Ocean Currents » gulf http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Fri, 27 Feb 2015 16:41:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 BP Trial Highlights Lasting Offshore Impacts in the Gulf http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/02/02/bp-trial-highlights-lasting-offshore-impacts-in-the-gulf/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/02/02/bp-trial-highlights-lasting-offshore-impacts-in-the-gulf/#comments Mon, 02 Feb 2015 15:09:00 +0000 Libby Fetherston http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9775

Last week during the ongoing BP trial in New Orleans, the testimony of Donald Boesch, a professor of marine science at the University of Maryland, was a real call-to-arms for ocean-lovers. Much of the impact to marine fish, habitats and wildlife has been “out of sight, out of mind” and in many cases off limits to the public.

Through Boesch’s testimony, the U.S. prosecutors hope to highlight the seriousness of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster—one of eight factors that will determine the level of environmental fines the judge will set—and make the case for fines as high as $13.7 billion. Boesch painted an alarming picture of potential marine impacts, with deep-water corals and other living creatures on the seabed of the Gulf covered in oil.

Dolphins are suffering from lung disease and low weight. Sargassum, the floating seaweed essential to juvenile sea turtles and schooling fish, was coated in oil and sank under the weight. Plankton, bacteria, protozoans, and tiny crustaceans drifting on or near the surface of water – the foundation of the Gulf’s food web – had no means to escape the toxic plume of dispersants and oil. Hundreds of thousands of sea birds and shore birds including pelicans, gulls, and gannets are presumed dead, the vast majority of which sank to the seafloor or wound up in other unreachable parts of the Gulf.

“We don’t know fully about the recoverability of these species – it’s a slow process,” Boesch said. “Something we don’t yet know is how long this effect will last.”

The work and testimony of scientists like Dr. Boesch are beginning to shed light on how severely the Gulf was hit, and give new urgency to recovery through restoration investments and solving chronic sources of stress and degradation (e.g., overfishing, pollution, the dead zone, coastal erosion, habitat destruction).

Fortunately, these marine impacts can be remedied. Restoration programs are finally underway, and with smart investment strategies, we can recover and restore what was lost in the Gulf beyond the shore. Only 9 percent of the total funding for projects go toward restoring the marine wildlife and habitats of the Gulf. We can change this number by ensuring that restoration following the BP trial includes the marine environment, where the oil disaster began.

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BP: Return on Investment Includes Cost of Business http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/01/26/bp-return-on-investment-includes-cost-of-business/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/01/26/bp-return-on-investment-includes-cost-of-business/#comments Mon, 26 Jan 2015 14:45:21 +0000 Matt Love http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9731

Every day we monitor the health of our economy through indicators such as the Dow Jones Industrial Average, NASDAQ or S&P 500. We are able to understand the trends in our economy through the long-term values of these indicators. Decisions are made each day based on these trends and affect every aspect of our lives. Very few business leaders would dare conduct business without analyzing these indices.

The ocean is an important driver of our economy and a major player in our ability to thrive. It provides the oxygen we breathe. It controls the weather systems that produce our food and the marine systems that sustain much of the biological wealth of this planet. The health of the ocean is immensely important, yet we conduct business every day without knowing the changes or trends in the ocean’s health.

As the BP trial presses on this week, BP and other responsible parties should be on the hook for ensuring that the Gulf of Mexico recovers from the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The Gulf—like the global ocean—is critical to our economy. In order to track recovery, the resolution of this case should fund an monitoring system that tracks the health of the Gulf for at least 25 years.

When a disaster occurs like the financial crisis of 2008, we can understand its severity by looking at stock indices. When a disaster occurs in the ocean, like the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, we struggle to comprehend its severity, because we have no reliable indicators to recognize trends. Sadly, there are very few sustained, long-term monitoring programs  to track the health of our oceans.

