Ocean Currents » mississippi http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Mon, 31 Aug 2015 22:39:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Postcards from Mississippi http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/07/14/postcards-from-mississippi/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/07/14/postcards-from-mississippi/#comments Tue, 14 Jul 2015 18:07:07 +0000 Michelle Erenberg http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10460

In honor of the 5-year anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, Ocean Conservancy interviewed residents about the spill, its impacts and what the Gulf means to them. Over the 87 days—the length of the spill itself—we are releasing “postcards from the Gulf” to share their stories. This blog is the last of a four-part series featuring some of the full-length interviews from our postcards. Be sure to follow Ocean Conservancy on Facebook and Twitter to see all of the postcards.

The people of Mississippi do not take their environment for granted. Like Captain Louis Skrmetta, whose grandfather founded Ship Island Excursions in 1926 to ferry passengers from the Gulfport Harbor to enjoy Mississippi’s uninhabited barrier islands. For more than a century, the Skrmettas have been working in the seafood, boat building and ferry service industries. Skrmetta and his family make their living off this unique attraction of the Gulf. Mississippi folks aren’t shy about speaking up for their community either. That’s what I find so incredible about Roberta Avila who has been a tireless advocate for more than 25 years and who continues to raise the volume of Biloxi’s voices so they will be heard by restoration decision-makers. These are their stories.

Roberta Avila
Executive Director of the Steps Coalition
Biloxi, MS

What have you learned from the BP oil disaster?

Since the oil disaster, Steps has worked with regional and local groups to ensure residents are informed about decisions that are being made about how to restore the Gulf Coast. There are barriers to participation particularly with the Vietnamese community, many of whom don’t speak English.

I’m still very worried about what we don’t know, like what the effect is of the oil and the dispersant, and when will we know that? It may be 10 years, or 15 years. What we do know is that the oil disaster is having an impact on the sea life and that’s very worrisome. There is a real need to have a better understanding about environmental science and about how everything in the environment is connected.
If we don’t understand how things are impacted we won’t understand what projects to do or why.

What is your hope for restoring the Gulf?

We need to remain vigilant about how this recovery is going to move forward and making sure community members are at the table to talk about what they want to see in their community. Restoration really should be reflecting people’s values. People know what they want– they want a healthy sound so they can fish and clean water so they can swim. They want good seafood.

We need to make sure the funding is there to do the monitoring because we need the data to know how the Gulf is recovering and responding over the long term to the restoration choices we are making, so we are learning from that. We need to create opportunities for residents to be able to be trained and employed to do the work and help them get well-paying jobs restoring the Gulf.

Louis Skrmetta
Ship Island Excursions
Gulfport, MS

What do you love about the Gulf?

I started as a deckhand for my father in the ‘70s and now it’s been 40 years that I’ve been a licensed captain on a ferry boat. My grandfather was a Croatian immigrant that came to southern Mississippi in 1903. I run a business that’s been in my family for almost 85 years and we depend heavily on a clean environment.

What have you learned from the BP oil disaster?

We were having problems before the oil spill with overfishing and poor regulations. Then comes the oil spill and the heavy use of dispersants in the prime areas of these fishes’ prime spawning grounds. I have seen the mullet population around the Mississippi barrier islands literally disappear. In the old days, there used to be hundreds of thousands in the schools. Now when you see a school of mullet, it’s so rare. The same with the dolphins, whose main source of food is these mullet, and they were swimming right where the oil was and where they were spraying the dispersant.

There’s no doubt in my mind that this problem is not over. Yeah, the beaches are cleaner, the oil is out of sight, but we still have a problem of the remnants of oil right off the Mississippi barrier islands. Every time you have a storm or weather event, it’s lifted up and placed on the islands.

What is your hope for restoring the Gulf?

We need to protect and restore the barrier islands, those high quality natural beaches, those wonderful marine forests, the incredible wildlife that depends and lives on those islands, the quality of life the islands provide to the local residents and the visitors, those wonderful sunsets and great water quality coupled with what was once one of the richest seafood producers, the Mississippi Sound. If we do, we could create jobs and sustain our economy and the restoration money could be part of that.

More blogs from this series:
Postcards from Alabama
Postcards from Louisiana
Postcards from Florida

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Communities Come Together to Restore the Gulf http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/04/02/communities-coming-together-to-restore-the-gulf/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/04/02/communities-coming-together-to-restore-the-gulf/#comments Wed, 02 Apr 2014 13:30:48 +0000 Michelle Erenberg http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=7970

Great things happen when people come together and collaborate on a shared vision, especially when that shared vision is a healthier Gulf of Mexico. This notion rang true at a series of workshops Ocean Conservancy helped to coordinate in Mobile and Baldwin counties on the Alabama Gulf Coast. These “Community Conversations” were an opportunity to share information with and collect ideas from residents and business owners about the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s (NFWF) Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund.

