Tag: gulf oil spill TNC

Gulf Spill Update: The Numbers Don’t Lie

Written by | May 26th, 2010
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Bill Finch, the director of conservation for The Nature Conservancy in Alabama, is blogging for Cool Green Science about the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and the Conservancy’s efforts in Alabama to protect shellfish reef restoration projects there from the coming slick. Read all his posts.

In Louisiana last weekend, oil flowed under booms, it went around booms, it found miles of marsh where booms were never deployed.

Jeff Dequattro, our oyster project director for The Nature Conservancy in Alabama, watched it happen, even as he was setting out more booms to help protect a major new Conservancy oyster restoration project along Grand Isle, Louisiana.

Out in the middle Gulf, immense pools of oil are wrapping around the sea of sargassum weed — which was, after the marshes, the Gulf’s most important nursery for fish.

All the donated human hair and animal fur that has been flown around the country to staunch the flow has now been deemed a waste of time and fuel oil.

And the hole in the floor of the Gulf keeps spewing oil at a rate that the oil industry seems fearful of calculating.

A sickening sense of helplessness has set in, even among scientists.

“We get it,” one frustrated reader wrote. “Now what do we do?”

Once the damage in the Gulf is assessed, there will be much the American community will need to do, and can do, to repair some of the damage there.

Meanwhile, most of us console ourselves by blaming the companies, blaming the regulators, blaming the slow response, even as we continue to participate in that great conspiracy — every time we fill up our cars with Gulf Coast gas.

If you want to do something right now, do it with these numbers in mind:

  • 59 gallons: Average volume of motor vehicle gasoline used, per person per year, in Europe.
  • 428 gallons: Motor vehicle gasoline used, per person per year, in the United States.
  • 620%: Percentage by which U.S. gasoline usage for vehicles exceeds that of Europe.
  • 9.989 million barrels: Amount of oil used for gasoline each day in the United States.
  • 1.8 million barrels of oil: Amount of oil saved each day if U.S. gasoline consumption were only 500% greater than consumption in Europe.
  • 1.75 million barrels of oil: Amount of oil produced each day by all offshore wells in the Gulf of Mexico.

So, great: We could eliminate the equivalent of the Gulf of Mexico’s oil production if we reduced our driving so that we only used 5 times, rather than 6.2 times, as much gasoline for motor vehicle travel as Europeans do.

But we wouldn’t want to set a goal for ourselves that would require real sacrifice, would we? So how painful would it be to reduce our gasoline consumption by 20 percent?

Look at these numbers:

  • 190 miles: Average miles driven, per person per week, in the United States.
  • 5.4 miles: Average number of miles per day we’d have to reduce our driving to eliminate dependency on oil produced in the Gulf of Mexico.
  • 38 miles: Average number of miles per week we’d have to reduce our driving.

Some drive more, some less. Watch your odometer to see how many miles you drive, and what your 20 percent cut looks like.

But a significant number of Americans could eliminate America’s reliance on Gulf of Mexico oil production simply by carpooling to work with one other person 2 or 3 days per week. Those who have good access to efficient public transportation could make a giant contribution. I can almost eliminate my dependency simply by hopping on the bicycle for a pleasant 10-minute ride (2.5 miles) to my office.

Many of us would claim we can’t possibly reduce gasoline consumption because we have no choice but to drive our cars to work. Fine.

So review these calculations from the Federal Highway Administration’s National Household Travel Survey: No matter how you look at it, only 20 to 30 percent of the average American’s car miles are devoted to commuting to work.

The biggest single chunk of travel — nearly one-third of the total, or about 60 miles per week for the average person — was purely for socializing and entertainment (that doesn’t include trips to school and church, family business such as doctors trips, or shopping). The biggest percentage increase in travel over the past several decades has been the result of shopping trips: Our mileage there has almost doubled, and accounts for nearly 15 percent of travel.

Do you care enough about what’s happening in the Gulf to combine shopping trips with the commute to work?

Of course, where you live in relation to your work and your favorite social spots can play a significant role in how much gas you use. Would the collapse of the Gulf’s fishing industry matter enough to you that you’d consider that next time you bought a new house?

Reducing our gas usage doesn’t prevent anyone from drilling for oil anywhere, but it sure reduces the incentives for it. More than 70 percent of the oil used in the U.S. goes to transportation, and U.S. oil consumption is nearly three times higher than any other country, so our driving exerts a whopping influence on world oil prices.

In the absence of higher prices for oil, it’s hard to imagine oil companies would be making tremendously expensive, risky and controversial decisions to drill for oil miles beneath the surface of the Gulf of Mexico.

That’s no consolation for the damage already being done to our beautiful and once productive Gulf.

BP and others involved in the Deepwater Horizon project are responsible for the spill. But if we can’t reduce our driving by 5.4 miles a day, I think we need to look at our own responsibility, too.

Figures used in this article were obtained from the United Nations International Energy Agency, Statistics Division; the World Resources Institute; the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook; the U.S. Federal Highway Administration; and the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Comparisons of per capita gasoline usage reflect 2005 data, which can be compared across all countries. Per capita usage based on ISIC Divisions 60, 61 and 62.

(Image: Oil hitting the shores of Grand Isle, Louisiana last Friday, near The Nature Conservancy’s field station there. Image credit: Jeff DeQuattro/TNC.)

Chat Transcript: Mark Tercek on The Conservancy, the Gulf and BP

Written by | May 24th, 2010
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Mark Tercek, The Nature Conservancy’s president and CEO, Glenn Prickett, the Conservancy’s director of external affairs, and Keith Ouchley, director of the Conservancy’s Louisiana program, answered your questions on Tuesday, May 25 on the Conservancy’s work in the Gulf, our response to the oil spill and our engagement with BP. The chat lasted about an hour.

See a transcript of the chat as it happened or read the complete transcript below. We received many more questions during the run-up to the chat and during the hour itself than we could answer — we will review the remaining questions and consider posting more answers later this week.


Hi everyone and welcome to the live chat, we will beginning in two minutes.

Welcome to our live chat with Mark Tercek and Glenn Prickett, we have been taking questions since yesterday. But you can submit your questions during the chat in the comments field below the chat window. Questions are being moderated, as with any chat, but we are striving to be transparent and to answer your pointed questions.

We’ve also asked Keith Ouchley, the director of the Conservancy’s Louisiana program, to respond to two specific questions we’ve had on our the effects of the Gulf spill.