Only by having a long-term, comprehensive monitoring system in place will we know if we are achieving desired goals. By tracking progress, we will be able to understand how restoration is performing, which allows for course corrections, and thereby reduces the risk of failed approaches. Any settlement intended to resolve BP’s penalty for harming the Gulf must recognize the requirement to monitor restoration in the context of the ecosystem.

Ocean Conservancy is working with scientists around the Gulf Coast, including members of the Gulf of Mexico Alliance, the  Gulf Coastal Ocean Observing System and the National Academy of Science’s Gulf Research Program, to map out the current landscape of long-term monitoring programs that could serve as components to this comprehensive system. The goal is to help identify existing programs that maintain a long-term data record of resources that were ultimately injured by the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. By incorporating existing programs, the cost and effort of monitoring the entire Gulf is much less daunting.

For a successful resolution of the BP trial, it’s critically important that funding is made available for this long-term monitoring.

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Celebrating 2014’s Ocean Victories http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/12/29/celebrating-2014s-ocean-victories/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/12/29/celebrating-2014s-ocean-victories/#comments Mon, 29 Dec 2014 14:00:48 +0000 Brett Nolan http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9644

Photo: Tony Prince

This year was a great year for the ocean! We were able to make waves and accomplish some truly amazing things thanks to supporters and ocean lovers like you. From saving baby sea turtles to protecting the Arctic from reckless oil drilling, here are just a few of the major victories our ocean saw this year.

Gulf Leaders Protect the Gulf’s Deep Water

It’s been nearly 5 years since the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, and Gulf leaders have proven they’re dedicated to restoring the Gulf’s shore as well as the Gulf’s deep water.  Mississippi, Alabama and Florida will invest in projects that protect dolphins and manatees, track the recovery of fish species like red snapper, and map the seafloor to inform sustainable fishing practices.

The U.S. Has Ambitious Plans to Protect the Arctic

In 2014, the eight-nation Arctic Council announced that the U.S. would assume the Council’s  Chair position for the next two years beginning in April 2015. As Chair, the U.S. hopes to focus on the impacts of climate change on the Arctic, encourage sustainable development in remote Arctic communities, and improve stewardship of the Arctic Ocean.

Smart Ocean Planning Gets Public Support from the Obama Administration

The Obama Administration publicly committed to completing smart ocean plans for the New England and Mid-Atlantic regions by the end of 2016. Smart ocean planning will make sure all stakeholders in these regions have a seat at the table. This will ensure valuable input from those who depend on the ocean for food, transportation, energy and recreation.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Rules in Favor of the Ocean

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed a lawsuit that Shell brought against Ocean Conservancy and several other conservation and Alaska Native organizations. Shell received permits from federal agencies to drill in the Arctic years ago and preemptively sued Ocean Conservancy and other organizations to stop us from challenging the validity of those permits. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with us that Shell’s lawsuit was just an attempt to intimidate nonprofits and discourage them from opposing risky Arctic drilling.

Businesses Stepped Up to Protect the Ocean

Thanks to the hard work of ocean loving school children, Dunkin’ Donuts has agreed to phase out the use of Styrofoam cups. Hilton Worldwide also announced that they would no longer be serving or taking new orders for shark fin dishes.

Congress Invests in Our Ocean’s Health

Ocean lovers made sure that ocean and marine life were top priorities for Congress. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will receive $5.4 billion for their 2015 fiscal year budget. Ocean Acidification research will receive $8.5 million, a $2.5 million increase. Regional Coastal Resilience Grants, funds built to help communities deal with changes in marine ecosystems and economic shifts, will receive $5 million in funding. And attempts in Congress to weaken the National Ocean Policy were thwarted.

World Leaders Addressed Ocean Issues

We joined world leaders, scientists, and other ocean advocates at the Our Ocean Conference, hosted by Secretary John Kerry. Andreas Merkl, our CEO, spoke on a panel about the dangers of marine debris and how we can solve this problem together.

