Bringing the Gulf Back to Full Health

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Published on August 13th, 2010  |  Discuss This Article  

Some good news is finally emerging from the Gulf of Mexico. The leak that spewed more than 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf waters finally appears to be plugged.

The Nature Conservancy is now getting back in the water and back to work conserving the Gulf and its resources. But we—as a nation—cannot return to business as usual.

Success in the Gulf will require much more than just cleaning up the oil that has seeped into marshes, wetlands and estuaries. We must also address the neglect and damage that has threatened the region for decades.

The work may sound daunting, but it can be done.

For 40 years, The Nature Conservancy has collaborated with communities, fishers, businesses, conservationists, lawmakers and others to protect and restore the Gulf of Mexico. In the wake of the spill, we are now reaching out even more broadly, expanding our restoration plans and programs to help bring the Gulf truly back to health.

Among the priority actions we are now pursuing is a series of demonstration projects to show the potential for large-scale restoration of oyster reefs and the multiple benefits they provide people and nature. A single oyster can filter as much as 50 gallons of water a day—improving the Gulf’s water quality—and oyster reefs act as natural barriers between coastal communities and storm surges, and serve as vital nursery grounds for many commercial and other fish species.

But oyster reefs are the most threatened marine habitat on Earth with 85 percent of the world’s oyster reefs gone due to pollution, dredging, overharvesting and loss of habitat.

The Gulf of Mexico, however, is a place where investments in oyster reef restoration can make a real difference.

In Louisiana and Alabama, the Conservancy is constructing interlocking rectangular cages made of welded steel and filled with mesh bags of recycled oyster shells collected by volunteers and staff. These structures are placed along the coast where they attract oyster larvae that rebuild degraded or destroyed reefs.

In Florida, the Conservancy is laying hundreds of mesh mats tied with oyster shells in shallow lagoon waters, creating a massive “welcome mat” that free floating larvae settle on and grow to produce the backbone of a healthy new reef.

The Mississippi Sound represents the entire Mississippi coastal area and its health is important to neighboring states and the wider Gulf as well. To help protect and restore this important resource, the Conservancy is expanding seagrass and oyster reef restoration projects in the Sound, as well as continuing investment in coastal land preservation.

In Texas, the Conservancy will soon begin creating three-foot high reef structures with barge-loads of loose rock that will attract oyster larvae to restore the historic Half Moon oyster reef.

In addition to expanding these and other on-the-ground actions, the Conservancy is bringing in top scientific experts who have worked on marine protection, biodiversity and climate change to develop new strategies to help the Gulf.

And we’re developing new technology to interactively combine social and ecological information to support decisions on Gulf-wide recovery and restoration and help decision-makers understand where and how we can conduct restoration work.

To achieve all of this, we have launched the Fund for Gulf Coast Restoration, with an initial goal of raising $10 million. We’ve also developed a comprehensive Gulf restoration vision—the Gulf 20/20 report—to guide how that money will be invested.

We have seen a tremendous outpouring of support over the past few months from individuals and foundations, and we hope that the corporate sector will also contribute to this critical work in the Gulf.

Everyone who draws from the Gulf’s rich resources—especially those stakeholders who have contributed to its degradation—must play a part in its restoration. Everyone—from oil and gas companies to seafood businesses to shipping firms to the tourism industry to non-profit organizations to government at all levels—must work together to restore and do what is needed to ensure this national treasure will survive—and thrive—for future generations.

The Gulf is arguably the nation’s greatest natural resource—a place where a healthy environment is clearly linked to healthy communities and a healthy economy. The Gulf’s waters supply us with more than 1.3 billion pounds of seafood—valued at $661 million—each year. Tourism and recreation around the Gulf generate more than 600,000 jobs with $9 billion in wages each year. Half of the nation’s domestic oil and gas is produced in the Gulf region.

BP has said it will fund the immediate clean up of the oil, but that will not be enough to reverse decades of decline.

In addition to private fundraising efforts, federal and state governments have an important role to play. The CLEAR Act, which recently passed the U.S. House of Representatives, would provide long-term funding, safety and action needed to ensure the health and resilience of the Gulf. It is imperative that the Senate follow suit and pass similar legislation this fall.

The tragedy of the oil spill placed a spotlight on the Gulf and sparked international concern for its wildlife, natural systems and people. Now that the leak is capped, we cannot once again turn our backs to the ongoing threats that are slowly destroying the Gulf.