OK, let’s begin.

Comment from Drew Albert: What are TNCs plans in terms of business relationships with BP in light of the Gulf oil spill? Will there be a top down look at other corporate contributors?

Mark Tercek responds: Thanks, Drew for your question. What we learn in the months ahead about this disaster and how BP handles the long-term clean-up and restoration will certainly influence whether we work with them in the future and in what ways. I don’t believe we should pull back from working with companies in places where their business activities affect the habitats we want to conserve. As I’ve said before, there’s just too much at stake. Our work with any company on their business practices must have clear conservation outcomes — outcomes that directly benefit our mission.

One of the fundamental questions we ask ourselves before working with a company on its business practices is “will that work advance our on-the-ground or in-the-water conservation goals.” If the answer is yes, we should explore further the opportunity. If the answer is no, we move on. I have been working at the Conservancy now for about 22 months, nearly two years. I’ve travelled to dozens of Conservancy project sites, from Papua New Guinea to Coffee Island, Alabama. Every single person I’ve met here is an incredibly passionate conservationist, as am I. Our mission is to protect the natural systems that sustain us all. There may be disagreement about what is the best set of conservation strategies to employ, and this dialogue with you and others is an important one to have. At the end of the day, however, I want you and all our supporters to know our only priority is getting real, tangible conservation results.

This dialogue certainly elevates in my mind the issue of our work with the business sector. We approach all our current and future work with companies with a critical eye and make sure that work is fully in line with our mission.

Daph asks: With hurricane season fast approaching, I was wondering what impact a storm would have. Obviously it would hamper clean up efforts, but would it also, say, bring more oil on land? Impact the formation of storms? Act as a dispersant?

Keith Ouchley, the director of the Conservancy’s Louisiana program, responds: On the hurricane question here’s what I am hearing from experts. A hurricane that pushed oil inland would make the situation worse. It would spread the oil to areas that perhaps we could otherwise keep it out of. On the other hand, some experts have opined that if a small storm were to pass through the gulf and not make landfall it may — emphasize may — actually help by the wind and wave action causing more of the oil to volatilize or be broken up into smaller droplets that can be acted on by naturally occurring bacteria and other organisms.

The how long question is a big unknown right now. I don’t think anyone has a good handle on that but you can rest assured that this will be monitored for many years to come. How long is probably one of the most frustrating aspects of this issue.

Comment from Tim Ahern: If you take financial support from BP, do you condition it on working with them on projects? In other words, are you able to impact what they do, or more specifically, where they do it? Does taking their support enable you to have a seat at the table when BP makes its choices?

Glenn Prickett responds: We do work with BP and other natural resource companies on their development practices, especially in places where their development sites overlap with places we target for conservation. Energy and mineral development is a reality in many of the places we work around the world. Not every grant we take from a company involves work on their practices, but we try to get involved early in the development process to influence where, when, and how development happens. In Wyoming, for example, we worked with the state, the federal government and BP on a plan to identify areas where money from a government-created mitigation fund could be used for habitat protection and restoration to offset the impacts of drilling. In this project, and other similar ones, we make the collected data and the project results publicly available so that others can learn from them and we draw on our field experience with companies to help shape government policies on development. We call this Development by Design and we are using this methodology in work on projects across the U.S. and in other countries. Engaging with companies certainly helps us have a seat at the table, but we don’t rely only on those voluntary activities. We also advocate for strong public policies to guide development.

Comment from Barbara DeGraw: As a long time supporter of TNC and a conservationist to my core, I am glad you have opened a forum on the subject of your relationship with BP. Given the potential for harm to the fragile coastal ecosystems, why has The Nature Conservancy not “engaged” the oil industry regarding their offshore drilling practices before now? This seems to be a serious lapse in judgment on the part of TNC or worse, looking the other way when it was in your financial best interest to do so. This may not be the case, but surely you can understand how your inaction may be construed as such.

Mark Tercek responds: We are engaged on offshore drilling, Barbara. We haven’t taken a blanket position for or against it because our economy consumes a tremendous amount of oil and gas and energy development anywhere has environmental risks. If we ban offshore drilling in this country, we increase the risk of environmental impacts in other places. We take positions on individual offshore leases through a case-by-case assessment of their risks to ocean and coastal habitats. This has led us to oppose energy development in some areas. Frankly, this disaster tells us that we — and many others — have underestimated the risks of offshore drilling, especially in deep water.

We support the President’s decision to suspend new offshore leases while an independent commission studies what went wrong and what additional safeguards, regulations, and policies are needed to protect our oceans and coasts. We are also fighting hard to enact comprehensive energy and climate legislation to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. That’s the most important thing we can do.

Moderator: We’re having a little trouble handing special characters in the comment box. Here is the next question:

SM asks: Would not a “science based planning approach” have shown that risks of this kind [e.g., the oil spill] were of greater possible significance and therefore priority than those of wind(!?) and inland gas extraction? So why work with companies [like BP] on issues of lower significance and ignore the issues of arguably higher significance? Is this because N.C. didn’t make the attempt (e.g. no N.C. properties at risk in the gulf?), or because the companies are choosing what they allow you to influence?

Mark Tercek responds: That’s a fair question. Yes, we have property along the Gulf that is at risk from the oil spill, not to mention the thousands of acres we helped conserve along with our local, state and federal partners. And, we have millions of dollars worth of shellfish restoration projects also under threat.

We have been involved with the federal government’s planning of offshore development. We’re working with the Obama administration, for example, on a nation-wide marine spatial planning initiative to identify areas that are suitable for various forms of development and those that need to be protected.

But this disaster shows that we need to devote pay much more attention to the fundamental risks of offshore drilling. So, I think we need to look harder at offshore oil and gas development and see if we can apply our expertise in conservation planning, ocean zoning and public policy to influence how and where that kind of development takes place.

Regarding your question about our involvement in other forms of energy development (i.e. inland gas extraction or wind), where you stand often depends on where you sit. We have programs in all 50 states. In Wyoming, gas extraction is an activity we identified as threatening important sagebrush habitat we want to conserve. In Kansas, we identified improper siting of wind turbines as a major threat to prairie chicken populations. For our programs in those states, influencing how and where energy companies site their development is a priority. No company chooses where we work. Our priorities are determined through a rigorous, science-driven conservation planning approach called Conservation by Design.

Comment from Nancy Schwartz: How does accepting funding from BP (and other corporations that profit from extracting natural resources) and not mentioning it even in your response to the spill and BP clean up strategies, mesh with your stated values of “transparency and values?”

Mark Tercek responds: We try to be as transparent as we can about our relationships with the companies we work with, including BP. You’ll find many references to this work on our website, in our magazine and in our annual report. However, in hindsight, I could have been clearer about our relationship with BP in my initial blog about the crisis.

At the time, my colleagues and I were focused on protecting our coastal work in the Gulf and figuring out how we could help address the immediate challenges of the leak.

Comment from Jean Villamizar: How long do they expect the effects of this spill to be felt, both in our coastal areas and further inland? The catastrophic nature of this surely must last generations.

Keith Ouchley, the director of Conservancy’s Louisiana program, responds: The how long question is a big unknown right now. I don’t think anyone has a good handle on that, but you can rest assured that this will be monitored for many years to come. How long we will have to do that’s and how long we will have to wait to know the full effects — is probably one of the most frustrating aspects of this issue.

Moderator: Hello all, this is the moderator. Thanks for all of your questions. We are getting lots of questions and posting the answers as quickly as we can. Thanks all for participating.

Hi, Moderator again. Having trouble with long questions as well. Here’s another question:

Jim Gilsenan asks: There’s nothing wrong with engaging the energy industry provided you know what you’re doing and what you’re in for. BP has positioned itself as an earth-friendly corporation. But its behavior since the beginning of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill has been anything but earth-friendly. In fact, it’s been downright earth-Hateful! Taking a moment to think only about the actual size of the spill versus the much smaller sized spill BP would have us all believe in…

It’s time for the Nature Conservancy, its members and all who support this amazing organization to cut ties with BP. This company is going the way of Union Carbide after Bhopal, only a much more universal scale. Does the NC want to go with it?

Mark Tercek responds: First, I agree with you, the Gulf oil spill is awful. I will never forget seeing in early May the first ribbons of oil beginning to wrap themselves around North Island at the tip of the Chandeleur Islands in Louisiana.

Obviously, working with companies is controversial, but I believe it’s a conservation strategy we should not abandon. Companies like BP are conducting their business in places we care about. We simply cannot ignore that reality. If we stop talking to them and stop trying to help them improve their practices, what will change? Long-term, we need to move to a clean energy economy and away from fossil fuels. That future, though, is a long way away. We still have to deal with the problems oil and gas extraction is creating today.

So, I don’t think we should cut ties with BP or any other company whose core business is or has the potential to affect the places we care about. We need to be able to influence their behavior. That said, we also need to continue working with federal and state governments to improve regulation and oversight of these companies and to ensure that we are making good, science-based decisions about where energy development should be allowed to take place and on what terms.

As conservationists, we need to be attuned to the fact that we have to explore a wide range of strategies to protect the planet’s natural systems. I look around and see that we are losing ground on many fronts. Forests are vanishing. Coral reefs are disappearing. Water resources are stretched to the limit. We are losing plant and animal species at an alarming rate. We cannot afford to write of any strategy, including getting companies to improve their business practices.

Comment from Steve Solarz: Have you ever pulled your punches with a company because you receive financial assistance from it?

Glenn Prickett responds: No, we don’t pull our punches. For example, we are one of the leading voices calling for comprehensive climate and energy legislation, something many in the business community still oppose. We do what’s best for conservation.

Comment from Molly: What is the best-case scenario for the clean up effort? It seems like every proposed projection is pretty grim. How about a ray of hope? Will the gulf eco-systems ever be the same? I am a big supporter of the Nature Conservancy. Thank you for all that you do.

Mark Tercek answers: Thanks, Molly, for your question. We are a field-based organization, so we are doing all we can to help with the response to this disaster. We are laying boom around coastal areas where work, and we have made all of our scientific knowledge available to federal and state governments so that they can set priorities for their response. We don’t know what the ultimate impact will be. We are saddened by the loss of life and the harm we are already seeing. We will do all we can in the months and years ahead to help restore the Gulf Coast.

The ray of hope I see is that all of the attention now focused on the Gulf will translate into much greater public support for restoration and conservation of the Gulf over the long-term. The Gulf environment is seriously degraded by over a century of poorly planned development and natural disasters. So when I say “restoration,” I don’t just mean restoring what was damaged by the oil spill — although that’s the first step. I mean restoring what we’ve lost in the Gulf over the last century. Such a plan will require major commitments and investments on the part of all the Gulf States, the federal government, the private sector, and organizations like the Conservancy.

One other thing…I also really hope that this spill leads to greater awareness of and support for comprehensive energy and climate legislation here in the U.S. If we don’t begin to aggressively move toward a clean energy future, the pressure to extract oil in frontier and hard-to-access areas in the U.S. and in other countries will only grow.

Comment from Fran Moskovitz: I think in some people’s minds, working with companies and “taking their money” is different. We keep saying that the amount of money donated by BP (or other companies) is miniscule compared to the amounts of money we bring in. Why then, asked several donors, did we take it at all?

Glenn Prickett responds: Because we work with them on important projects. For example, our Noel Kempff project in Bolivia with BP and others was the first demonstration of forest conservation as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Conservation projects such as Noel Kempff often require major capital outlays — while that project was small in the context of our overall budget, it still required a major capital outlay.

Moderator: Thanks for staying with us. We’re taking as many questions from yesterday and today as we can. We appreciate having the dialogue.

Bob Knott comments: I respect the Conservancy’s pragmatism in working with an oil company in helping to craft real-world solutions that balance humanity and nature. In a world where the dependency on fossil fuels won’t decrease anytime soon, this is what I expect of an environmental leader.

Mark Tercek responds: Many of these companies are conducting their business, whether we want them to or not, in ways that affect the places we care about. We have the on-the-ground knowledge and scientific expertise to try and make a difference. We do have a responsibility, though, to ensure this work results in real, tangible conservation outcomes. That’s something I expect as CEO and something I hold our teams accountable for. We also can’t rely only on companies’ voluntary initiatives. We need to work with state and federal governments on policies and regulations to ensure that companies’ activities are safe and environmentally sound.

Comment from Ben Upham: Does this controversy make the Conservancy less likely to partner with corporations in the future?

Mark Tercek responds: No. We need to partner with companies if we’re going to achieve our conservation mission. We take a hard look at companies to make sure our partnerships will achieve real results for conservation. Having said that, we do need to think harder about what the policies and regulations for offshore drilling should to be.

