Ocean Currents » gulf http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Fri, 26 Aug 2016 16:55:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 New Leadership for Ocean Conservancy’s Gulf Restoration Program http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/08/08/new-leadership-for-ocean-conservancys-gulf-restoration-program/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/08/08/new-leadership-for-ocean-conservancys-gulf-restoration-program/#comments Mon, 08 Aug 2016 19:22:30 +0000 Kara Lankford http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12596

Gulf Restoration Program staff Kara Lankford and Bethany Carl Kraft on Monterey Bay in California. Credit: Rachel Guillory

Bethany Carl Kraft has been the eloquent voice and thought leader of Ocean Conservancy’s Gulf Restoration Program for the past five years. Her leadership has taken our team through milestones such as the implementation of the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act (RESTORE Act), a global settlement with BP that includes over $1 billion dedicated to restoration in the open ocean, and a Programmatic Damage Assessment and Restoration Plan that lays out the strategy for restoring the Gulf in the wake of the BP oil disaster.

We have accomplished so much as a team, and it is with a heavy heart that I announce Bethany’s departure as the director of our Gulf Restoration Program. Anyone who has spent five minutes with Bethany understands her love for the Gulf of Mexico and her passion for restoring it. This passion has led her to her new position as the Senior Project Manager, Gulf Coast for Volkert & Associates which she begins this week. In this role, she will be getting her feet muddy once again managing on-the-ground restoration projects across the Gulf region.

As the Ocean Conservancy Gulf Restoration team goes through this leadership transition, we remain strong and ready to tackle the important work that lies ahead. We are committed to ensuring monitoring programs and protocols are in place, maintaining the integrity of the open ocean funding and advocating for coordination among the different restoration programs to avoid duplication and encourage leveraging.

I’ll be taking over as interim director of our program and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to lead this dedicated team. I’ve been with Ocean Conservancy for almost six years and I can say throughout every transition this team has stayed the course and kept the end goal of comprehensive restoration of the Gulf at the forefront.

Ocean Conservancy would like to thank Bethany Carl Kraft for her outstanding leadership of the Gulf Restoration Program. She leaves behind a legacy of enthusiasm for restoring the Gulf for future generations and an ecosystem focus that will continue on in her absence.

 

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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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Nationwide, Fisheries Landings Continue to Break Records Thanks to Sound Management http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/11/23/nationwide-fisheries-landings-continue-to-break-records-thanks-to-sound-management/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/11/23/nationwide-fisheries-landings-continue-to-break-records-thanks-to-sound-management/#comments Mon, 23 Nov 2015 08:00:35 +0000 J.P. Brooker http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11085

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.”

That commercial fishing captain’s booming business is a story reverberating in fisheries across the country, and is borne out in the 2014 Fisheries of the United States report issued by NOAA Fisheries this fall. The report, which is released annually, shows that U.S. fishermen landed 9.5 billion pounds of fish and shellfish with a dockside value of $5.4 billion, a volume that is higher than average for the past five years.

Recreational fisheries are seeing steady increases in landings as well. Here in the Gulf of Mexico the iconic red snapper fishery saw the highest allowable catch on record, at 14.3 million pounds of fish for 2015. Higher catch limits will ultimately result in more days on the water for recreational fishermen headed to the gulf to wet their lines from across the country as the stock continues to rebuild.

Out on the water, fishing is good because of good management practices put into place by federal regulators under the authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. Simply put, the law works, and commercial and recreational fishermen are reaping benefits while stocks continue to rebuild end ecosystems continue to rebound.

NOAA administrator for fisheries Eileen Sobeck noted that “sustainable fisheries generate billions of dollars for our economy, help keep saltwater recreational fishing as one of our nation’s favorite past times, and help coastal communities remain economically resilient.” For my commercial fishing friend, keeping fisheries sustainable will keep his business prosperous, and thankfully there is good evidence for staying optimistic.

The 2014 Fisheries of the United States report can be found here.

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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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Ocean Conservancy Supports Red Snapper Recovery and Improved Recreational Fishing http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/09/16/ocean-conservancy-supports-red-snapper-recovery-and-improved-recreational-fishing/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/09/16/ocean-conservancy-supports-red-snapper-recovery-and-improved-recreational-fishing/#comments Wed, 16 Sep 2015 19:00:33 +0000 Ivy Fredrickson http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10758

Photo: Ned Deloach / Marine Life Images

For nearly three decades, Ocean Conservancy has been fighting to protect red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico. The stock was formally declared as overfished in the late 1980s. Despite this long and rocky road, 2015 has been a landmark year for red snapper—the stock continues to rebuild as a result of shared sacrifices and innovative management strategies.

In April 2015, NOAA approved a management measure that will improve conservation and recreational fishing opportunities in the red snapper fishery in the Gulf of Mexico. This management measure divides the recreational red snapper quota between charter-for-hire and private recreational fishermen (known as ‘sector separation’ because it splits the recreational sector into two sub-sectors).

Sector separation allows fishery managers to develop individually tailored strategies for the needs of the unique charter-for-hire and private recreational components, which in turn will prevent continued catch-limit overages and foster continued rebuilding of this iconic Gulf species.

Sector separation has paved the way for far greater accountability in the charter-for-hire fishery, which in turn allows for better predictability of fishing seasons and greater access to the fishery as the stock continues to rebuild. The private recreational component stands to reap the same benefits from sector separation as fishery managers continue to develop tools and techniques to increase accountability amongst private recreational anglers and to prevent any future overages in the recreational sector as a whole.

Following approval of sector separation, the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging this critical management action. Last week, we filed an amicus curiae (‘friend of the court’) brief in the ongoing case. In doing so, Ocean Conservancy weighed in on the side of conservation and angler opportunity. We are asking the court to uphold separate quotas for charter fishermen and private anglers because it is the best way to keep red snapper stocks on the road to recovery.

As Ellen Bolen, Director of Ocean Conservancy’s Fish Conservation Program, stated last week:

“Sector separation is a smart conservation decision. It is good for the fishermen and good for the fish. Sector separation will greatly improve the management system, will guard against a return to overfishing, and will enhance rebuilding progress. Ocean Conservancy stands behind the government’s decision.”

We are urging the court to uphold sector separation in the recreational red snapper fishery. A reversal could threaten the rebuilding plan and cripple further improvements to the fishery that could bring better access for anglers while protecting the marine ecosystem.

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