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Ocean Currents

News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy

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Why BP’s Criminal Fines Are Just the First Step

Posted On November 15, 2012 by

Just a few examples of the off-shore impacts of the BP disaster

Big news today.  BP will pay record criminal fines resulting from the BP oil disaster. This is a step forward in settling all of BP’s debts to the Gulf Coast citizens who deserve for BP to be held fully accountable to the maximum extent of the law.  BP pleading to criminal charges, before a global settlement is reached, is some vindication for those who deserve to know the truth about why this disaster occurred. We are approaching three years since the rig explosion, and you don’t have to look far to see that people are still suffering the effects of this tragedy turned environmental disaster turned economic disaster.

However, this is not the end of the road.  Not by a long shot.

BP still needs to answer for their gross negligence and while these record criminal penalties are a step forward, they do not pay for the damage BP has done to the broader Gulf community.   We were pleased to see Attorney General Eric Holder today (just a few floors down from our New Orleans office) make it very clear that he intends to prove in court that BP was grossly negligent in allowing a vast amount of oil to gush into the Gulf—a legal definition that carries the highest civil penalties under the Clean Water Act.

It’s an important step for BP to accept responsibility for the deaths of 11 workers on the first day of this tragedy and it sets the stage for BP to continue to be held accountable with record fines, especially in regard to the amount of money directed to the Gulf through the RESTORE ACT in order to fully restore Gulf Coast communities, and both the coastal and marine environments.

It’s also good news that some of the criminal fines announced today will be directed to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and National Academy of Sciences.  This will provide some good opportunities to begin making the Gulf whole.  But that money is different from the civil fines BP should pay under the Clean Water Act, which would be directed to the RESTORE Act passed earlier this year.  BP still has much to answer for and the criminal settlement will not come close to making up for the damage BP is responsible for in the Gulf of Mexico.

It’s unfortunate that we have to wait for a trial that doesn’t start until next year to hold BP fully accountable.  But this is progress and there is work happening now through early restoration that is moving us closer to recovery. As we move forward, we must not forget the off-shore environment, where this disaster began.  Restoration of the Gulf requires an approach that addresses marine resources as well as coastal environments and Gulf communities. The nation must commit effort and money to address all three in order to achieve a resilient, healthy Gulf with a sustainable future.

No amount of money will change the fact that 11 men lost their lives, and I for one can’t find the heart to celebrate the closing of another chapter in the oil disaster. But I am optimistic that this criminal settlement sets the tone for a final trial resolution that will recognize and compensate the people of the Gulf for all that has been lost. We deserve nothing less.

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Four Things the Election Tells us about the Ocean’s Future

Posted On November 7, 2012 by

As the dust begins to settle after what felt like a never-ending election season, Ocean Conservancy is gearing up for our policy work to begin again in earnest. Our approach isn’t about which party is in charge, it’s about finding solutions for a healthy ocean, wherever they may come from. Here are a few initial reactions and issues to be on the lookout for following the 2012 election:

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In the Wake of Sandy, Thinking About the Future

Posted On October 31, 2012 by

Credit: AP Photos / Alex Brandon

Like many of you, many of Ocean Conservancy’s staff have lived through hurricanes and other natural disasters. We know how much damage hurricanes can cause, and our hearts go out to those of you affected by Hurricane Sandy.

For our staff working along the Gulf of Mexico, June through November is a time to remember how to “live with the water,” as Bethany Kraft, our director of Gulf Restoration put it at the start of this year’s hurricane season. When Hurricane Isaac hit last month, Gulf residents experienced hard winds, massive flooding and oiled shorelines that reminded us that we are still in the grips of responding to and recovering from the BP oil disaster.

Hurricane Sandy, which pounded the East Coast on Monday, was a wholly different storm. Our immediate concerns are always with those in the path of such devastating storms, especially those on the New Jersey coast and New York where the damage was especially acute. We send our gratitude to NOAA for the warnings and the time to prepare and to the first responders, who are not only saving lives but are leading communities’ recovery efforts.

As we shift from rescue to recovery, we are confronting a cleanup and rebuilding effort with an extraordinary price tag and an unforeseeable timeline. And while we can’t control such a massive storm, we can help strengthen our nation’s best defense against this force of nature.

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Marine Restoration Report Emphasizes Importance of Offshore Waters

Posted On September 6, 2012 by

Credit: Calsidyrose flickr stream

Yesterday I wrote about Hurricane Isaac’s impacts to our coastal environment as well as the unfortunate reminder that an unknown quantity of BP oil still lingers in the Gulf, needing only time and the right conditions to once again wreak havoc on our beaches, marshes and coastal communities.

