If we hope to meet the future resource demands of a growing global population without destroying the natural systems that sustain us, we must put the ocean at the center of what we do. The ocean provides us with food, energy, transportation, carbon storage and more—it is truly our greatest natural resource.
But the Gulf is still recovering from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster as well as decades of ecosystem decline. Restoring this region to health is the only way to ensure that we can enjoy its many benefits for generations to come.
That task lies in the hands of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, which just released its “Initial Comprehensive Plan: Restoring the Gulf Coast’s Ecosystem and Economy.” This plan is intended to serve as a framework to implement a coordinated, Gulf-wide restoration effort using RESTORE Act funding. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something great for the Gulf.
The Gulf Council’s plan is another small but important step forward in Gulf recovery, but we aren’t there yet.
The people of the Gulf are still suffering from this tragedy.
Three years ago, I found myself at a late-night community meeting on the coast in Alabama to discuss the oil disaster. At that point, oil was still spewing uncontrolled from the wellhead and huge portions of the Gulf were closed to fishing—meaning that thousands of people were out of a job and countless more were unable to enjoy doing the things they’d always taken for granted, like fishing, boating and swimming in the Gulf.
About an hour in, a broad-shouldered, weathered man stood up to discuss what this disaster meant for him. He explained that he made his living as a fisherman and now couldn’t afford to feed his family. As he talked, his voice began to break, and he struggled to keep talking through the tears. It was then that I knew this disaster was deeper than the sheen on the water; it was in the hearts of each Gulf resident.
Do you know the Gulf of Mexico? Do you really know the wildlife that lives in its waters or how we use its resources—for better or worse—to support our economy?
I thought I had a grasp on this before beginning a multi-year project that mapped important things in the Gulf. Now that the project is finished, I know there’s even more to see than I knew about! Ocean Conservancy’s new tool, “The Gulf of Mexico Ecosystem: A Coastal and Marine Atlas,” can help you get a better view of the Gulf too.
The Gulf is a complex ecosystem full of an amazing diversity of wildlife and an abundance of resources. We need to know what lives in it and where it can all be found so we can protect, conserve and restore this beautiful natural treasure.
The atlas is a unique collection of 54 maps and related descriptions that illustrate and describe where you will find many invertebrates, fish, birds and marine mammals in the Gulf. Among many other species, you can learn more about sperm whales, whale sharks, blue crabs (see map above) and black skimmers.
You can look at the physical characteristics, habitats and environmental stressors in the Gulf. Sea surface currents, bottom sediments, hurricane track density and all of the known locations of coral are shown in the atlas.
You will also be able to see how people use the Gulf for recreational fishing, shrimp trawling and major oil and gas development. The areas set aside for coastal and marine protection have been included as well. Continue reading »
As someone who’s worked in the Gulf region on environmental issues for years now, it sometimes seems like I’m up to my neck in plans and meetings. But now there is a real chance to work together to restore Gulf and its communities, and you can be part of the solution.
“The Path Forward to Restoring the Gulf Coast” is the first iteration of a plan to restore the Gulf Region that has been released by the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council in anticipation of potentially billions of dollars that are coming to the Gulf Coast as a result of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council was created by the RESTORE Act, a bill that directs a significant portion of the Clean Water Act fine money paid by BP and other responsible parties to be used to restore the Gulf ecosystem. This is the first time that such a large amount of money has been dedicated to restoring the Gulf’s environment.
Over the next several weeks the Restoration Council will be convening a series of public meetings throughout the region to hear from citizens about what they think restoration and protection of our resources should look like. They will develop a comprehensive plan to address the decades of ecosystem challenges in the Gulf region and provide a blueprint for citizens, environmental organizations, fishermen, scientists and elected officials to work together to restore our environment and economy to an even better condition than it was before the oil disaster.
Recently I had the pleasure of fishing with local fishing celebrity Gary Finch of the Gary Finch Outdoors TV show. When I first met Gary, he was speaking to a crowd about ocean conservation, and before too long we scheduled a fishing trip together. Little did I know we were going out with one of the best boat captains in south Alabama, William Manci of Eastern Shore Outfitters.
My colleague Bethany Kraft and I arrived at the boat launch ready to enjoy a great day of fishing. The weather was perfect–warm with a hint of fall in the air. As we headed out into Mobile Bay, the water was as smooth as glass. Dolphins played in the boat wake, and pelicans dove for breakfast as we skimmed across the water. We anchored near a natural gas rig and put our game faces on. Soon we were catching speckled trout and a few white trout. As the day went on, the fish got bigger and feistier, and we started catching Spanish mackerel. I got a bite just about every time I threw my line in the water. It was amazing! Continue reading »
Dr. Lubchenco (left) with Ellen Bolen, Ocean Conservancy’s Associate Director of Government Relations. Credit: NOAA
Dr. Jane Lubchenco announced today she is stepping down as administrator of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
We want to thank Dr. Jane Lubchenco for her tireless work to promote science, conservation and cooperation in all her efforts to ensure a healthy ocean. As the head of NOAA, she has led a forward-looking agency determined to preserve the ocean for generations to come. We are confident she will remain a strong voice for science and conservation.
Ever a teacher, Dr. Lubchenco has been one of the most steadfast champions of science and the need for scientists to become solutions-oriented at a time when restoring scientific integrity is an urgent priority for the country. Under her leadership, NOAA renewed its focus on key ocean issues like ending overfishing, reducing marine debris, protecting the Arctic and tackling climate change and ocean acidification.
Dr. Lubchenco and NOAA were quick to respond to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster and continue to play a pivotal role in ensuring that the Gulf region, including the marine ecosystem, is restored. She was also instrumental in the creation and follow-through of President Obama’s historic National Ocean Policy Executive Order, which created a set of commonsense principles to protect important marine habitat, help clean up our nation’s beaches, and foster emerging industries and jobs.
We wish Dr. Lubchenco well in her new endeavors, and we hope that NOAA, and the rest of the federal government, follows her lead with a cooperative, scientific and ecosystem-based view to solving some of the planet’s biggest challenges. That also means it’s more important than ever that Congress provide NOAA the resources it needs. Superstorm Sandy was the most recent lesson in why NOAA is crucial — their tools, services and information can help us make better decisions to save lives and reduce the risks and costs of future disasters.
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.