Gulf Restoration: Six Months After the BP Oil Spill
Yesterday (October 20) marked the six-month anniversary of the BP oil spill, and we wanted to express the urgent need for Congress to take action during the lame duck session to approve the use of Clean Water Act (CWA) fines paid by BP for environmental restoration in the Gulf region.
Those fines could range from as much as $5 billion – if the government determines that BP is not guilty of negligence – to as much as $21 billion if the government determines that BP is guilty of gross negligence. If the BP CWA fine money isn't dedicated to restoration, it will be funneled directly into the federal treasury, making the federal budget the only entity to receive a windfall from the BP disaster.
A working group named by President Obama to create a long-term Gulf recovery plan – headed by Navy Secretary and former Mississippi Gov. Ray Mabus – recommended last month that a "significant amount" of the penalties collected from BP for the oil spill should be dedicated to repairing the region's ecological, economic, public health and psychological damage. While the U.S. House of Representatives has passed an oil spill response bill that directs funding to Gulf Coast restoration, the U.S. Senate recessed for the elections without acting on oil spill response legislation.
We believe that the environmental restoration of the region is key to the long-term recovery of industries such as tourism, fishing and shipping, which are the backbones of the region’s economy. It is vitally important to helping strengthen the capacity of the Gulf’s already vulnerable communities – as well as the crucial fishing and tourism industries – to weather future disasters and slow decline.
We cannot, must not, let the environmental restoration of the region fall by the wayside once again.
The environmental well-being of the Gulf is critical to the economic well-being of the region. The time to take action is right now. Failure to dedicate CWA penalties to environmental restoration would be a terrible waste.
Photo credit: Yuki Kokubo
Oil and Birds: Too Close for Comfort
On October 13, nearly six months after the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster began, the National Audubon Society released its report, Oil and Birds: Too Close for Comfort, summarizing the status of birds in the Gulf. The report
concludes that even though the well has been capped, residual oil and chemicals pose substantial ongoing risks to birds living along hard-hit areas of the Louisiana coast.
In late September, Audubon science teams conducted surveys in 23 sections of Important Bird Areas along the disaster’s epicenter on the Louisiana coast. The science teams found widespread evidence of surface oil, tar, tar balls and seepage coming from pockets inches under the sand.
Observations also confirmed previous anecdotal reports of plentiful oil in the water column, pointing to the continued likelihood that it will wash onto beaches and into marsh areas for months to come. All of the oil-related threats were in close proximity to areas alive with birds, with no indication that oiled areas were being abandoned in favor of clean locations.
“Birds aren’t wired to avoid threats from oil, and even if they look healthy now, we can’t begin to predict all the health and reproductive effects that could show up later,” said Audubon’s Louisiana Bird Conservation Director and survey team member Melanie Driscoll. “The fact that they’re still plentiful doesn’t mean they’re safe.”
“It took this latest disaster to remind America of the sensitivity of this area and how vital it is for birds, for wildlife and for people. The Gulf Coast is an American treasure we must restore,” said Audubon President David Yarnold. “The risks remain, but we believe America is ready and able to make this region whole again. Together, we can do it.”
Photo credit: Gerry Ellis
A Delta Success Story: The Caernarvon Freshwater Diversion
Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation
On October 15, volunteers organized by the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation (LPBF) and the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana (CRCL) planted 200 bald cypress seedlings in the newly-formed Big Mar delta near the outfall of the Caernarvon Freshwater Diversion. This once open-water area has recently transformed into a sediment-rich marsh, making it an ideal ecosystem for cypress replanting.
During a flyover of the area earlier this year, scientists from LPBF noticed the manmade lagoon was turning into land. Exposed shoals were everywhere, and the lagoon was so shallow from recent sediment deposits that boats could barely move without dragging bottom. John Lopez, Coastal Sustainability Program Director for LPBF explained: “This land is a new Caernarvon Delta being created by the Caernarvon Diversion."
The scientists evaluated the suitability for planting bald cypress trees in the area and concluded the freshwater and sediment diversion at Caernarvon was successfully creating deltaic habitat for the species. They decided to begin a cypress replanting project at Big Mar, to be completed as part of the 10,000 Trees for Louisiana project, a partnership between the Louisiana Office of Coastal Protection and Restoration, RPM Ecosystems, Restore the Earth Foundation, CRCL and LPBF.
During the replanting, volunteers could hear the distant sounds of a pile driver constructing a nearby floodwall. In the future, the cypress trees these volunteers were planting would help protect that floodwall and neighboring communities from future storms, as part of the Multiple Lines of Defense Strategy (MLODS).
Another theory being tested is using natural processes to combat invasive species. In coastal Louisiana, nutria are a prominent invasive species that devour and destroy cypress. Planting seedlings usually requires that fences be placed around each sapling to protect it. However, this step is not necessary in Big Mar because of the thriving alligator population that preys on the nutria. Alligator numbers have increased recently as a result of the decrease in economic demand for alligator skins. When alligator skin prices drop, so does alligator hunting, thus allowing their populations to grow. In addition, when there is a thriving alligator population, the nutria are kept in check, allowing the cypress to flourish. In short, thanks to the alligators, the cypress seedlings are safe to grow.
Another volunteer group will be planting more bald cypress again this winter. If you are interested in volunteering with this project, please register as a volunteer at www.crcl.org.
Meet Karen Gautreaux
Karen Gautreaux is Director of Government Relations for The Nature Conservancy’s Louisiana Office and also serves as Director of Government Relations for The Conservancy’s recently-launched Gulf of Mexico conservation initiative. In this role, Karen coordinates efforts among TNC staff in Gulf chapters and in The Conservancy’s World Office in Arlington, Va. to support policies and programs that contribute to the sustainability of the Gulf ecosystem. This work is done in collaboration with other non-governmental organizations (NGOs), public and private sector partners who care about the health of our coastal ecosystems as well as the natural, cultural and economic resources this region provides.
The new Gulf of Mexico responsibilities are an extension of Karen's previous work focusing on state and federal policies and programs that contribute to conservation efforts in Louisiana. The Louisiana coastal ecosystem and Atchafalaya River Basin are conservation priorities, in addition to large-scale floodplain restoration projects that have the potential to improve habitat and water quality.
Karen began her career in the Louisiana Governor’s Office in Governor Roemer’s Office of Environmental Affairs and continued working in the Governor’s Office for the next three administrations in various capacities. Her responsibilities included coordination of the administration’s legislative packages, serving as policy liaison for the Departments of Environmental Quality, Natural Resources and Wildlife and Fisheries, and directing the Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities. In 2004, she left the Governor’s Office to serve as Deputy Secretary for the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality. Karen joined the staff of The Conservancy in early 2008.