The Blog Aquatic » restoration News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Thu, 28 Aug 2014 17:32:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Restoration Report Card: Gulf Council Fails at Public Participation Fri, 22 Aug 2014 01:09:56 +0000 Kara Lankford

Today the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council made some big announcements and provided more information on how they will choose projects to restore the Gulf. We’ve graded the Council’s efforts today, and the results are a mixed bag.

Project selection process: B+

The Council announced that the window for submitting projects to restore the Gulf starts today and will be open until at least November 17. They’ve also provided a detailed strategy on how they will evaluate projects based on science and the goals of the Council. While some questions remain, these details further lay the groundwork for the Council to select projects based on merit, not politics. For example, how will the science reviews be used to further prioritize projects? Will reviewers be permitted to rank projects as high, medium or low priority to guide Council staff recommendations? Will the public have access to summaries of independent reviews to help inform their comments? Answers to these questions are important, but overall, this is great news for the Gulf.

Public participation: F

The Council’s new fact sheet on public participation doesn’t provide details about how they plan to achieve meaningful public engagement across the Gulf Coast. Since the Council was formed with the passage of the RESTORE Act in 2012, they have frequently reiterated the importance of public engagement. In the spring of this year, Council staff made the rounds in each of the five Gulf states to ask conservation nonprofits, community leaders and fishermen for recommendations on how to engage the public in restoring the Gulf. These groups provided input under the impression that a process for participation and involvement was coming. Now, there is no mention of these recommendations in the Council’s fact sheet.

The Council states they “will continue to seek input from the public as it continues its work to plan for and implement large-scale ecosystem restoration projects across the Gulf region.” However, they fail to outline how this will be achieved. There is no website for sending project ideas to the Council and no list of community meetings for Gulf residents to speak out about how Gulf restoration dollars should be spent. The Council should seek public participation as a cohesive body, not as individual agencies or states. This will ensure a coordinated, consistent process across the five Gulf states, and will allow for all council members to hear from the Gulf Coast citizens, from Texas to Florida.

The Council also states “restoration work in the Gulf region will not be successful without genuine and meaningful input from the people in the region.” We couldn’t agree more. With a task so critical and personal to the people of the Gulf Coast, their involvement should be front and center. The Council should stay true to their word and provide a meaningful platform for Gulf Coast residents to be involved in the restoration process.

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New Projects Miss Opportunity to Jump Start Restoration in the Gulf Fri, 27 Jun 2014 01:45:58 +0000 Kara Lankford

© Cheryl Gerber

Today marks another milestone in the process to restore the Gulf of Mexico. But, the news isn’t all positive.  We’ve been waiting four years now for BP to “make it right” for the Gulf and clean up the mess they made when the BP Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. We knew the process of determining how much damage BP had done, sending them the bill and restoring what was lost would take time. This process is known as the Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA), and even in the case of smaller-scale oil spills in the past, it has taken years to complete. Knowing that the full extent of damage in the Gulf could take years, even a decade or more, to document, BP and our Gulf leaders decided to speed up the recovery process—a decision that seemed to be a step in the right direction.

If you recall back in April 2011, one year after the disaster began, BP announced in an unprecedented agreement that it would provide $1 billion to begin the much-needed restoration process in the wake of what became the largest oil disaster in U.S. history. This agreement, the largest of its kind ever reached under NRDA, was a hopeful step toward recovery. With this $1 billion “down payment” from BP, the healing process of this vast and precious ecosystem could begin.

But, this agreement was also an experiment—an experiment in how the Trustees will choose to use the NRDA funding in the future, how they will work together, and how they will ensure recovery of the Gulf. Today, the Trustees announced the final list of phase III early restoration projects, most of which are geared toward addressing lost recreational or human use, rather than restoring the Gulf itself. As we watch boardwalks being built and construction crews developing beach-front property with NRDA funding, we must ask ourselves, what are the end results of this experiment? Is this the kind of legacy we want to leave behind? For my part, I see a lost opportunity to emphasize the importance of restoring our precious natural resources consistent with the intent of NRDA.