East Coast States Tackle Ocean Acidification

Maine and Maryland are leading the charge against ocean acidification on the East Coast. Both of these states have a rich maritime history. However, ocean acidification is threatening not only their way of life, but also their businesses and livelihoods. Maine and Maryland legislatures have formed a commission and taskforce to study the impacts of ocean acidification on each state’s coastal ecosystems and commercial shellfish industries.

The Gulf’s Iconic Red Snapper Gets a Major Boost

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council passed a measure called Amendment 40 that allows separate management of private recreational anglers and for-hire charter vessels that fish for red snapper. This is great news because it allows for better management strategies that are tailored to individual needs of fishermen. It also helps the red snapper’s long-term recovery.

We Protected Baby Sea Turtles with Your Help

We expanded our Preserve the Spirit: The Sea Turtle Protection Partnership thanks to generous supporters like you. This program had volunteers remove marine debris from beaches where sea turtles nest. These volunteers made beaches safer for baby sea turtles and provided us invaluable data on the threats sea turtles face.

International Coastal Cleanup Day 2014

We celebrated the 29th Annual International Coastal Cleanup Day in 2014. The report on what we found will be released in next spring. And we’ve already started planning big things for the ICC’s 30th birthday in 2015.

Thank you again for being a part of our amazing year. We look forward to seeing what we can accomplish together in 2015!

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Where Did the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Go? http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/10/31/where-did-the-bp-deepwater-horizon-oil-go/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/10/31/where-did-the-bp-deepwater-horizon-oil-go/#comments Fri, 31 Oct 2014 17:47:22 +0000 Alexis Baldera http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9460

You may remember images like this one following the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster—oil smeared across Gulf Coast beaches like a dirty bathtub ring. New research released this week suggests that a similar oily bathtub ring is lying on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.

Scientists determined that an oily patch created by the BP oil disaster remains on the Gulf seafloor, stretching across roughly 1,250 square miles. They came to these conclusions using data collected as part of the Natural Resources Damage Assessment at over 500 sampling locations in the Gulf. The source of the oil is most likely the subsea oil plumes that moved underwater—oil that spewed from the Macondo wellhead but never made it to the surface. As oiled particles fell out of the plume and settled on the Gulf seafloor, they created what the researchers are calling a “patchwork mosaic” of contaminated sites. The patches get more spread out the further they are from the wellhead, leading the scientists to conclude that there is still more oil lying beyond the edge of the bathtub ring, but it probably just hasn’t been detected yet.

The U.S. government estimates the Macondo well’s total discharge was 210 million gallons. The lead researchers of this study, Christopher Reddy and David Valentine, recognize the challenge of tracking millions of gallons of oil in the deep ocean. “Keep in mind that we’re trying to track 30,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 carbon atoms (and twice that number of hydrogen atoms) in a hostile, ever-moving environment,” the authors said in a recent blog. Their research sheds light on the mystery of the submerged oil that never came ashore or reached the Gulf surface.

You might remember earlier studies that supported the hypothesis that microbes in the water column and deep sea consumed large amounts of the BP oil and gas. At first glance, this new study seemed to contradict those findings, but in reality they are complimentary. To understand how all of these pieces fit together, we need to be thinking about two types of hydrocarbons, or the chemical structures of oil and gas particles. First, there are the water-soluble hydrocarbons, which are what the oil-consuming microbes eat. Second, there are the water-insoluble, non-digestible hydrocarbons, which are the types of oil products reported on for this new study. Both studies are helping us understand the fate and distribution of the oil and gas released during the BP oil disaster.

“The evidence is becoming clear that oily particles were raining down around these deep-sea corals, which provides a compelling explanation for the injury they suffered,” said Valentine. “The pattern of contamination we observe is fully consistent with the Deepwater Horizon event but not with natural seeps–the suggested alternative.”