As you might remember, NFWF established this fund with $2.544 billion from a settlement resolving the criminal cases against BP and Transocean as a result of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. Alabama will receive $356 million over the next five years to fund projects that benefit Alabama’s coastal and marine wildlife and habitats. Last fall, 22 projects were selected to restore and protect our natural resources around the Gulf Coast. Alabama received $12.6 million for three projects, which will restore oyster reefs and watersheds around Mobile Bay.

As NFWF begins to look toward the next phase of funding, it is important that communities begin to think about their priorities for restoring the natural resources in the coastal and marine environments.

Providing a forum and an opportunity for a conversation about community restoration priorities, the workshops proved to be a great success, with a total of nearly 100 people in attendance. Not only did residents have the opportunity to share their ideas for Gulf restoration with their neighbors, but the director of the Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund for Alabama, Florida and Mississippi was on hand to give more information about the purpose of the fund and the process of soliciting and selecting project proposals. Officials from the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, as well as local elected officials, were also there to hear what folks had to say. The most valuable part of these workshops was the hour spent in small groups with community members talking about restoration priorities and activities needed in their communities.

Those who attended identified their top priorities for restoration in Alabama, including improving water quality and restoring estuaries, rivers, streams, wetlands, marshes and oyster reefs. Many people expressed a need for better public access to beaches and water. It was clear that their vision for Alabama focused on investments in sustainable, resilient environments and economies; a sustainable fishing industry; clean waters, bays and estuaries; and a good quality of life for all people living on the coast.

The feedback from these community conversations will be compiled into a report to be given to restoration authorities, including NFWF and state agencies, to inform their decision-making. Meaningful public engagement is critical to the success of restoration in the Gulf, and Ocean Conservancy is proud to help our local leaders in that effort.

For more information about Gulf restoration through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, check out our fact sheet.

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Building a Mosaic of Restoration Projects for the Gulf http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/07/19/building-a-mosaic-of-restoration-projects-for-the-gulf/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/07/19/building-a-mosaic-of-restoration-projects-for-the-gulf/#comments Thu, 19 Jul 2012 14:38:52 +0000 Denny Takahashi Kelso http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=1807 sea turtle mosaic

Credit: luxomedia flickr stream

The BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster harmed communities from Texas to Florida and damaged the Gulf ecosystem from the ocean floor to the surface across a vast swath of waters and shoreline. Restoring these damaged resources will require a comprehensive, Gulf-wide restoration plan that covers coastal environments, blue-water resources and Gulf communities.

Because wildlife like birds, fish and marine mammals move throughout the ecosystem making use of coastal, nearshore and offshore environments, effective restoration requires a holistic approach. For example, restoration efforts for oyster reefs or barrier islands in Texas should complement the work done in Alabama or in Florida so that the full suite of species and habitats can recover.

The state and federal officials responsible for creating such a plan, the Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA) Trustees, are making decisions about how to spend the balance of the $1 billion committed by BP for early restoration. The decisions they make about early restoration and about the longer-term restoration program to follow have the potential to pay enormous dividends to the Gulf for generations.

To help the Trustees build an effective plan, a coalition of nonprofit groups, including Ocean Conservancy, has created a portfolio of 39 projects that reflect an integrated and Gulf-wide approach to restoration.

No doubt, other projects could have been included, but the point is to start a conversation about how we collectively fulfill our vision of a healthy and prosperous Gulf. This portfolio is more than a mosaic of projects; it also initiates an ongoing dialogue about how to most effectively restore the damage to the Gulf from the BP Deepwater Horizon tragedy.

Here are a few examples from the portfolio:

  • Sea Turtle Nesting Beach Conservation: The five species of sea turtles found in the Gulf are all either endangered or threatened. This project would protect their nesting habitat and nearby waters as well as provide for rehabilitation and care of injured sea turtles.
  • Large-scale Seagrass Restoration and Protection: Seagrass beds are essential components of healthy, productive and biodiverse aquatic ecosystems. This project aims to restore those areas damaged by vessel traffic, boom placement and other response and recovery efforts in ecologically sensitive areas.
  • Monitoring Marine Mammals, Sea Turtles and Bluefin Tuna: Additional observation and biological sampling in the Gulf will help scientists understand any lingering oil-exposure effects on these species.
  • Oyster Reef Restoration: Rebuilding reefs for juvenile oysters to colonize also provides nursery habitat for fish and nesting area for birds while protecting shorelines from erosion.
  • Threatened Coral Recovery: Restoration of shallow-water corals will provide critical habitat for fishes and other reef inhabitants, improving the health and resilience of this unique reef community.
  • Rebuilding Marsh and Barrier Islands: Marsh areas provide nursery habitat and help prevent dead zones by absorbing excess nutrients; barrier islands provide critical habitat for nesting birds. By restoring these ecosystems, a wide range of Gulf species benefit.
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Encouraging Surprises Mark Turtle Nesting Time in the Gulf of Mexico http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/07/06/unexpected-surprises-mark-turtle-nesting-time-in-the-gulf-of-mexico/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/07/06/unexpected-surprises-mark-turtle-nesting-time-in-the-gulf-of-mexico/#comments Fri, 06 Jul 2012 15:36:46 +0000 Bethany Kraft http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=1520