Comment from Rachel Carson: As TNC becomes known for this difficult compromise, will it be able to survive the loss of donations with its real estate holdings and corporate partnerships?

Mark Tercek responds: The Conservancy has a 60-year history of working collaboratively and focusing on results. This approach has not changed. We do not want to lose any supporters, and I hope that anyone thinking of abandoning the Conservancy will take a close look at our work before making a decision.

To the contrary, we need all the help and support we can get. I spend much of my time reaching out to engage new supporters of our mission.

The way I see it, the environmental community is vast, with hundreds of organizations employing a wide range of approaches and tactics. There are organizations that accomplish a great deal through lawsuits and others that bring about meaningful change through boycotts and other market campaigns. And, there are organizations like ours that focus on on-the-ground, science-driven conservation action. Every approach has merit and is important.

Jason asks via the blog: I do not think the partnership between TNC and BP should continue. I understand the larger goal of preserving biodiversity, but taken dirty money from BP is not the long-term sustainable solution for the largest land trust which has been given the public’s trust to preserve the heritage and cultural resources. BP has taken less precautions and sound engineering approaches to build these drilling platforms along the deeper oceans.

This is an environmental disaster and having spent my life growing up along the Indian River Lagoon, it hurts me know that the sub-surface oil may eventually impact the Florida coastline. For a company that promotes itself “Beyond Petroleum,” this is by far the most explicit example of why TNC needs to find new collaborative partnerships. BP is not an environmental company. It is a wolf in sheep’s lining.

Glenn Prickett responds: Thanks, Jason, for your thoughtful comment. I hear you and the others that have made a similar point. We take the public trust you describe very seriously, and we must think hard about which companies we partner with and the outcomes we expect from those relationships. What we learn in the months ahead about BP’s role in this disaster and how they handle the long-term clean-up and restoration will certainly influence whether we work with them in the future and in what ways.

Moderator: We’re going to take a couple more. Thanks again for all the thoughtful questions. We appreciate the response.

Comment from Ananda: BP and other major polluters sit on your International Leadership Council. This I assume means they get access to the CEO of Nature Conservancy and get to influence policy. This for a paltry $10 million over several years (I understand that all corporate donations are of the order of 5% of the Conservancy’s 1/2 billion dollar budget).

Glenn Prickett responds: Ananda, thanks for continuing to engage on this issue. Our International Leadership Council allows us to talk to companies, and the companies to talk with each other, about what they can do to support conservation in their businesses. They do have a chance to speak to our CEO and other Conservancy leaders, but they do not influence our policies. We set our policies based on our science and what we think is needed to achieve our conservation mission. We’re proud of our corporate partnerships because they help us achieve that mission.

Maria Cypriotis Little asks via Facebook: Is TNC lobbying to shut down all the other CURRENT deep water drilling rigs?

Glenn Prickett responds: No. Offshore drilling provides a major share of this country’s energy and is a significant driver of the local economies in Louisiana and other states. It would be unrealistic to halt existing production — and if we did we would displace that production to other countries where the environmental risks are no less. We support the President’s decision to halt new offshore leasing until a thorough evaluation of the oil spill has been completed. This spill has shown us that the risks of deepwater offshore drilling are immense. We are pleased that the President has asked former EPA Administrator Bill Reilly and former Florida Senator Bob Graham to lead an independent review.

We will be engaged in that review to offer our science and express our opinions. We need stronger policies, regulations, and safeguards to prevent a disaster like this from happening again.

In the long-term, we need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. We are fighting for comprehensive energy and climate legislation that would set our country on that path. I believe this is the most important political step our country should take in response to this disaster.

Comment from David Schackow: It is not possible for me to personally go to Louisiana to help. What are the BEST ways that a person can help from their own community?

Glenn Prickett responds: Thanks, David. Two quick thoughts on how you can help. First, support organizations that are working on Gulf restoration. Second, contact your members of Congress and let them know you want them to act this year on comprehensive climate and energy legislation that reduces carbon emissions and puts us on the path to a genuine clean energy future.

Moderator: We will take one more question and the we’ll have to stop. Thanks again for you participation.

Comment from Elaine: Exactly what are you doing right now — hands on — to protect and save wildlife and the region? I think those of us out here are really tired of a lot of talk and very little action from most of the people who are talking.

Glenn Prickett responds: We do field work throughout the Gulf Coast to protect and restore critical habitat. We have been working hard on the ground since the first days of the spill to lay boom around our shellfish restoration projects and to help guide state agencies to protect the most important areas. We have offered all of our science to the federal government to support their response. Most importantly, going forward we will support the Gulf states to restore coastal habitat that was already heavily degraded by a century of poorly planned development and natural disasters.

Moderator: That’s it for now. We couldn’t get to all of your questions — we will review them and we may post additional answers to the blog later. The transcript will be available here and on our blog. Thanks for all of your questions and for participating. We appreciate the concern and having the dialogue. Thanks!

(Image: Mark Tercek. Image credit: Erika Nortemann/TNC.)

Why We Engage With the Energy Industry: It’s For Nature

Written by | May 23rd, 2010
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Mongolia's goitered gazelle benefits from our engagement with energy companies.

Peter Kareiva is chief scientist for The Nature Conservancy.

A passionate environmental scientist and good friend recently sent an e-mail chiding me. “So, given what’s happening in the Gulf of Mexico,” he wrote, “are you still glad The Nature Conservancy works with BP wind energy and BP natural gas exploration in the western United States?”

My answer: Yes. Here’s why:

In order to protect and rebuild our environment, the Conservancy identifies the species and habitats necessary for a sustainable future.

Then we assess the threats to these systems. One of those threats is the energy industry (and not necessarily just oil and natural gas, but also the siting of renewable energy infrastructure like wind turbines).

We next ask how to reduce those threats. In the case of energy industry threats, there are a range of possible responses, including:

  • Regulation (required safety valves, drilling depths, etc);
  • Improved technology;
  • Careful siting of activities (zoning); and
  • Offset or mitigation funds to make up for the damages.

Each of these is part of our Development by Design framework, which is science-based and rooted in our long-standing tradition of conservation planning that uses the best available data. We’re applying that framework in projects from Colombia to Wyoming to Mongolia.

We engage with BP and other extractive industry companies in order to identify “no-touch” areas for such development and to optimize mitigation efforts for the ecological damages done by such development.

