Ocean Currents » marine restoration http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Fri, 28 Apr 2017 22:26:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 The Five “Rs” of Oil Spills http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/04/16/the-five-rs-of-oil-spills/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/04/16/the-five-rs-of-oil-spills/#comments Thu, 16 Apr 2015 13:00:57 +0000 Bethany Kraft http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10099

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.


When you drill for oil offshore, the risk of a spill can be minimized, but it’s never completely eliminated. Drilling in the Gulf of Mexico is not going away anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do everything in our power to minimize the risk of another disaster. In January 2011, the national commission charged with investigating the BP oil disaster made a number of recommendations about improving the safety of offshore energy production nationwide, but many of those recommendations haven’t been implemented.

It’s not just the Gulf at risk of the next big spill. As drilling moves into deeper and deeper water, and into harsher (Arctic?) and new (Atlantic?) areas, it’s a question of when, not whether, the next spill will happen.


One of the important lessons of the BP oil disaster was how unprepared we were to respond to a spill of that magnitude. BP’s response plan indicated it had the ability and resources to respond to an offshore blowout of up to 250,000 barrels per day. That didn’t turn out to be the case.

We also learned quickly that the Area Contingency Plans, which lay out how the federal government will respond to a disaster like an oil spill, were woefully incomplete. The U.S. Coast Guard has made significant progress in updating those plans, but it is still unclear how local officials and community leaders can be incorporated into the Incident Command response structure and bring their local expertise to bear for the next oil spill response effort.

Lastly, response technology is stuck in the 1960s, while drilling technology continues in leaps and bounds. Skimming, burning, containing and dispersing oil are still pretty much the only options when it comes to a marine spill. The Department of Interior introduced new drilling regulations this week to strengthen response capabilities, but it doesn’t go far enough. And the closest that Congress has come to making any regulatory change is calling a hearing on the “Macondo incident.” Oil companies need to invest in research and development of new response technology as part of doing business in the offshore environment.


Understanding the baseline health of an ecosystem like the Gulf is critical in knowing whether it is thriving or merely surviving. Under the Natural Resource Damage Assessment process, BP is responsible for paying for restoration activities to return the Gulf ecosystem back to the baseline conditions of April 19, 2010 (the day before the explosion). This is a difficult task though, because research in the Gulf has been historically underfunded, and so we lack the information that tells us what we need to know about the health of the Gulf and how the ecosystem changes over time. In order to address impacts from the BP disaster and be more prepared in the future, we need to invest significantly in long-term monitoring in the Gulf. Long-term science and data collection should be a requirement for any areas under consideration for new offshore drilling.


When an oil spill impacts your environment and the wildlife that depends on it, they can recover more easily if they were healthy to begin with. The Gulf is a vast ecosystem with an incredible capacity to adapt to harsh conditions, but that doesn’t mean we can ignore the overall health of our natural resources indefinitely. Protecting critical habitats and resources, restoring functionality to impaired natural processes such as how water flows and reducing stresses on resources should be an ongoing and concerted effort if we are serious about maintaining our way of life on the Gulf Coast. We shouldn’t wait for an oil spill to put an entire ecosystem in peril before we spend money on shoring up the resources we rely on for food, recreation and jobs.


Resilience has become a buzzword lately, but in its most traditional sense, resilience means the ability to “bounce back” from something. Hurricanes, floods, oil spills… these disasters are becoming increasingly common on the Gulf Coast and around the world. How exhausting if we are supposed to continually rebuild and “bounce back” to where we were before. You never make progress that way. LaDon Swann with Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant once suggested that resilience should mean “bouncing forward”. In order to do that, we have to think hard about what we need to do to adapt to life in a changing world, especially on the coast.

Want to learn more about the BP oil disaster and share your thoughts? Join our tweet chat on April 17 at 1pm CST. Send questions to Ocean Conservancy’s staff by using the hashtag #OurGulf.

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A Victory for Fish and Turtles in the Gulf of Mexico http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/11/15/a-victory-for-fish-and-turtles-in-the-gulf-of-mexico/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/11/15/a-victory-for-fish-and-turtles-in-the-gulf-of-mexico/#comments Fri, 15 Nov 2013 21:48:26 +0000 Libby Fetherston http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=6961 sea turtle swimming near Florida

Photo: Lisa Kelly, Photo Contest 2013

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.

NFWF, The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration should be commended for ensuring that the marine resources that make Florida an international tourist destination often recognized as “The Fishing Capital of the World“ are closely monitored and restored.

While the jury is still out on the cumulative impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil and dispersants in the water, supporting recovery of reef fish and sea turtles is a wise investment. In particular, NFWF’s $3 million commitment to additional data collection on the fish and the fishery will aid recovery and foster improved ecosystem understanding and management.