One doesn’t have to look hard to find evidence of injury. Over the last four years, scientists have documented injury in fish that were exposed to oil and dispersants, found large areas of polluted deep-sea sediments and dead deep-sea corals, and estimated the die-off of massive numbers of seabirds. In addition, sick and dead dolphins continue to wash ashore in unusually high numbers. Yet, only one project has been slated for funding that addresses these impacts.

We are, however, encouraged that the trustees are considering a long-term approach to monitoring for the final Damage Assessment and Restoration Plan for the disaster. But we’re concerned that some Phase III projects may have environmental impacts and in those cases we would encourage further NEPA analysis.

The Trustees were given a never-before-seen chance to begin the recovery process with $1 billion and so far they have largely lost this opportunity to jump-start restoration. The question remains, at what cost to the Gulf of Mexico?

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Tropical Storm Karen Leaves Tar Balls on the Beach Wed, 09 Oct 2013 16:00:42 +0000 Rachel Guillory

Credit: NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team

Residents across the Gulf Coast breathed a sigh of relief last weekend as Tropical Storm Karen dissipated (and as an added bonus, the humidity dropped). But as many of us feared, the storm kicked up more oil in the Gulf as it passed, and a fresh batch of tar balls have washed ashore on Grand Isle, La.

This is an ugly reminder that oil still lurks offshore, and we have not yet seen the end of the oil’s impacts on the Gulf.

Studies are still underway to confirm that the oil in the tar balls matches the oil from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. In the meantime, the U.S. Coast Guard has ordered BP to clean up the area. Last year, Hurricane Isaac brought tar mats to the Gulf Coast from Louisiana to Alabama, one of which stretched 165 feet across the beach.

Tropical storms and hurricanes are a part of life in the Gulf region, and since the BP disaster, we must be prepared for tar balls and tar mats to continue to wash up. Long-term monitoring of the marine environment is crucial to keep our finger on the pulse of the Gulf.

Science is one of the best tools we have to predict if, how and where we can expect to see continued impacts of oil in our marine and coastal environments. To find out more about how the Gulf works as well as the habitats and wildlife the Gulf supports, check out our new atlas.

BP is on trial again this month to determine how much oil was released in the 87 days it took BP to cap the Macondo well. As the debates continue, it’s important to remember that even though the well was capped on July 15, 2010, the repercussions of this disaster will be felt for years to come.

Have you spotted tar balls on the Gulf Coast in the wake of Tropical Storm Karen? Call 800-424-8802 or visit to report it.

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Next Steps in Gulf Recovery: Restoring Region’s Health and Livelihoods Fri, 26 Jul 2013 14:25:39 +0000 Bethany Kraft shrimp boat

Credit: Bethany Kraft / Ocean Conservancy

With yesterday’s news that Halliburton intentionally destroyed evidence related to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, we are seeing that the truth about that disaster is still coming out. The company’s callousness at least has one bright side—it will provide more resources to an important restoration organization. But this isn’t enough.

The people of the Gulf are still suffering from this tragedy.

Three years ago, I found myself at a late-night community meeting on the coast in Alabama to discuss the oil disaster. At that point, oil was still spewing uncontrolled from the wellhead and huge portions of the Gulf were closed to fishing—meaning that thousands of people were out of a job and countless more were unable to enjoy doing the things they’d always taken for granted, like fishing, boating and swimming in the Gulf.

About an hour in, a broad-shouldered, weathered man stood up to discuss what this disaster meant for him. He explained that he made his living as a fisherman and now couldn’t afford to feed his family. As he talked, his voice began to break, and he struggled to keep talking through the tears. It was then that I knew this disaster was deeper than the sheen on the water; it was in the hearts of each Gulf resident.

I think about him often. I think about how we all felt during that awful summer. I remember how unsure we were that life would ever be the same.