We must all join forces and get back to work in the Gulf. But for all of us who rely on the Gulf and the vast resources it provides our nation, we cannot return to business as usual.

(Image 1: Mark Tercek. Image credit: Erika Nortemann/TNC. Image 2: Jeff DeQuattro, NOAA-ARRA project manager in Mobile, Alabama, looks out over the ReefBLK installations aloog Coffee Island. Source: Beth Maynor Young/TNC))

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Comments: Bringing the Gulf Back to Full Health

  •  Comment from neisi

    i like to help for your group
    how i can help you/

  •  Comment from Dee Shoemaker

    The countless oil spills occurring in our oceans need to stop and we can make it happen by reducing our dependency on oil and products made from oil. The oceans have long been a dumping ground for individuals and companies, this must stop. Some people think it’s ok to pee in the ocean but it’s not ok. Our very lives thrive because of the oceans. We eat food from the oceans, creatures live in the oceans, our children swim in the oceans. I believe we need to care for our oceans, don’t you.

  •  Comment from ben

    Is there a Nature Conservancy fund specific to the Gulf cleanup that we can contribute to and know that the money is only spent on Gulf restoration?

  •  Comment from Barrie Fritsche

    Thanks for all you do. You are very important to the earth’s safety.

  •  Comment from Laura Curran

    The oil spill has afffected so many wonderful animals. People are the voice and the emotion behind this beautiful creatures who share our planet. By supporting and by speaking out to congress it all helps. I am so PROUD to be part of The Nature Comservacy. I know, I make a diffrence and everyone counts. So if you read this and wonder how to help! Just jump in and talk to your friends and all the people in your life and show them how much you love life. Life all of life. On water and land. All around you. THERE IS LIFE.Thank you.

  •  Comment from Rudy Rasyidi

    I appreciate all you have done of The Nature Conservacy, that’s the great job. May God Bless you all !.

  •  Comment from Christian Paul Diaz

    It takes time for the gulf of Mexico to be restored but as long as there are people and organization who care and have deeply concern for its restoration, it will be a success. Thank you to The Nature Conservancy and to all who help in restoring the gulf. To all of you I am so proud.

  •  Comment from Penny Edwards

    In a time when the entire nation seems to think that:
    “The hole is plugged and it can now be business as usual”,
    it is so encouraging to read the vision of The Nature Conservancy. We need people like you and your conservancy at the helm with other ecologically-sound thinkers. The “rest of the story” after the well plug, is just beginning. Know that there are progressive thinkers living the Gulf region who are looking beyond the quick fix to a total healing of delicate ecological balances on the brink of extinction.
    We understand that this is a GLOBAL PROBLEM and NOT just a NATIONAL PROBLEM. The perspective on the breath and depth of the impact of this disaster must be as all-encompassing as the eco-system itself…..for isn’t that where the ripple effect ends?

  •  Comment from Jack Enright

    Many brave souls have put a lot of work into salvaging the Gulf. It will take many years to restore the damage from this enormous spill. We can not expect to see these waters pristine overnight. Besides the contamination from oil slicks, sludge, tar there is the lingering effects of biomagnification of toxins in the food chain. The plankton population is sure to plummet and the population that does survive will be contaminated with heavy metals and toxins used to disperse the oil. The food chain has been disrupted at the bottom. This will affect those consumers at the top. So is it really worth it to take such risks inside of an environment that millions of people depend on as a food resource?

  •  Comment from Kshitij

    That is a very good job done by every one. Lets hope such disaster never occurs again.
    I like to congratulate each and every who participated to stop the oil spill and those who are helping to bring the gulf back to its normal condition.
    We are proud of you all.
    Thank You.

  •  Comment from I.L. Anderson

    I was so happy to return to Pasco County, FL in 1992and find that th Pasco County government had set aside 800 square acres of land for a wildlife refuge. I walked numerous tails and was so impressed.

    My own personal l8ife in 1992 and 1993 really took a turn for the worst when I could not find a job and was forced to try(?) working for the INL dump. I have a lot of information, but it doesnot lead to why the violent cowards placed me there.

    Regards,

  •  Comment from suzanne moore

    the entire oil spill situation wont be straightened out entirely ever…….we just need to find better places to put those things

  •  Comment from ashley

    we can help the gulf if we all take a part in making a diffrence

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