The $1.5 million project to retrofit beachfront lights on or near important nesting habitat in the Florida Panhandle will greatly increase sea turtle survival, as artificial lighting can impair a sea turtle hatchling’s ability to reach the ocean on its own. Since Florida boasts 90 percent of all sea turtle nesting in the continental United States and sea turtles were one of the species hit hard by the oil disaster, this project is good news indeed.

Restoration is a long process and restoration in the marine environment, in particular, is a large and daunting endeavor, but it is critically important for the coastal communities that are dependent upon the beauty and bounty of the Gulf. NFWF and the Gulf states have taken an important step today toward making the Gulf whole.

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The Gulf of Mexico Ecosystem: There’s a Map for That http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/06/24/the-gulf-of-mexico-ecosystem-theres-a-map-for-that/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/06/24/the-gulf-of-mexico-ecosystem-theres-a-map-for-that/#comments Mon, 24 Jun 2013 12:53:35 +0000 Matt Love http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=6148 Blue crab map from Gulf AtlasDo 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.

Gulf Atlas coverThe 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.

Not only is this atlas a great resource for everyone to learn about the Gulf ecosystem, but it can also serve as an important decision-making tool for resource managers who are charged with balancing the ever-increasing demands on the ocean with conserving a vibrant and resilient ecosystem.

These maps and their related descriptions are also important tools to use as we plan for the unprecedented restoration programs that are beginning to develop in the wake of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. These restoration programs are an amazing opportunity to help improve the health of the Gulf.

It is important that the critical resources illustrated in the atlas are taken into account in order to develop the most effective and comprehensive Gulf-wide restoration projects.

Check out the atlas now!

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New Photos Serve as Graphic Reminder that Gulf Wildlife Needs Help http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/10/29/new-photos-serve-as-graphic-reminder-that-gulf-wildlife-needs-help/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/10/29/new-photos-serve-as-graphic-reminder-that-gulf-wildlife-needs-help/#comments Mon, 29 Oct 2012 20:27:13 +0000 Rachel Guillory http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=3367

Credit: NOAA

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.

Should we be worried? Researchers across the country are monitoring the effects of BP’s oil on a variety of important species in the Gulf of Mexico, from seabirds and vital fish populations to blue crabs scuttling along the seafloor. These impacts tell us a lot about the Gulf’s health following the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. Using this information, Ocean Conservancy can ensure the restoration of this national treasure and protect marine life for the future of the Gulf and the communities who depend on it.

Luckily, solutions exist. There are great marine restoration projects that are necessary for the recovery of sperm whales and other key species, such as a large-scale tagging program for marine mammals, sea turtles and seabirds. A project like this can help to improve estimations of population size, identify movement patterns, determine mortality and reproductive rates, and to take the pulse of the Gulf to see if we are really recovering from the BP oil disaster.

This is just one of the few projects Ocean Conservancy and other marine experts across the Gulf Coast have identified that can help to turn the tide on the long-term degradation of the Gulf and set us on the right course to a full recovery. If you’d like to learn more about how we can restore the marine environment in the Gulf of Mexico, check out our “menu” of marine restoration options.

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Marine Restoration Report Emphasizes Importance of Offshore Waters http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/09/06/marine-restoration-report-emphasizes-importance-of-offshore-waters/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/09/06/marine-restoration-report-emphasizes-importance-of-offshore-waters/#comments Thu, 06 Sep 2012 17:55:04 +0000 Bethany Kraft http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=2856

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.

When I talk to people about the importance of marine restoration in the wake of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster (after all, the explosion happened offshore, and the vast majority of oil is still lurking beneath the surface of the Gulf), the first question I am asked is how one would actually go about restoring marine resources.

To answer that question, Ocean Conservancy, along with the Gulf of Mexico University Research Collaborative (GOMURC) convened experts from academic, governmental and non-governmental institutions as well as fishing groups to serve as panelists in a workshop to identify and rank marine restoration priorities.

In a spirit of cooperation and creativity and with a clear recognition that our Gulf citizens and economies cannot thrive without a healthy marine environment, these experts spent two very long days discussing and vetting marine restoration concepts that, while not exhaustive, provide an important resource for talking about restoration of our blue water resources.

The outcome of those discussions, the Marine Restoration Workshop Report, is a clarion call to consider our blue water any time we think about restoration in the Gulf region from ocean habitats to fishery resources to marine wildlife and human uses of marine resources.

You can read the report in its entirety here.

Because the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill was unprecedented in size, depth, duration and distance from shore, there is relatively little experience to guide the planning and implementation of restoration measures specifically for the marine environment, with emphasis on offshore habitats, species and human uses.

This report focuses on marine ecosystem priorities in order to supplement and complement the assessments and resources that are devoted, appropriately, to the restoration of coastal environments.

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