I know it’s easy to forget how fearful we were when the oil was gushing. But the truth is we were and still are feeling the impacts of that summer. Luckily, there is a process called the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA). The purpose of the assessment is to compensate the people of the Gulf for the impacts to our natural resources and our lost use and enjoyment of those resources.

Funding to restore the Gulf of Mexico should fully compensate the public for their losses and include the marine environment where the spill happened in the first place. Unfortunately, the money available for this process could be used for projects that don’t help fix the damage done.

We need the NRDA Trustees to spend Gulf restoration funds on bringing back the health and livelihoods of the Gulf region.

NRDA funds are intended to support projects like:

  • Restoring fisheries
  • Restoring oyster reefs
  • Constructing living shorelines
  • Restoring dunes damaged in the BP response effort
  • Enhancing nesting areas for seabirds and turtles
  • Restoring sea grass beds

Right now, we have the opportunity to make sure the trustees listen to the people of the Gulf. They need to understand we won’t stand by and watch funding get misused on projects that don’t work to restore the natural resources we rely on every day.

Ocean Conservancy’s goal is to send 1,000 public comments from Gulf state residents to the trustees before the comment period ends on Aug. 2. If you live in the Gulf or know someone who does, please share this message and help ensure that funding to restore the Gulf is used for its intended purposes for years to come.

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Public Engagement Missing from Early Restoration in the Gulf Fri, 03 May 2013 20:04:25 +0000 Bethany Kraft

Bayou La Batre, Alabama

This week, over $600 million in early restoration projects were announced by states in the Gulf of Mexico.   This is BP money that is specifically to be used to address the damage caused by the oil disaster.  Some of the projects announced this week, like the oyster reef restoration project in Alabama, and many projects in Louisiana, are likely to be supported by the public and to be appropriate uses of Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA) funding. Unfortunately, the public can’t make that determination without access to more information.

We are disappointed to see these projects announced without the inclusion of any sort of environmental or overarching analysis to provide transparency or opportunities for public involvement, not to mention provide the legal basis and policy guidance for addressing the injury caused by the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

The NRDA Trustees do not dispute their legal duties under both the Oil Pollution Act (OPA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to produce a Restoration Plan and Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS), which would accomplish this. Indeed, it has been two years since they announced that a draft Plan and PEIS would be produced by early 2012. Yet we continue to see an assortment of projects announced without these guiding documents, effectively limiting citizens from full participation in the restoration process as required by law and providing little confidence that these projects in aggregate will make the public whole.

This effort is about restoring the Gulf following the largest oil spill in U.S. history. And giving the public certainty that the government is getting this right is not just a good thing to do, it’s what the law requires.

Before any of the recently announced new projects receive final approval, the public needs additional information about the nature, scope, and the geographic extent of the injury, as well as a Restoration Plan. This is what the law promises, and the Trustees must deliver.

Early restoration projects implemented without the guidance of a PEIS and Restoration Plan undermine the Trustees’ own goal of developing a holistic, ecosystem-based restoration plan because they do not include a full range of alternatives, nor do they provide a level of analysis that gives the public a sense of why some projects were chosen over other options.

Despite the murkiness of how project decisions are made as part of early restoration, one thing is clear: the public stands to lose big in the long run if the Trustees refuse to engage them as a meaningful part of decision-making.

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Restoring Mobile Bay with 600 of our closest friends Thu, 11 Apr 2013 21:33:17 +0000 Kara Lankford

Credit: Erika Nortemann/TNC

Last weekend my coworkers and I had the unique opportunity to get our feet wet in Mobile Bay and help our partners build a living shoreline. This amazing restoration project took place at Pelican Point near Fairhope, Alabama. Over 600 volunteers, including 300 airmen from Keesler Air Force Base, turned out early Saturday morning to help construct what in a few years will become an oyster reef teeming with life.