In light of recent attempts by BP to minimize the oil disaster, this study is another link that ties BP to the impacts in the deep waters of the Gulf. As science progresses and new findings emerge, more and more studies are reminding us that this was an offshore disaster, and projects to restore the Gulf are needed offshore, as well as on the coast. So far the vast majority of restoration projects have targeted damaged coastal habitats or lost recreation days due to closed fisheries and beaches. These projects are no doubt important, but in order to achieve full restoration to the Gulf ecosystem there needs to be a shift to a more balanced portfolio that addresses the marine resources, such as fish, sea turtles, dolphins and deep-sea corals, in addition to our beaches, marshes and fishing piers.

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Deepwater Horizon Victims on BP: “I Can Make Them Pay, but I Cannot Make Them Apologize.” http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/10/30/deepwater-horizon-victims-on-bp-i-can-make-them-pay-but-i-cannot-make-them-apologize/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/10/30/deepwater-horizon-victims-on-bp-i-can-make-them-pay-but-i-cannot-make-them-apologize/#comments Thu, 30 Oct 2014 14:00:49 +0000 Rachel Guillory http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9443

My stepdad was working on a rig in the Gulf of Mexico when I heard that one of BP’s drilling platforms had exploded that Tuesday night in April 2010. Luckily he was not on the Deepwater Horizon, but I wondered who was—did I know them? Did their families live nearby?

There are many sides to the tragedy of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, and a new documentary released yesterday, “The Great Invisible,” delves into the lives of the survivors, the decisions made by BP and Transocean to forgo safety measures, and the frustration that many communities felt as they pieced their lives and livelihoods back together after the well was capped.

To me, the most compelling stories from the documentary were those we don’t often hear—the stories of survivors Doug Brown and Stephen Stone. Doug was hired by Transocean as chief mechanic for the Deepwater Horizon, and he’d worked on the platform since it was first built in 2001. Before the explosion in 2010, Doug had complained to Transocean that the reduction in mechanical staff posed a real safety issue.

But staff cuts were not the only issue aboard the Deepwater Horizon. “There were 26 different mistakes made,” said Keith Jones, father of Gordon Jones—a drilling engineer who died in the Deepwater Horizon explosion. The cement hadn’t cured, he said, there was rubber in the drilling mud and the hydraulics for the blow-out preventer were not working. These stories from staff aboard the Deepwater Horizon support the presidential oil spill commission’s conclusion that the BP oil disaster was caused by a culture of complacency, rather than a culture of safety.

Guilt is a prevailing sentiment among the survivors interviewed for the documentary. Despite his complaints about staff issues, Doug feels guilty as a lead Transocean staff member aboard the platform and even planned to commit suicide after the explosion. Stephen Stone worked as a roustabout on the Deepwater Horizon. “I didn’t really tell anybody that I was involved,” he said, “because I didn’t know if I should be proud of it or embarrassed by it, you know? And I still don’t know.” Keith said he had felt proud when his son Gordon got the job. “I bragged about getting my son work on the Deepwater Horizon,” he said. Gordon and his wife were expecting a second child when he was killed in the explosion.

Keith attended the screening at the New Orleans Film Festival last week. When asked by an audience member if there was any amount of money or convictions that he felt would truly hurt BP the way they have hurt his family, Keith, a lawyer based in Baton Rouge, said of his opponents in court, “I can make them pay, but I cannot make them apologize.”

BP is facing a fine as high as $17 billion to restore the Gulf of Mexico. Many survivors of the explosion, including Stephen and Doug, are still waiting on their settlements. But no amount of money will ever really reverse the damage caused, nor could it bring back Gordon and the 10 other people whose lives were lost.

The film’s director Margaret Brown, a native of Mobile, Alabama, said that she felt inspired to create this documentary because, even though she grew up on the Gulf Coast, not until the BP oil disaster did she fully understand that there is a “factory under the Gulf of Mexico that we’re all connected to.” That factory has led to great wealth in our region for a century now, but it also comes at great cost. As we work to ensure that the fish, birds and other wildlife in the Gulf are recovering, our thoughts are with the people and families who were directly affected by the BP oil disaster and who are also still recovering.

