A Vision For Comprehensive Gulf Restoration
"We can’t undo what was done, but we can make sure that every penny flowing from the disaster is spent on scientifically-sound restoration efforts."
Today, National Wildlife Federation released a report describing 47 projects that would improve the health of the Gulf of Mexico in the wake of the 2010 oil disaster.
Restoring the Gulf of Mexico for People and Wildlife: Recommended Projects and Priorities takes a broad look at restoration efforts that would benefit all five Gulf Coast states—Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. The recommendations emphasize restoring the places where rivers flow into the Gulf of Mexico, such as the Mississippi River Delta, which are important nursery grounds for many species of marine life.
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"The effects of the Gulf oil disaster on the entire region are ongoing. We can’t undo what was done, but we can make sure that every penny flowing from the disaster is spent on scientifically-sound restoration efforts," said David Muth, director of National Wildlife Federation’s Gulf Restoration Program.
Funding for these restoration projects could come from the billions that BP and the other companies responsible for the 2010 spill will pay in fines and penalties. Much of this money will ultimately be distributed to the Gulf states for restoration.
"Over the past hundred years, we’ve made significant alternations to most of the major rivers, including the Mississippi and the Everglades’ ‘River of Grass,’ that flow into the Gulf,” said Ryan Fikes, the staff scientist with NWF’s Gulf Restoration Program. "As a result, we’ve lost or damaged important habitats, such as wetlands, oyster reefs and sea grass beds. Restoring these coastal habitats will help species throughout the Gulf of Mexico, including many that live in much deeper waters."
The report’s 47 proposals can be grouped into these five general categories:
- Restoring Wetlands: Wetlands play a critical role in the Gulf ecosystem—creating habitat for fish and wildlife, filtering pollutants, stabilizing shorelines, and providing protection from storms. Over the past eight decades, the Gulf of Mexico has lost an area of wetlands larger than the state of Delaware, mainly in the area of Louisiana known as the Mississippi River Delta.
- Restoring Sediment: The Mississippi River is hemmed in by man-made levees; the river sediment that once nourished the delta’s wetlands is now propelled deep into the Gulf. If all of the 19 recommended projects in Louisiana were built, together they would sustain, restore and rebuild as many as 300 square miles of wetlands that would otherwise be lost by 2060.
- Restoring the Balance between Fresh and Saltwater: Estuaries are created where fresh water from rivers mixes with saltwater from the Gulf. In most of the Gulf’s estuaries the natural balance of fresh and salt water has been dramatically altered. The report recommends solutions for the Everglades, the Mississippi River Delta, and for five bays in Texas.
- Restoring Oyster Reefs: An adult oyster can filter as much as 50 gallons of water per day, and oyster reefs provide important habitat for many economically important species of fish, such as redfish, shrimp and blue crabs. Oyster reefs can also protect coastal communities from storms. Restoring oyster reefs is a key element in several of the recommended projects in the report, for example in Mississippi’s Biloxi Bay and Bay St. Louis.
- Protecting Critical Landscapes: In a few places, the report recommends purchasing key parcels of coastal lands to protect them in perpetuity. For example, the report recommends adding lands to Alabama’s Grand Bay and Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuges.
The report is aimed at informing a series of decisions that will be made by the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, which is tasked with drafting and implementing a comprehensive restoration plan for the Gulf and selecting projects for construction. The federal-state council recently released a preliminary list of proposals to be considered for funding. Several of the projects in this report are on that preliminary list.
The National Wildlife Federation and its coalition partners also released a complementary report today that focuses exclusively on restoring the Mississippi River Delta.
"The oil spill affected wildlife and ecosystems across the Gulf Coast and we need to make smart decisions how to use this money to improve the health of the entire system," said Muth. "We owe it to future generations to determine where this money can have the greatest impact and to focus our efforts there."