Loggerhead sea turtle hatchling by Jacey Biery

There is nothing more satisfying than when wonderful surprises turn up in unexpected places — like a $5 bill left in your blue jeans, or loggerhead sea turtles in Mississippi. Wait, what?

Yep. After an absence of 20 some odd years, two loggerhead sea turtle nests on Mississippi’s coast have scientists scratching their heads over what Institute for Marine Mammal Studies executive director Dr. Moby Solangi is calling a “very important and significant phenomena.”

Experts are not sure why these turtles chose to nest on the Mississippi coast this year. Whether due to a loss of ideal habitat in other areas, or competition for prime nesting space, this year is an usual one for sea turtles in the Gulf.

Not to be outdone by Mississippi, Alabama’s beaches are also experiencing an uptick in turtle traffic. Check out this recent article in the Mobile Press-Register about higher than normal numbers of turtles nesting on the sugar white sands of Alabama.  Share the Beach volunteers in Alabama are working overtime to mark and protect the nests to ensure that as many sea turtles as possible make it to the Gulf, hopefully to return one day to the same beach to start a family of their own!

Habitat loss and human activity are two of the biggest threats to that happening. In April 2010, the Deepwater Horizon disaster oiled miles of nesting habitat in the Gulf, and of course many turtles were harmed or killed by oil, making every acre of habitat and every egg laid precious.

What you can do to help:

  1. Support restoration in the Gulf. Ample nesting habitat is critical to sea turtles. And because they return to the same spot they hatched to lay their own eggs, we need to conserve and protect habitat for the long haul. From Florida to Texas, the health of sea turtle populations relies on our dedication and effort to protect them both in and out of the water.
  2. Share the Beach! When you head out to the beach for a little R&R, remember that you aren’t the only one enjoying the sand and surf. Turn off all outside lights at your hotel or condo at night. After hatching, sea turtles are guided into the water by the light of the moon and artificial lighting can confuse them.
  3. Don’t leave trash on the beach. Whatever you bring to the beach, take it with you or dispose of it properly.
  4. If you see a nest, don’t disturb it. It’s not only against the law, it’s not very nice.

Nesting season runs through October. Hopefully we will continue to bring you glad turtle tidings from the Gulf.

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Don’t Miss This Major Step Toward Gulf Restoration http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/06/28/dont-miss-this-major-step-toward-gulf-restoration/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/06/28/dont-miss-this-major-step-toward-gulf-restoration/#comments Thu, 28 Jun 2012 20:35:33 +0000 Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=1360

Shrimp boats outfitted to skim oil head out of Grand Isle to clean up the massive oil before it hits the Louisiana shore, Wed., June 9, 2010. Credit: Cheryl Gerber

No question it’s a big news day in Washington.  One big thing we want to make sure doesn’t get lost in the mix is the inclusion of the RESTORE Act in the final Transportation bill that Congress will vote on this week.  Directing the fines BP and other parties responsible for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster have to pay back to the Gulf for restoration has been a key priority of ours since the early days of this ordeal.

Thanks are in order to Senator Boxer for her leadership in the negotiations and the Senators and Representatives from the Gulf States, particularly Senators Landrieu, Nelson, and Shelby, and Representative Scalise for their work in shepherding the bill to final passage.  We’d like to thank Senator Nelson of Florida specifically for making sure the bill includes a science and monitoring program, which is always a crucial issue for Ocean Conservancy.

As our press statement says, “The Transportation bill is far from perfect, but passing the RESTORE Act is a big win for the people and waters of the Gulf. The RESTORE Act will direct funding toward the places where it’s needed most — to execute a comprehensive ecosystem restoration plan and to ensure the future health of the birds, dolphins, sea turtles, fish and, of course, the local communities that greatly depend on our oceans.”

In the coming days and weeks we’ll talk more about the good, and not so good, parts of the bill and what needs to happen next (like resolving the legal case against BP so that the money can actually start flowing).

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