For example, the Conservancy is working with BP and state and federal agencies in Colorado and Wyoming to prevent and mitigate the environmental impacts of natural gas extraction in these states. We assess the ecological importance and sensitivity of various potential sites. BP provides some of the funding to pay for data collection and analysis, which is peer-reviewed and publicly available.

In Wyoming, these data are being used to help direct $24.5 million in mitigation funding that energy companies pay into a multi-agency government fund. Money from this fund is being used to protect over 80,000 acres and improve management for more than 200,000 acres.

Coming back to the Gulf disaster, there is a lot science in general, and Conservancy science in particular, that needs to be done. Most of what we know about oil spills is from ships, not wells. The other big oil well blowouts (Santa Barbara and the North Sea) were in very different ecosystems. And oil comes in a lot of forms – the damage depends on the type of oil. In addition, the dispersants being used now as part of the cleanup are known to have toxic impact on fish eggs.

We have extensive sets of baseline regional data for the habitats of the Gulf as well as site-based data from conservation sites in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Data from these sites will be invaluable in assessing impacts and damages.

I for one am not ready — based on this one event, whose impacts and causes are as yet unknown — to abandon the idea of conservation working with the energy industry. In fact, although we have never engaged with BP or other energy companies on their offshore Gulf drilling, maybe we should have — we might have been able to help site their activities to reduce the risk to the Gulf’s globally significant habitats.

I have to admit: My friend’s concern about “conspiring with the enemy” irked me. This is not an issue of environment versus energy – people need both. “Working with” does not mean “selling out.” Anyone who drives a car is a supporter of the oil industry — should we propose no one drives?

Look, I know that energy extraction is sometimes environmentally damaging, just as roads, ports, biofuels and even desert solar panels can be. In fact, Conservancy scientists engage with the energy industry precisely because that industry does often harm the environment.

But the point is: We need energy and we also need nature — we have to figure out how to do this energy thing with minimal environmental damage. We have to find the right energy policies and regulations that help meet the United States’ need for fuel and protect our natural ecosystems and the
livelihoods they provide.

And at the Conservancy, our scientists work with our policy experts to not just do science, but to help inform policy. The reason I love my job (and I even love getting angry e-mails about “selling out”) is because we do science that is in the thick of it — science that uses our on-the-ground data and experience to understand impacts and tradeoffs and advise the most creative and pragmatic policy thinkers I have ever worked with, all in the service of nature and the benefits it gives us.

I do not know enough to give any advice at this moment, however. Right now, my focus is not on judgment or reaction, but rather on assessment and action. I will leave judgment to my friend.

(Image: Goitered gazelle, Mongolia. With about 40 percent of Mongolia under lease for mining and energy exploration, the Conservancy is applying Development by Design in Mongolia to support effective landscape-level planning — steering development away from conservation priorities and advancing mitigation strategies. Image credit: Richard Reading.)

Collecting Data Before the Oil Spill Hits Shores

Written by | May 21st, 2010
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Bryan Piazza is the Atchafalaya program manager for The Nature Conservancy in Louisiana. He is a wetland ecologist with a Ph.D. in oceanography and coastal sciences from Louisiana State University; his specialties are coastal wetland ecology and restoration as well as the ecology of large river systems.

As oil swirls around the Gulf of Mexico, we all watch anxiously and wonder where it’s going to go. But before the oil washes ashore, there is much scientific work to do. Over the last few weeks, I have been working with fellow scientists from LSU, USGS, and NOAA to collect what scientists call “pre-condition data” at the NOAA Mussel Watch sites in coastal Louisiana — data on these ecosystems before the oil hits them.

These sites are located across Louisiana’s coastal marshes and bays — and because Louisiana produces the majority of the oysters consumed in the United States, it was very important to get data from these sites prior to any oil penetration into the wetlands and bays. I collected data both east and west of the Mississippi River. The first place is called Bay Gardene, and it is located in lower Breton Sound, east of the Mississippi River in Plaquemines Parish.  I also collected data farther west at sites in Sister Lake, located south of Houma, Louisiana.

What are we collecting? At each site, we used standardized techniques to collect water, soil and soil infauna (small invertebrates like worms and snails) samples for hydrocarbon analysis. We also collected oysters from the bay bottoms. To do this, we dragged an oyster dredge behind the boat for three minutes and then lifted it out of the water to collect the oysters from it (see photo above of me with some of the oysters). The dredge rides along the bottom and contains teeth that scrape the bottom, like a rake or a comb. There is a net fastened with metal rings to the frame, and the oysters are captured into the net, while mud and smaller things pass right through.

We are all tied to this land. Louisiana’s coastal wetlands are very important for people not only in Louisiana, but the entire country. They provide and transport energy and goods that move through our economy. They provide the nursery areas for young fish and shrimp to grow, and these are the seafood products that we all love to eat. And these services that we all enjoy provide a livelihood for many folks across Louisiana.

These marshes are massive, but they are disappearing rapidly. And this oil could provide an additional stressor in an already imperiled system. So, it is important that we support scientific efforts to understand how this stressor may affect these marshes both alone and in the context of the other stressors that affect these marshes and the critters that live there – both in the short-term and the long-term. That way we can work with our partners to design the most effective ways to help the marsh recover.

This is an unprecedented event, and as the oil now begins to enter the coastal marshes, we will need this work to understand the effects. I feel that this work, in concert with the extensive and comprehensive monitoring network that state and USGS scientists have created across the Louisiana coastal zone, will help ensure that we have a good handle on what we had prior to any largescale impacts.  While the oil spill saddens me deeply, our scientific expertise in Louisiana gives me hope.

(Image: Bryan Piazza with dredged oysters. Image courtesy of Bryan Piazza/TNC.)

Gulf Oil Spill: The Slick We Didn’t See

Written by | May 17th, 2010
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Bill Finch, the director of conservation for The Nature Conservancy in Alabama, is blogging for Cool Green Science about the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and the Conservancy’s efforts in Alabama to protect shellfish reef restoration projects there from the coming slick. Read all his posts.

Nothing could be uglier and more immediately gut-wrenching than a slick onshore. It would be a godsend for the evening news: There’d be hours of eye-catching footage of a black tide drifting over blue water, birds coated in oil, black goo clinging to the beaches and marshes. The spill would be most visible right where most of us ankle-deep sea lovers can see it best.

