rising sea levels, and online tools for turning many terabytes of ecosystem data into useful knowledge for policymakers and resource managers.

The BP disaster’s lingering environmental impacts remain a priority for long-term monitoring. And yet, as the Gulf undergoes rapid change, there is still so much we don’t know about how other human impacts acting alone or together will play out in the ecosystem. While many programs have been monitoring Gulf species, waters and conditions, there are large and persistent gaps in ecosystem knowledge, as described in our latest report, Charting the Gulf: Analyzing the Gaps in Long-Term Monitoring of the Gulf of Mexico.

Filling every gap in monitoring or research is neither optimal nor cost-effective. Indeed, funding is finite, and we must be strategic about our investments. The challenge facing restoration and research programs is deciding which science investments will provide the most insight into the health and recovery of the Gulf ecosystem.

Simply put, we need to monitor what matters.

Now is the time to identify ecosystem science investments for the next 5 to 10 years. The challenge is twofold: 1) prioritizing and plugging important holes in knowledge about species, habitats, natural processes or environmental stressors of greatest concern; and 2) monitoring restoration efforts across jurisdictions and time, such that after two decades we can truly assess the effects of billions of dollars on the ecosystem beyond the scale of individual projects.

Gulf leaders are in a position to chart the future of science to generate the information restoration programs need to be successful. Stay tuned as we continue to prioritize and advance Gulf restoration science needs with our partners in government, academia and the private sector.

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Taking the Pulse of the Gulf http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/12/01/taking-the-pulse-of-the-gulf/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/12/01/taking-the-pulse-of-the-gulf/#comments Tue, 01 Dec 2015 20:08:12 +0000 Matt Love http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11135

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.

When the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster began in 2010, Ocean Conservancy recognized it was difficult to track the damage to our wildlife and wild places, because we lacked the baseline information to understand what a healthy Gulf looked like. From the biggest sperm whale to microscopic plankton, we have had a limited understanding of the patterns of marine life driving the Gulf ecosystem. Our new report highlights that missing information and outlines possible first steps in filling those gaps in our knowledge.

After compiling an inventory of nearly 700 monitoring efforts around the Gulf, we found some significant holes in the current system for tracking the status and trends of ecosystem health and integrity. First, the Gulf’s wildlife and habitats in the offshore environment are not monitored to the same degree as those in more coastal areas. And although we have a continuous forty-year record of satellite imagery available to track our changing shorelines, we have very limited data to understand the reasons why they are changing.

The most significant realization I experienced while creating this report was how little we currently invest in examining the health and vitality of the Gulf. The maps and timelines in our report outline the extensive monitoring that scientists do all around the Gulf and over many years, but in reality, across the 600,000 square miles of U.S. waters in the Gulf, there is little activity tracking trends in marine life. For example, a dot on a map like the one above may give the impression that we have a complete understanding of plankton at that location, but it may only represent a single net towed behind a boat for 30 minutes over the course of four months. That leaves a lot of time and area not surveyed for plankton, which are an important food source for the Gulf’s marine life. It’s crucial that we sustain a systematic approach to fill these gaps in our knowledge.

For successful restoration in the Gulf, we must invest a portion of the $26 billion available through settlements with BP and Transocean in long-term monitoring of this ecosystem that we rely on for our way of life. Just like a doctor needs a patient’s history to effectively prescribe treatment for an illness, we need a complete picture of the health of the Gulf of Mexico in order to restore this special place. If we take advantage of this opportunity now, we can better prepare to respond to future events like climate change and make more informed decisions about how we live with the Gulf. This report represents the positive direction we are heading in the Gulf, to enhance the network of science and data needed to understand this ecosystem that we depend on for work, fun and our way of life.

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What We Know Now About the BP Oil Disaster http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/11/09/what-we-know-now-about-the-bp-oil-disaster/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/11/09/what-we-know-now-about-the-bp-oil-disaster/#comments Mon, 09 Nov 2015 20:00:14 +0000 Alexis Baldera http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11026

It takes 635 pages to describe exactly how the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster impacted the Gulf ecosystem. This is what the Trustees released in the “Injury to Natural Resources” chapter of the Draft Programmatic Damage Assessment and Restoration Plan and Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (which totals over 1,400 pages), a plan that will guide the spending for a over $7 billion of the $20.8 billion settlement with BP.

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 numbers in the report are staggering. Hundreds of thousands of sea turtles, marine mammals and birds died, and many more were exposed to oil. Trillions of larval fish and invertebrates were killed by BP oil discharged into Gulf waters. An area 20 times the size of Manhattan around the now-plugged wellhead is polluted by oil. Deep-water corals, some of them hundreds of years old, were killed. In addition, due to the challenge of measuring the impact to some animals and places, the Trustees describe many of their conclusions as underestimates. What we do know is that the oil disaster affected the entire northern Gulf ecosystem, and the long-term effects are still unknown.

Long-lived or slow-growing animals that were impacted by the BP oil disaster will likely take decades to recover. For example, spinner dolphins are estimated to need 105 years to recover, and slow-growing deep-water corals may take hundreds of years. In light of this, it is essential that restoration is paired with continued long-term monitoring and research to track these animals and habitats to understand if they are on the path to recovery, and to reassess our restoration activities if they are not responding to our efforts.