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Yes, BP Did Damage the Gulf of Mexico http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/10/27/yes-bp-did-damage-the-gulf-of-mexico/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/10/27/yes-bp-did-damage-the-gulf-of-mexico/#comments Mon, 27 Oct 2014 12:19:05 +0000 Kara Lankford http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9398

In an opinion piece published Tuesday, the oil giant BP would have us believe that the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster wasn’t all that bad for the Gulf of Mexico. Yes, they admit the event was a tragedy, and, sadly, both people and wildlife perished. But, they quickly point out that the effects from the disaster were not as dire as predicted, and recovery is already happening or perhaps complete.

But those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it. We know that marine ecosystems affected by oil spills much smaller than the BP oil disaster, such as the Exxon Valdez oil spill, take decades to recover. And with only four and half years behind us since the Deepwater Horizon exploded, we see a steady drumbeat of peer-reviewed articles documenting evidence of harm. The full effects of 210 million gallons of oil on the Gulf cannot be easily dismissed, especially when the injury studies BP conveniently cites are not yet available to the public. A deep dive into the real evidence of the BP oil disaster reveals several holes in BP’s story.

To read the rest of this story, please view our article on Politico’s website.

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Judge Finds BP “Grossly Negligent” in Latest Deepwater Horizon Ruling http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/09/05/judge-finds-bp-grossly-negligent-in-latest-deepwater-horizon-ruling/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/09/05/judge-finds-bp-grossly-negligent-in-latest-deepwater-horizon-ruling/#comments Fri, 05 Sep 2014 14:33:19 +0000 Kara Lankford http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9161

Yesterday, Judge Barbier, the judge presiding over a multi-phase trial related to the BP oil disaster, ruled that BP was grossly negligent and demonstrated willful misconduct for its role in  the massive 2010 Gulf oil spill.  Judge Barbier went even further, stating that BP, in fact, acted “recklessly”.  The ruling gave me, and hopefully other citizens of the Gulf, a sense of justice. We’ve known for four years now that BP was responsible for this disaster and quite possibly could have prevented it had they taken into account the risks involved in deep water drilling and planned accordingly. Their reckless behavior caused this spill and the citizens and natural resources of the Gulf will be dealing with the devastating impacts for many years to come.

Speculation about the amount of Clean Water Act (CWA) fines BP may have to pay is once again a hot topic of conversation with this latest announcement. BP’s profits are in the billions of dollars and the fines should be sufficient to make them and other companies vigilant about safety compliance and disaster preparation. Still unsettled is the amount of oil that was spilled during the 87 days before the well was finally capped. Ultimately, most of the CWA fines will be coming back to the Gulf region to restore the environment and economy. In addition to CWA fines, BP must be held accountable for direct environmental damage done by the spill, as required under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 through the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA). As scientific data on oil spill impacts continues to pour in, it is crucial to hold BP accountable not just for violating the CWA but also for ecological damage through NRDA.

Federal, state and local decision makers are faced with the immensely important task of deciding where and how these monies are ultimately spent. The top priority should be to make sure that those funds are invested in restoration projects that restore the bays, marshes, wetlands, world-class fisheries and ocean habitat that are the backbone of our region’s economy.

This is likely our generation’s only opportunity to restore an ecosystem so vital to our way of life here on the Gulf coast and so economically important to the nation. Unfortunately, funding on this scale often brings many temptations for unwise or inappropriate spending. Rather than random acts of restoration, we need comprehensive, meaningful environmental restoration, and we need to invest in the science that will allow us to take the pulse of the Gulf and better understand its health.

Getting restoration right requires local citizens, decision makers, and community leaders to commit to a comprehensive approach and a reliance on science—not politics—to drive the process.

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