You get the sense that a lot of the folks out trying to tame the spill know that, and they seem to be doing everything they can to spare us such a spectacle.

The fact that the oil has to bubble up through a mile of water before it hits the surface has helped, but it appears the dispersants are working exactly as advertised: They’re burying this slick under the waves where none of us on shore can see it, where measuring it and predicting its path will be extremely difficult, where all the oil-catching booms and Dawn detergent in the world will be beside the point.

By nearly every reckoning now, the oil that didn’t go ashore has been stirred into the Gulf, until the waters are dark as black tea thousands of feet below the surface. Because it hasn’t been exposed to the air, as it would have been had it risen to the surface, it hasn’t lost its most volatile and toxic compounds. Somehow kitchen metaphors come to mind when describing it: One scientist refers to giant plumes with the consistency of salad dressing, miles long, miles wide, several hundred feet thick.

Finally, it’s becoming obvious to all of us, scientists, fishermen, lovers of the Gulf: We should have worried first about the slick we didn’t see. Because what matters in the Gulf isn’t what you can see standing on the balcony of a beach condo. What matters is what’s happening in the deep space where few of us ever go — that plunging realm of seawater that supports the life of the Gulf and the livelihood of all of us who depend on those waters.

By dispersing this oil so efficiently, we have in effect multiplied the contact zones, assuring that all life at every level of the Gulf will feel the impact.

Consider the flea-sized creatures that would have been your crab supper, your blackened redfish, your fresh Gulf shrimp platter a year or two from now. It’s the big spring rush of reproduction in the Gulf. Fish and shellfish in the marshes are sending off tiny eggs and fry for the long journey offshore; fish and shellfish in the depths of the continental shelf are giving up their young to the currents, hoping they’ll make it back to the marsh.

These helpless creatures don’t swim: They trust the motions of the Gulf to take them where they need to go. Those are the same motions that carry clouds of what we now like to describe as the toxic salad dressing of the spill. A dolphin might have the fins and sense to swim the other way. The new generations of Gulf Coast sea life can only move where the Gulf and all it carries takes them.

Here’s a picture for the evening news: Imagine milky clouds of eggs and larvae, from crabs, shrimp, redfish, from virtually every sea creature you’ve ever heard of and then a thousand species more, floating suspended in the deep waters of the Gulf. On the wind-like currents that rise and fall in the open seas, they drift like dandelion seeds.

Then imagine another cloud, 10 or 15 miles long, several hundred feet from top to bottom, and 3 to 4 miles wide, a rusty emulsion of oil that clings to everything it touches. Now imagine these two clouds merging in the currents of the Gulf. A good photographer, if he didn’t mind swimming through toxic salad dressing, could even capture the poetry in the way they meet, those big-eyed young of crabs, shrimp and fish, quietly dispatched with each kiss of oil.

Frame that picture in your mind, because it will explain a lot about what you won’t see over the next few years – the crab cakes that won’t be on the menu in your favorite restaurant, the redfish, mackerel and snapper sports fishermen won’t be bringing home, the jobs and businesses that won’t be there because they depended on the bounty of the Gulf, the shore birds that simply starve because they can’t find food to eat.

(Image: Shrimp boat on the Gulf of Mexico off Biloxi, Mississippi. Image credit: Casino Jones/Flickr through a Creative Commons license.)

Alabama: Return to the Rail’s Nest

Written by | May 14th, 2010
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Bill Finch, the director of conservation for The Nature Conservancy in Alabama, is blogging for Cool Green Science about the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and the Conservancy’s efforts in Alabama to protect shellfish reef restoration projects there from the coming slick. Read all his posts.

The rail’s nest in Grand Bay marsh is empty.

Seeing it was a jarring reminder of how much time has passed — as if I were watching my own children leave home.

It’s been almost two weeks since Sergio and I first found eight speckled eggs beneath the tent of dried marsh grasses, just above the tide in Alabama’s Grand Bay. We wondered then whether mother rail could hatch the eggs before the oil moved on shore.

We didn’t dare imagine then the spill would still be pouring into the Gulf, that every morning we would wake up anxious, half-wishing it would never come, half-wanting it to come and be done, so we wouldn’t have to wish again.

The momma rail had other anxieties. She had laid her ambitions for the spring more than a month ago, a few days before the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon.

Then, it was a simple spring, as simple as a spring can be these days along the Gulf of Mexico. She had prepared the best she could for all the usual perils rails have faced for eons on the coast — marauding racoons, spring storms, disease, competition for a daily meal of snail or fiddler crab. If half a brood survives two months, she’d be as successful as a momma rail could hope to be.

She faced other perils a rail might not be prepared to contemplate. For decades now, there have been fewer and fewer places for a new year’s crop of rails to go. The coastal marshes where rails nest — and where most of North America’s seafood harvest is produced — have been disappearing at a stunning rate.

Some marsh is filled outright, some choked with runoff and waste. The rest is squeezed — between the houses competing for a picture window view and the seas that have been rising steadily, about a foot in the last century. The retreating marsh has few places left to go, and neither does a sturdy cohort of young rails.

The rail lets out a yelp. What’s troubling her right now is the six-foot shadow looming over her nest, and all the attention she’s been receiving in the last two weeks.

Rails are secretive birds. They slip beneath the thick marsh grasses, announcing their presence, but not their location, with a raspy, wooden clack. They rarely fly and never far. The chicks, black balls of fluff, hit the ground running, piling out of the nest and into the shallow water of the marsh within a day or two of hatching.

The rail’s not calculating how much oil is gushing uncontrolled, maybe uncontrollably, from a hole in the Gulf. She only sees the great disaster in front of her nest, a conspicuous pool of bare muddy earth, where film crews and scientists drawn here by the spill have trampled out a bull’s eye in the thick cordgrass.

Every day it doesn’t come ashore, there’s a chance for a miracle. My friend Ben says that when I ask him what he thinks will happen next. I was surprised to hear him say it. We never talked about miracles before.

My best guess is that rails don’t expect miracles. They just want some privacy and enough marsh left to raise their young.

(Image: Clapper rail in New Mexico. Image credit: jerryoldenettel/Flickr through a Creative Commons license.)

Oil and Birds Don’t Mix

Written by | May 12th, 2010
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The oil spell in the Gulf of Mexico continues to occupy front and center of our environmental headlines. I expect that, unfortunately, soon we will see some of the more iconic images that tend to come out of these crises: that of oil-soaked birds (most of which will be cleaned and, hopefully, released).

In many aspects, though no such oil spill can occur in a “good place,” the Gulf is a particularly bad one for a major oil spill from a bird-centric point of view. There are two primary reasons why the Gulf Coast is important for bird conservation:

  1. It is a zone of immense importance for the migration of North America’s birds, with an enormous percentage of individuals and species migrating through or across the region twice per year (see our feature on the Gulf Coast as a top 10 birding spot); and
  2. The wetlands and islands of the Gulf harbor large populations of the nation’s breeding and wintering waterbirds, shorebirds and waterfowl.

In the first case, the northern coast of the Gulf — from the Florida panhandle west to approximately Galveston, Texas — is an extremely important migratory stopover point during spring and fall migration.

In spring, the barrier islands and coastal habitats are the very first habitats that migrating birds encounter after leaving the night before on their long overwater flights north. Under certain weather conditions during the peak of migration, this region is famed for its migratory “fallouts,” when hundreds or thousands of birds can be literally underfoot.

Some of the continent’s legendary migration hotspots, such as Dauphin Island and Fort Morgan, Alabama; the islands of the Gulf Islands National Seashore in Mississippi and Florida; Grand Isle, Louisiana; and High Island, Texas, are in this zone and are right in the current or predicted path of the oil slick.

The timing of the spill also could not have been worse, since it occurred just after the typical peak of the spring migration in the first two weeks of April.

Having said this, my personal opinion is that the majority of these migratory birds (warblers, vireos, thrushes, tanagers, buntings, grosbeaks, etc.) will be slightly affected, if at all, by the spill:

  • They migrate overwater, so would not likely come into direct contact with the oil.
  • They predominantly use shrubs, trees, vines, and other terrestrial vegetation, which would be secondarily affected by the spill.
  • Finally, we are now well past the peak of migration, so the total number of individual birds potentially exposed is diminishing daily. That’s the good news.

I think, however, that the prognosis is not good for the breeding and wintering waterbirds, shorebirds and waterfowl, although at least most of the wintering individuals had left by the time the spill occurred:

  • Virtually all of the characteristic bird species of the Gulf Coast are associated with marine or estuarine environments for feeding, resting, or nesting. These include the Brown Pelican; herons and egrets; RoyalSandwich, and Least Terns; Black Skimmer; Snowy Plover; and many more.
  • Most of these birds nest on low islands with little vegetation (a great example is the Chandeleur Islands, Louisiana) and so will be unable to avoid becoming fouled with oil themselves or their eggs or chicks.
  • Most of these species also feed on fish in the Gulf waters, so will become tarred with oil the first time they feed. If oil gets into coastal marshes, critically important habitat for species such as Seaside Sparrow will also be damaged or destroyed.

The outlook for these birds is not good and I think the effects of this spill will be felt for quite a while unless it is fixed very soon.

The Gulf of Mexico coast is one of our most important “bird regions” in the country. The Conservancy has dedicated numerous resources over the years to protect this region and its birds, including work done through the Migratory Bird Program’s Gulf Wings project and that done by our Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas programs. However, I am saddened that this importance had to be highlighted in such a spectacular and negative way.

(Image: Egret on shores of Galveston, TX. Image credit: Mike Rodriguez/Flickr through a Creative Commons license.)

Alabama: The Spill’s Potential Effects on Gulf Seafood

Written by | May 11th, 2010
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Bill Finch, the director of conservation for The Nature Conservancy in Alabama, is blogging for Cool Green Science about the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and the Conservancy’s efforts in Alabama to protect shellfish reef restoration projects there from the coming slick. Read all his posts.

I guess we can’t be absolutely sure who first had the idea of mixing fresh-picked crabmeat with vinegar, oil, onion and spices and calling it West Indies Salad. But the founder of Bayley’s Restaurant near Alabama’s Fowl River makes the best claim, and Bayley’s was the first place many on the Gulf Coast enjoyed this famous delicacy.

Crab is harder to find these days, and the spill may be the final blow for many who serve traditional Gulf seafood. Bill Bayley let it be known this weekend that he would shut down his family’s historic restaurant before he had to resort to serving “foreign” catch.

No one seems to salivate at the thought of West Indies Salad made with farm-raised Asian catfish.

At another favorite local seafood shop — with handsome views of one of the Gulf’s most productive estuaries — we stopped by for our ritual Sunday evening meal. No crab. The waitress apologized for the sudden jump in the price of oysters. Their locally harvested white shrimp — a closely guarded Gulf Coast secret, plumper, sweeter, fresher than the frozen Gulf shrimp shipped around the country — was still on the menu. I thought I’d better ask: Turns out the latest batch of “local white shrimp” was pond-raised and frozen for the long flight from Asia.

The Gulf Coast produces 40 percent of the seafood catch in the lower 48. But only 20 percent of the nation’s seafood comes from national waters.

A lot of folks worry we may be too dependent on foreign oil. But isn’t it odd: Even as doctors are touting the benefits of seafood for longer and healthier life, and even as more Americans are demanding it, we’re content that 80 percent of our seafood harvest now comes from foreign countries.

The decline in the availability of fresh Gulf seafood started long before the oil spill. We’ve been burning that candle at both ends for a while, harvesting more and more from the ocean, even as we wreck, fill in and generally ignore the health of the marshes, oyster reefs and other habitats that produce the harvest.

Now, we’re almost entirely dependent on marshes, reefs and fishermen in distant seas we have no control over, on shores we could not make more productive if we wanted to.

There’s no evidence the overseas harvest will hold up any better than ours has, and we’ve about run out of new oceans we can strip bare. You might remind your doctor of that next time he promises you’ll live ten years longer if you’ll just eat more seafood.

I don’t know that the Gulf could ever completely satisfy the nation’s growing appetite for seafood. But there’s little doubt that these waters were once far more productive than they are now. Louisiana alone is losing 30 square miles of marsh each year, and has been doing so for decades. How many fish, shrimp and crab disappear each year with the loss of so much of their nursery habitat?

Globally, the acreage of oyster reefs has declined about 85 percent, and only two small oyster harvest areas in eastern North America can claim to have 50 percent or more of their original reefs. One of those, in Mobile Bay, is right in the path of the spill.

It’s not clear what has happened, over the past year or so, to the Gulf Coast blue crabs that once made Bayley’s West Indies Salad such a treat. Maybe the local harvest was on the road to recovery, but the tiny, big-eyed baby crabs that will supply the harvest for years to come are now floating in the Gulf in a chocolate mousse of spilled oil.

