Five years ago, I didn’t know much about oil spills. I worked for an environmental nonprofit in coastal Alabama, where I could literally see natural gas rigs pumping in the distance when I stood on the beach. But I didn’t think much about what a big spill could mean for my community until the worst-case scenario showed up on my doorstep.
Now, on the eve of the five-year memorial of the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion that took the lives of 11 men and led to the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history, I know a great deal more about oil spills and the toll they can take on communities.
Here are the five most important lessons I’ve learned in the last five years.
In a significant step forward in restoration of the Gulf of Mexico’s natural resources, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), in partnership with the five Gulf states and two federal agencies, announced over $100 million for restoration projects across the Gulf. A total of 22 projects will restore a number of Gulf habitats and species, ranging from coastal dunes in Texas, to oyster reefs in Alabama and shorebird nests in Mississippi.
Funding for these projects comes from the criminal settlement against Transocean and BP, which were finalized late last year. These funds must be used to remedy the harm caused to our natural resources in the Gulf due to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, and these are some of the first fine monies to be put toward restoration. (Click here to read more about the ongoing civil trial and what’s at stake.)
We are particularly excited about two projects in Florida that support restoration of offshore Gulf species: enhanced reef fish (think: red snapper) health assessments and turtle-friendly beach lighting. Marine restoration projects like this are part of the comprehensive approach that Ocean Conservancy advocates.
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 »
NOAA recently released several photos of a dead sperm whale found in the Gulf of Mexico just a few months after the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster began. While NOAA’s scientists were unable to determine the cause of death, this story does serve as a very graphic reminder that more must be done to protect the marine life in the Gulf.
This whale is one of two dead sperm whales that have been reported in the oil spill area of the Gulf. Two whales may not seem like much, but sperm whales are a federally listed endangered species in the United States, and even a small number of deaths could seriously impact their population.
Sperm whales, which can live up to 70 years, can be found year-round in the northern Gulf, and they are especially common near the Mississippi Canyon, where the Deepwater Horizon oil rig was located. Sperm whales spend most of their time in deep water, diving to the ocean bottom to snack on giant squids and other ocean creatures. With all that diving throughout the water column, it’s possible the whales were exposed to oil or dispersants. The hustle and bustle of oil spill response activities can be equally harmful.
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 »