Restoring the Gulf Coast

Green Sea Turtle photo by US National Park Service 

The Gulf of Mexico is home to approximately 15,000 unique species of wildlife, including 28 types of dolphins and whales, five different sea turtles, and 49 species of sharks. A wide variety of habitats support this abundance of wildlife, including wetlands, barrier islands, coral reefs and oyster beds.

Helping Wildlife Recover

In April of 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, killing 11 people and unleashing a torrent of oil and natural gas into the Gulf of Mexico. The impacts of the disaster on wildlife and on the habitats they need were severe and are ongoing. Learn more about how Gulf wildlife is faring after the Deepwater Horizon disaster >>

BP and the other companies responsible for the disaster have paid significant criminal and civil fines. As much as $16 billion of these fines could be spent over the next two decades for helping Gulf wildlife and restoring estuaries, wetlands, oyster reefs, and other important habitats. We have staff working in all five Gulf states to make sure this money is spent to benefit the Gulf and its wildlife.

Pelican covered in oil photo by the Governor of Louisiana's Office 

Support our work protecting wildlife in the Gulf and across the country >>

Restoring Gulf Ecosystems

The money from the legal settlements provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to restore the Gulf — from the BP disaster and from the previous century of overuse. Our April 2017 report, Making the Most of Restoration: Priorities for a Recovering Gulf, details 50 specific strategies that would improve the Gulf of Mexico and its estuaries, including efforts to:

  • Restore the Balance Between Fresh and Salt Water: Over the past hundred years most of the rivers that flow into the Gulf have been leveed, dammed, deepened, or straightened. Where possible, restoring more natural flows of fresh water and sediment into our coastal estuaries will benefit fish and wildlife, both along the coast and in deeper waters.
  • Rebuild Wetlands: The entire Gulf Coast is rapidly losing marshes and wetlands, but the problem is most pronounced in Louisiana's Mississippi River Delta, which loses an average of a football field of land every hour.
  • Bring Back Oyster Reefs: Some Gulf estuaries have each lost more than 90% of their historical oyster reefs. Restoring oyster reefs across the Gulf will improve water quality, recreate lost habitat for fish, and better protect communities from hurricanes.
  • Replace Lost Sediment: The Mississippi River is straitjacketed by levees from the Midwest to the bottom of Louisiana’s boot toe. Sediment that once fed Louisiana’s coastal wetlands and barrier islands is now sent into the Gulf of Mexico. Louisiana’s wetlands and marshes are disappearing rapidly, in part because they are starved of the river’s sediment and fresh water.
  • Shore Up Barrier Islands: Barrier islands are important wildlife and shorebird habitats, serve as a first line of defense against storms and protect wetlands and other estuarine habitats. However, many of the Gulf’s barrier islands are eroding rapidly, particularly in the Mississippi River Delta.

Reforming Offshore Drilling Policy

As a nation, we need to make sure catastrophes like the Deepwater Horizon do not happen again. The National Wildlife Federation advocates for policies that will:

  • Reform federal oil and gas leasing practices to improve safety monitoring
  • Lift liability limits so companies responsible for spills are held fully accountable for the costs
  • Dedicate funds from the sale of exploration licenses in the Outer Continental Shelf to Gulf restoration efforts
  • Invest in more effective response techniques, such as better containment methods and less use of toxic dispersants

Support our work protecting wildlife in the gulf and across the country >>

Ghost Crab photo via iStock

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Interactive Feature
NWF Report: Making the Most of Gulf Restoration
Interactive Feature
NWF Gulf Report: 9 Things You Didn't Know About the Deepwater Horizon Spill