If you’re like me, the recent holiday season has erased some of your memory (I think it’s all the sweets), and you may be in need of a refresher on where we left off last year in the Gulf restoration process. Last month, the Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment trustees released a long-awaited draft Early Restoration Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS). This was exciting news for the Gulf of Mexico, because the PEIS is critical for laying the groundwork for a comprehensive, long-term and integrated restoration process in the wake of the BP oil disaster.
Ocean Conservancy’s experts have been going through the nearly 2,500-page document with a fine-tooth comb over the last several weeks, and we can now present you with our preliminary views. When the PEIS process started last summer, over 1,000 of our supporters sent messages to the trustees with specific recommendations on what should be included in this document to ensure the Gulf ecosystem is made whole. Let’s see how well the trustees did:
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.
Starting today, hundreds of volunteers will begin heading to the beach every morning just before sunrise in search of tracks left by some exciting visitors: female sea turtles coming ashore under the cloak of darkness to lay their eggs.
May 1 marks the start of sea turtle nesting season in the southeast United States; it’s the only time of year when these animals return to dry sand after spending almost their entire lives in the ocean. Female sea turtles tend to return to the same stretch of beach where they hatched to lay their own eggs. After hatching, baby sea turtles must dig their way out of the sand and sprint to the surf while avoiding predators ranging from foxes and raccoons to sea birds and ghost crabs.
The dedicated volunteers who walk these beaches every morning look for signs of new sea turtle nests so that they can monitor and protect the nest sites and track how many turtles hatch. Yet on most walks, these volunteers find more trash on the beach than sea turtle tracks.
As you may know, all sea turtles in U.S. waters are on the Endangered Species List as either threatened or endangered. Since January 2010, NOAA has observed an increase in marine turtle deaths in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Sea turtle deaths can occur for a number of reasons, including disease, exposure to biotoxins or pollutants, ingestion of marine debris, vessel collisions, and fishery interactions. The proposed rule would have required turtle excluder devices (TEDs) on all shrimp trawling vessels, including boats that fish in-shore and in shallower waters than those currently required to use TEDs. These in-shore boats, known in the fishing community as skimmer and butterfly trawlers instead have to comply with “tow-time” restrictions, or limits to how long they can keep their nets submerged under water while fishing. Turtles drown when trapped in the nets too long.
NOAA has since withdrawn this proposed rule for multiple reasons, but primarily because the current design of TEDs did not seem to protect turtles effectively.
And it’s working. So far, over 170 million people have taken action for over 500,000 unique causes. The Causes community doesn’t just take action–they start movements by asking their friends and family to join them. Every campaign on Causes is automatically integrated with Facebook’s custom open graph, which means that actions are easily shared via Timeline and newsfeed. The ability for supporters to tweet, email, and post a Facebook status update is a click away on every campaign page.
Ocean Conservancy is running a campaign powered by Causes to turn awareness into action in protecting baby sea turtle nesting grounds along the Gulf of Mexico. The peer-to-peer sharing on Causes makes it easy for our own community to get the word out about our work. Our petition to support a nesting ground restoration project received over 20,000 signatures in fewer than two weeks.
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.
Have you heard that Coast Guard officials recently confirmed an oil slick found in the Gulf of Mexico last week matched oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster? Indeed, while the BP spill may be a distant memory to some, the Gulf still feels the effects today. The Coast Guard has said the oil slick “does not post a threat to the shoreline,” but it will certainly affect the Gulf’s offshore waters, which are just as vital to the region’s overall health.
In my latest Huffington Post piece, I weigh in on the threats this oil continues to pose in the Gulf and discuss the ways Ocean Conservancy continues to work toward marine restoration in this important area. One project helps point baby turtles back to sea: