In May 2010, I flew over the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. As we made our way over the Gulf, we saw the slick spreading like fingers toward the coast. We also saw shrimp boats pressed into service as oil skimmers, and met people whose livelihoods depended on healthy Gulf lands and waters.
Life in the Gulf is entwined with the marshes, the rivers, the forests and the sea. I can think of few other places – certainly in the United States – where people are so closely linked to their environment.
To that end, I am proud to announce The Nature Conservancy’s new partnership with Oxfam America in the Gulf of Mexico. Together we aim to show that environmental restoration is the foundation for lasting economic security for Gulf Coast communities. The partnership seeks to mobilize local communities and businesses to support habitat restoration and increase the resilience of coastal communities.
In the past two years since the spill, my colleagues and I at The Nature Conservancy have seen good reasons for hope in the Gulf.
We saw it in the outpouring of support for our long-term restoration efforts, work that goes well beyond the immediate impacts of the spill. We saw it in the more than 500 volunteers who helped build a ¼ mile oyster reef along Mobile Bay in Alabama—part of a larger effort to build 100 miles of oyster reefs and to help protect and expand 1000 acres of marsh. And we saw it in the strong bipartisan support for the RESTORE Act, which just passed the House and now goes to a joint committee where lawmakers will hammer out the final details. The bill would ensure that fines for the spill are dedicated to restoring the communities, environment and economy of the Gulf.
There is still much work to be done; restoring the Gulf will not be easy or quick. And to be successful, restoration must focus on both nature and the important value of the benefits and services that healthy, functioning natural systems provide to people. That’s what our partnership with Oxfam aims to accomplish.
Why is a development organization like Oxfam, whose mission is “to create lasting solutions to poverty, hunger, and social injustice,” working to promote coastal restoration projects? For one, the design, construction, operation and monitoring of large-scale coastal and marine restoration projects directly creates jobs. Studies have found that each $1 million in investment in wetland restoration can create 29 new jobs. From our own experience, eight of the Conservancy’s recent restoration projects around the U.S., including the Gulf, created or sustained more than 950 jobs, or 39 jobs per $1 million in restoration funding. That’s two to three times more jobs than typically produced by “gray” infrastructure projects, such as levees, dams, roads and bridges.
These projects also support existing livelihoods such as fishing, tourism, and shipping—industries that rely on healthy lands and waters.
Oxfam brings to the partnership a unique capacity to help make socially vulnerable coastal communities more resilient. Since 1994, the organization has been committed to working in the Gulf Coast – a region where people are uniquely linked to the environment, and thus particularly sensitive to disruptions. Oxfam has worked tirelessly with community groups on proposing solutions for both the economic and environmental problems that have increased with every disaster—whether man made or natural. They bring a unique ability to formulate long-term solutions that address underlying conditions, and enable people to work their way out of poverty and into more stable economic, environmental, and social situations—all the while demanding that the communities be an integral part of the process.
By combining Oxfam’s strengths with the Conservancy’s practical, science-based approach to on-the-ground conservation we expect to achieve significant outcomes for people and nature in the Gulf—perhaps more than either of us could do on our own.
With the potential for billions of dollars coming back to the Gulf through the RESTORE Act, there has never been – and will quite possibly never be again – an opportunity like the one we have now to restore the Gulf of Mexico at a scale that matters.
To follow the Conservancy’s work in the Gulf and to keep track of the progress of the important RESTORE Act in Congress, you can join our Gulf Facebook page and visit us on the web at nature.org/Gulf.
For more information about Oxfam America’s efforts in the Gulf Coast, please visit www.oxfamamerica.org/campaigns/us-gulf-coast-recovery.