Events like hurricanes serve as sobering reminders of how critical coastal restoration initiatives are to the long-term sustainability of our Gulf communities, our economies and, of course, our natural resources. But as critical as restoration of our coastal resources are, they are only part of a larger picture of ecosystem restoration in the region. Restoration of our marine resources are equally important to preserving our coastal way of life.

Ocean Conservancy views restoration of the Gulf ecosystem as a three-legged stool. Each leg depends on the other for balance and function. If you lose one leg, you no longer have a strong base, and you will almost certainly topple. The three legs of restoration in the Gulf are: restoration of the coastal environment, the marine environment and coastal communities.

We must focus our effort, energy and funding resources to all three of these vital areas if we are going to realize our vision of a vibrant and healthy Gulf region. Is it a lot of work? Yes. Are there competing needs for limited funds? Yes? Do we have to find a way to do all three? Absolutely. Continue reading »

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Hurricane Isaac Churns Up Reminder of BP’s Damage to the Gulf of Mexico

Posted On September 5, 2012 by

Tar balls photographed by Louisiana state response teams on Elmer’s Island in Jefferson Parish on September 1, 2012. Credit: Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries

Last week was a long one for Gulf Coast residents as we watched Hurricane Isaac waffle about where to land before settling on coastal Louisiana, causing massive flooding from storm surge in Mississippi and Louisiana and bringing businesses and communities to a grinding halt for over a week.

As if we didn’t have enough to deal with, what with hurricanes and flooding and power outages and devastation for too many people, we also had the pleasure of remembering (in case any of us had forgotten) that we are still in the grips of responding to and recovering from the BP oil disaster.

Far from magically disappearing, oil has persisted in the marine environment for over two years now, and the force of Hurricane Isaac has churned up an ugly reminder of how much work we still have to do to restore the Gulf ecosystem. Tarballs and mats are showing up from Louisiana to Alabama, even forcing the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to issue a closure for commercial fishing in the area of a large oil mat off Elmer’s Island.

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Hurricane Isaac Threatens Gulf Region

Posted On August 28, 2012 by

This visible image of Tropical Storm Isaac taken from NOAA’s GOES-13 satellite shows the huge extent of the storm. The image was captured on Aug. 28 at 8:40 a.m. EDT. Credit: NOAA

I wrote a blog post about the start of hurricane season back in June, and I am writing this one today in Hurricane Isaac’s sights. Hurricanes are anything but predictable, and this one in particular has been hard to track. Would it rain and blow into the Republican Convention in Tampa? Head West towards Texas? Now, less than 24 hours away from landfall, it looks like Isaac has made up his mind to aim for somewhere in Louisiana or Mississippi, which means rain and wind anywhere across the Gulf Coast, and hopefully not much more than that. We hope.

If you are watching the approach of the storm on TV, you’d think that hurricanes are some sort of spectator sport or reality TV show. DEVASTATION! MANDATORY EVACUATION! DESTRUCTION! It turns what is a serious event into a sort of comic theater. Note to newscasters: Gulfport is in MS and Mobile Bay in in AL. Just sayin’. (Sorry, I’ve been seeing silly screen shots on Facebook all morning that are geographically confused).

In the midst of the TV hullabaloo, I thought I’d take a few minutes to tell you what I think about Hurricane Isaac while safely tucked away from the weather, listening to the weather radio and wondering what the day will bring. Mind you, these thoughts are mine alone, and not meant to represent those of Gulf residents, generally. Continue reading »

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Building a Mosaic of Restoration Projects for the Gulf

Posted On July 19, 2012 by

sea turtle mosaic

Credit: luxomedia flickr stream

The BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster harmed communities from Texas to Florida and damaged the Gulf ecosystem from the ocean floor to the surface across a vast swath of waters and shoreline. Restoring these damaged resources will require a comprehensive, Gulf-wide restoration plan that covers coastal environments, blue-water resources and Gulf communities.

Because wildlife like birds, fish and marine mammals move throughout the ecosystem making use of coastal, nearshore and offshore environments, effective restoration requires a holistic approach. For example, restoration efforts for oyster reefs or barrier islands in Texas should complement the work done in Alabama or in Florida so that the full suite of species and habitats can recover.

The state and federal officials responsible for creating such a plan, the Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA) Trustees, are making decisions about how to spend the balance of the $1 billion committed by BP for early restoration. The decisions they make about early restoration and about the longer-term restoration program to follow have the potential to pay enormous dividends to the Gulf for generations.

To help the Trustees build an effective plan, a coalition of nonprofit groups, including Ocean Conservancy, has created a portfolio of 39 projects that reflect an integrated and Gulf-wide approach to restoration. Continue reading »