Three Years Later, Panhandle Leaders Say Gulf Restoration Could Be Economic Boon

“Three years after the initial explosion, the impacts of the oil disaster on wildlife are continuing to unfold. Restoring places like Pensacola Bay is the most effective way to create a healthy Gulf of Mexico.”

04-18-2013 // Lacey McCormick

On the eve of the three-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon explosion, five prominent Floridians called for investing money from the federal oil spill penalties into restoring the ecosystem of the Gulf Coast.

oil rig burning

“Three years ago, Escambia County was threatened by the worst environmental disaster in US history,” said Grover Robinson, Escambia County commissioner and chair of Florida’s Gulf Consortium.  “While we sustained damage to both our environment and economy, through both good fortune and hard work, we have cleaned up and visitors have returned to our beaches, hotels and restaurants. Still, restoration cannot fully occur until we implement the RESTORE Act which will provide a wonderful opportunity to repair those damages to the Gulf of Mexico region.”

On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, killing 11 workers. Two days later, the rig sank. Before BP finally capped the Maconodo well months later, 206 million gallons of oil had been released along with huge quantities of hydrocarbon gases.

“The historic damage to the Gulf Coast ecosystem by the oil disaster three years ago deserves an equally historic civic response,” said Tony McCray, Jr., Economic Development director for IBIS Partners.  “We need to see collaboration between diverse stakeholders who are committed to the sustainable restoration of the Gulf and the communities impacted by the disaster.”  

Nearly 4 million visitors come to the Pensacola Bay area each year. Tourism has a $1.2-billion impact on the local economy and creates 18,000 jobs.

"People increasingly want to live and do business in unique places that offer a high quality of life,” said Christian Wagley, principal of Sustainable Town Concepts. “Using the RESTORE Act funds to restore places like Pensacola Bay will have a tremendous economic impact in the long run.”

The Gulf of Mexico’s fisheries support an estimated $22.6 billion in annual revenue generated by seafood, commercial and recreational fishing related activity.

“Pensacola is known around the world for the quality of our seafood,” said Collier Merrill, owner of the Fish House restaurant. “Estuaries like Pensacola Bay are the nurseries of the Gulf of Mexico. Using the fines collected from BP’s oil spill to protect the ecosystems at the heart of our seafood production just makes economic sense.”

The National Wildlife Federation’s recent report, “Restoring a Degraded Gulf of Mexico: Wildlife and Wetlands Three Years into the Gulf Oil Disaster,” gives a snapshot view into six important species in the Gulf of Mexico and makes recommendations as to how we can improve the outlook for these species and for the Gulf as a whole. The report also explores the different types of restoration funding that will be available to restore the Gulf. A few of the findings from the report:

  • Dolphin deaths in the area affected by oil have remained above average every month since just before the spill began. Infant dolphins were found dead at six times average rates in January and February of 2013. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) called the dolphin die-off “unprecedented”—a year ago.
  • More than 1,700 sea turtles were found stranded between May 2010 and November 2012—the last date for which information is available. For comparison, on average about 240 sea turtles are stranded annually.
  • A coral colony seven miles from the wellhead was badly damaged by oil. A recent laboratory study found that the mixture of oil and dispersant affected the ability of some coral species to build new parts of a reef.

“Three years after the initial explosion, the impacts of the oil disaster on wildlife are continuing to unfold. Restoring places like Pensacola Bay is the most effective way to create a healthy Gulf of Mexico,” said Jessica Koelsch, Gulf Restoration policy specialist for the National Wildlife Federation. “We believe the money from BP’s oil spill fines should be spent exclusively on smart investments in the health of this shared national resource.”

Download the report at www.nwf.org/threeyearslater

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