For a long time, Gulf Coast blue crabs helped Chesapeake Bay restaurants guard a dirty little secret: The Chesapeake crab harvests had crashed from overharvest, pollution and habitat loss. Maryland’s famous crab cakes were made with Gulf Coast crab meat. I hate to think what Maryland will stuff its famous crab cakes with if the Gulf crab harvest meets the same fate.

The spill will further erode our ability to deliver fresh American seafood to American tables. It may already be too late to halt the immediate impacts. But the long-term security of our nation’s food supply requires that we pay a lot more attention to what’s coming out of our coastal marshes and reefs, and much more attention to what’s going into them.

(Image: Blue crab. Image credit: Erika Nortemann/TNC.)

The Risks of Moving to the Frontier for Hydrocarbons

Written by | May 10th, 2010
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In addition to writing blog posts for Cool Green Science, I am an occasional contributor to the National Journal’s Energy & Environment Experts Blog. It’s an interesting forum where members of the environmental community carry on a robust dialogue with members of the energy industry, lawmakers, academics and analysts. You can visit the blog here.

Recently I weighed in on the ramifications the Gulf Coast oil spill will have on our quest to develop clean energy sources and on the prospects of passing climate change legislation as early as possible. You can see the question and all of the responses here. Here was my response:

As other domestic supplies are exhausted and as oil prices increase, oil exploration and production will move toward the frontier, that is, toward more difficult and expensive places from which to extract hydrocarbons. (“Deepwater Horizon,” the name of the now sunken oil rig, conveys this very idea).

In the Gulf of Mexico, this push for the frontier means drilling in deeper water for oil that is still deeper below the surface of the seabed. But it also could mean drilling in harsh and remote arctic environments. As is now apparent, wells in deeper water carry greater risk.

I can picture a simple graph plotting the price of oil (a surrogate for scarcity) and potential risk to the environment (and to the lives of the men and women doing this difficult work). As the price goes up, the increased income supports drilling in more dangerous places.

I expect this is not a purely linear relationship. At some point the price and scarcity of oil drives exploration and drilling such that the risk curve steepens perhaps beyond what is manageable. Whether technology can reasonably lessen these risks is now not clear.

This relationship extends to America’s overall dependence on oil. As so many others have written, oil dependence is a risk to our economy, our national security, our climate and, as has been demonstrated in the Gulf this last week, our environment and even our food supplies.

While we are obviously not going to do without oil anytime soon, the steepening risk curve for oil and other fossil fuels should be telling us both to move as quickly as possible toward more diversified and lower-carbon energy sources and to ensure that our country’s regulatory framework is sufficient to protect our environment in the interim.

Some people may suggest that strict financial liability for cleanup and restoration of spills can mitigate the risk of offshore drilling. But our on-the-scene observation of the Gulf spill in the last week suggests that once a large spill happens, coping with it is a daunting task.

Even if BP pays for the current crisis, if we don’t diversify our energy supplies, we will pay for a lot of other bad things — like the costs of sea level rise, flooding, crop failures, wars to protect oil supplies, and constantly attempting to clean up an increasingly damaged environment.

There are better things on which to spend our children’s money, so we should proceed with energy and climate legislation with even greater urgency in light of the Gulf oil spill, and we should use the best science to make what oil extraction that does take place safer in the meantime.

(image: Windmills at Middelgrunden, outside of Copenhagen, Denmark. Image Credit: andjohan/Flickr through a Creative Commons license.)

Alabama: What This Spill Could Do to Coastal Marshes

Written by | May 10th, 2010
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Bill Finch, the director of conservation for The Nature Conservancy in Alabama, is blogging for Cool Green Science about the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and the Conservancy’s efforts in Alabama to protect shellfish reef restoration projects there from the coming slick. Read all his posts.

Don’t, my mother warned, go to bed chewing that bubblegum. I did it anyway, more than once. We tried soaping it out, combing it out, picking it out. But my mother always gave up in frustration, and dealt with it the only way she knew how. She cut off my hair.

I feel as helpless as a kid with gum in his hair when I contemplate cleaning this marsh.

The needlerush marsh along the northern Gulf Coast is so thick it’s black. Spartina patens, the marsh wire grass, lies like a luxurious green pelt. Marsh cordgrass is braided so tightly, it’s a snare for anyone who dares walk through it.

As Just Cebrian and researchers at Dauphin Island Sea Lab are discovering, these marsh grasses are one of nature’s most efficient traps. They capture whatever washes through them, sands, shells, seaweed, nutrients, plywood, plastic bottles, and weave all of it into the rich black earth of the marsh.

The marsh’s productivity, its growth, its survival as the rough ocean daily gnaws on the shoreline depends on the trapping efficiency of these grasses. Everything in the marsh, the bacteria, the fungi, the fish, the young shrimp, the nesting birds, depends on the marsh’s great catch.

As oil comes ashore in Louisiana marshes today, as it certainly will do on a wide swath of Gulf Coast when winds shift, we contemplate the possibility that the marsh’s own efficiency may kill it.

Oil will be so quickly, so completely woven into the fabric of the marsh, it’s almost impossible to imagine soaping it out, combing it out, picking it out. So as our frustrated mothers once did, we’ll consider desperate measures. Cutting it out. Burning it out.

But all of these remedies threaten to destroy the marsh’s livelihood, the key to its survival along the coast for eons. A bald marsh has no trap efficiency, and it dies.

In the early days of the spill, I found some optimism in imagining how the efficiency of the marsh might overcome this threat, entangling the black tide in its grassy rim, maybe within the first 15 to 20 feet from the shoreline. Maybe there’s a way to catch it there, clean it up the best we can, and all go home.

Now, it’s increasingly clear there won’t be one landfall of oil, but many landfalls over weeks and months. What happens when the next brown wave comes onshore, and the next, when storm tides lift it higher and throw it deeper into the miles of marsh?

If there is a key to recovery, it must lie in the marsh itself. If we can help at all, it will require an extraordinary effort to better understand better how the marsh survives in such a difficult environment, and how we can help it to digest and safely bury this toxic catch.

(Image: Dense marsh cordgrass (needlerush marsh) covers thousands of acres at the coastal Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve near Moss Point, Mississippi. Image credit: Mark Godfrey/TNC.)

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