A living shoreline is an innovative approach to protecting an eroding shoreline, as well as creating habitat for the creatures that live in the bay. The Pelican Point living shoreline was created using structures called “oyster castles,” which are made up of interlocking concrete blocks. These concrete blocks weigh about 35 pounds each, so volunteers not only got to participate in building a reef, they also got a great workout!

A total of four oyster reefs will be built with 20,500 of these blocks when the project is complete. These four reefs will protect 329 feet of natural shoreline by helping to minimize erosion from boat wakes and strong waves generated by storms. Baby oysters, also known as spat, will attach to almost any hard substrate. These oyster castles will soon serve as a home for thousands of tiny oysters, and the reef will begin to come alive with all manner of marine life. Oysters are also a great way to improve water quality. Just one of these small bivalves has the ability to filter up to 50 gallons of water per day.

This restoration project is part of the 100-1000 Restore Coastal Alabama initiative. In the wake of the BP oil disaster and led in part by our own Bethany Kraft, the Alabama Coastal Foundation, the Nature Conservancy, Mobile Baykeeper, and the Ocean Foundation came together to launch the 100-100 Restore Coastal Alabama partnership as a first step in restoring the Alabama coast. The initiative will build 100 miles of oyster reefs and living shorelines to promote the growth of 1,000 acres of coastal marsh and seagrass beds. The Pelican Point project puts the 100-1000 initiative over the two mile mark for oyster reef restoration.

Ocean Conservancy would like to send out a big high five to the organizers of the Pelican Point restoration project, as well as to all the volunteers, military personal, contractors and organizations who participated. Keep up the great work, and we look forward to the next 100-1000 project!

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Thank You For Helping Us Protect Sea Turtles and Restore the Gulf of Mexico Mon, 24 Dec 2012 18:00:40 +0000 Bethany Kraft


Greetings from the Lone Star State! Amidst the hustle and bustle of last minute Christmas preparations, and visiting with family (and family dogs–there are 4 at my feet as I write!), I feel compelled to take a moment to thank our members and supporters who took time this month to support Ocean Conservancy’s work to ensure that Gulf Restoration moves forward in a way that protects the wildlife, people and places that make the Gulf a national treasure. After exceeding our goal of 30,000 petition signatures to support sea turtle nesting ground restoration, the project has officially been approved for funding.

Restoring the Gulf from not only the oil disaster but also from decades of problems like wetland loss, nutrient pollution and loss of habitat is a huge undertaking, and a complex challenge. In the Gulf Restoration Program, we focus on all of the moving pieces that will hopefully create a coordinated effort for restoration on a scale not often seen. From advocating for the RESTORE Act, to participating in countless public meetings, from testifying in front of Congress, to working with the people who make their living on the water, from advocating for science to support restoration, to pushing for projects that will have a significant impact on the species we love– we do it all, and we do it with all our heart. Even so, it’s easy to get lost in the details, to keep one’s head down and just keep pushing, sometimes not even coming up for air when it’s time to celebrate important victories.

But you have reminded me that there is much to celebrate. Over 30,000 of you supported this project to improve sea turtle nesting habitat. This overwhelming show of support is a clear indication that we are on the right track pushing for projects that cross political boundaries and protect the marine species that are so important to us. Your effort sends a strong message to decision-makers that marine restoration is a critical priority in the Gulf, and that we will accept nothing less than full restoration of this incredible place called the Gulf of Mexico.

I’ll be honest with you– I was absolutely blown away by the number of folks who signed our petition. It’s easy for me to get lost in the work, and you have reminded me, and the staff of the Gulf Restoration Program, that we have 30,000 partners working alongside us to restore the Gulf. I am grateful beyond words for your support.

Let’s keep pushing together in 2013– there is still much to do, but I know that together we can restore the Gulf. Please consider doing an ocean of good and give a gift that will benefit sea turtles and all of the vibrant life in our ocean.

Thank you. For your support of sea turtle projects, for your love of the ocean, for inspiring me, thank you.

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