As we flew yesterday from New Orleans to Pascagoula, MS, we could see hundreds of oil-blocking booms lining the Mississippi coast, set up at nearly every inlet and bay to prevent oil from seeping into river estuaries and bayous.
Local communities across the Gulf coast are banding together to protect this incredible resource. The people of Pascagoula have been through tough times before. On the ground, we drove past homes that remain abandoned after Hurricane Katrina flooded the area.
But the people here are tough and they’re ready to confront this latest threat to their home. What they want to know, however, is this: Will the nation and the world get behind them to keep the Gulf Coast alive?
I and my colleagues from the Conservancy met with state senators and representatives to talk about ways to protect the region. Researchers at the Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve explained to us the ecology of local wetlands and marshes, and the impacts the oil spill could have on sea turtles, bottlenose dolphin and manatees that live here. The estuary also serves as important breeding grounds to brown shrimp, speckled trout and oysters that are so critical to the local economy.
Everyone we met wanted to know if this tragedy would lead to national policies that would provide better protection to this globally important ecosystem. Would our national leaders use this opportunity to push legislation forward that would move us away from our dependence on oil and toward clean energy?
I told them I hoped so. That I thought we could, but only if we can get moving and enact policies that can help the country transition to a robust clean energy economy and that will keep our communities and natural systems healthy and strong.
In talking to the people of Pascagoula, I began to realize that we face a narrow window of opportunity in which we can harness the global attention being given this catastrophe and develop a long-term plan to restore the vital resources of the Gulf.
The Conservancy has worked for decades across the Gulf Coast — with projects spanning from Brownsville, TX to Key West, FL. But we must become bigger than the sum of our parts. We must develop a Gulf-wide conservation plan to take conservation and restoration to a larger scale.
During the past two days I have seen seagrass and oyster restoration projects that a few years ago covered just a few acres. Today, they span miles.
Our programs and staff are ready to do more. They are eager to do more. And, working with local communities, we will continue to protect and restore these coastal areas.
But we cannot squander the global attention being given this region today because of this tragedy.
Over the past two days we encountered reporters from across the world, from Al Jazeera to the Today Show. With the world watching, this is a chance to bring focus and support to these efforts.
Our Conservancy staff is ready. The people of the Gulf Coast are ready. Now, just as we wait for the growing oil slick to reach the coastal communities of this region, we also wait to see if others will join us to save this precious and productive system.