More than five years have passed since the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig, and as we look back to better understand the magnitude of this environmental disaster, we must also remember to look forward. In addition to identifying the extent of ecosystem injury, the Trustees also recommend a comprehensive suite of restoration approaches to move the Gulf toward recovery.

Learn more about how you can shape this process for the next 18 years.

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Shaping the Next 18 Years of Gulf Restoration http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/10/08/shaping-the-next-18-years-of-gulf-restoration/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/10/08/shaping-the-next-18-years-of-gulf-restoration/#comments Thu, 08 Oct 2015 20:18:34 +0000 Bethany Kraft http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10881

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.

New details released for $20.8 billion Draft Settlement between BP and the U.S. Department of Justice, including a draft restoration plan

On October 5, the United States and the five Gulf states announced a $20.8 billion settlement to resolve civil and economic claims against BP arising from the 2010 BP oil disaster. This is the same settlement that was initially announced in July.

Two documents are open for public comment:

  • A consent decree that provides penalty and payment details related to the outstanding claims against BP.
  • A Draft Programmatic Damage Assessment and Restoration Plan/ Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PDARP/PEIS), which is a high-level restoration planning document that will guide the spending of $8.1 billion to restore the natural resource damages related to the oil disaster. This Plan contains extensive and previously unknown information about the extent of the impacts of the oil disaster as well as proposed restoration activities to address those impact. For instance, the plan estimates that we lost 4-8.3 billion oysters in the Gulf due to the BP oil disaster.

You can download both documents and find out how to comment on each here. The comment period closes December 4, 2015.

Over the coming weeks, Ocean Conservancy will analyze both documents and make our assessments available to the public. In the meantime, our policy analyst, Michelle Erenberg, has highlighted some of the important details of the settlement, which you can download here.

New requirements for Gulf state RESTORE Act plans

The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council released a new regulation to establish the formula allocating funds made available from the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund among the states of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas pursuant to the RESTORE Act. This funding is available for states to develop and implement plans for the overall recovery of the environmental and economic recovery in the Gulf region. Each state will have a different process to develop its plan and select projects (in accordance with the RESTORE Act and these proposed regulations) and the Council will then determine whether or not to approve each State’s Expenditure Plan.

Read the draft regulation and find out how to comment here. The comment period closes on October 29, 2015.

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Investing in Ecosystem Restoration Will Help us Weather Future Storms http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/08/29/investing-in-ecosystem-restoration-will-help-us-weather-future-storms/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/08/29/investing-in-ecosystem-restoration-will-help-us-weather-future-storms/#comments Sat, 29 Aug 2015 12:30:01 +0000 Bethany Kraft http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10691

This blog originally appeared on AL.com.

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.

Over the last several decades, extensive loss of protective habitats like dunes, barrier islands and wetlands have left us more open to the barrage of water that often accompanies hurricanes. As our communities grew, we treated soggy land as a worthless asset and drained our wetlands to build new homes and new shopping centers.

We built bulkheads around our yards, cutting off the water from the land in an effort to engineer ourselves to safety, losing valuable marshland in the process. Growth is necessary, but what we didn’t know then was that, far from being worthless, our wetlands play a critical role in our ecosystem and are invaluable in their ability to absorb storm surge and potentially reduce the devastating power of a large storm. We know better now what role our natural landscape plays in protecting us, and if we want to continue making our home on the Gulf, we need to put nature back to work for us.

Change is the only constant in an environment as dynamic as the Gulf Coast. Although hurricanes have altered our landscape for hundreds of years, their increasing frequency and severity, coupled with our insatiable desire to build our castles on the sand, forces us to confront an uncertain future and begin to adapt our way of life to ensure that we can continue to call this beautiful place home.

The question that remains is: what role do we want to play in shaping our collective future? What if we envisioned our communities in the context of the place we live? What if we had the funding necessary to protect our communities in ways that also grew our economy and created a model for how to prosper in an era of risk and vulnerability?

I believe the effort to restore the Gulf following the BP oil disaster presents a unique opportunity to make our communities and environment more steadfast and resilient from hurricanes and other disasters. In July, the U.S. government announced an $18.7 billion settlement in principle with BP. This money can be used for a wide variety of purposes, but if our leaders are wise, they will invest in ecosystem restoration that will make the next Katrina less devastating to us economically and culturally. Wetland buffers, living shorelines and healthy oyster reefs are just a few of the restoration projects we can undertake with BP money to provide us with a natural first line of defense against hurricanes.

Resiliency is a term that is being thrown about more and more these days. Some people define it as “the ability to bounce back from a disaster more quickly and with minimal disruption”.

I propose that bouncing back only to make the same decisions that led to your getting knocked down in the first place isn’t resiliency – it is the textbook definition of insanity. It’s time to take our future into our hands. Investing in projects that restore natural habitats and natural processes will pay dividends now and into the future.

If you care about rising insurance rates, if you care about fishing, if you care about protecting your family, then you care about restoring our natural resources. Full stop. As we remember what we lost on August 29, let’s not forget what we stand to gain if we invest in our natural resources.

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