The Gulf of Mexico is an incredible haven for wildlife—home to approximately 15,000 unique species of wildlife, including 28 types of dolphins and whales, 49 species of sharks, and five different sea turtles.
The National Wildlife Federation has worked for decades to improve the health of the Gulf of Mexico for people and wildlife. We have long championed the restoration of Louisiana’s disappearing coastal wetlands, protections for freshwater flowing to the Texas coast, and comprehensive Everglades restoration.
Our history in the Gulf has given us a first-hand view of the important role estuaries play in supporting fish and wildlife populations and protecting communities from extreme storms like Hurricanes Harvey, Katrina, and Irma. Restoring these estuaries—the nurseries for marine life and the foundation of coastal ecosystems—is essential for Gulf wildlife and for coastal economies.
In April of 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, causing significant harm to wildlife and ecosystems throughout the Gulf of Mexico. The National Wildlife Federation was a leading voice calling for justice for the Gulf in the aftermath of the disaster. Our staff, our affiliates, our partners, and our volunteers have been on the front lines since the Gulf oil disaster began, and we are still on the ground working for the restoration of Gulf wildlife, waters, and communities.
The National Wildlife Federation’s interactive website, Making the Most of Restoration: Priorities for a Recovering Gulf, details 57 specific projects and efforts that would improve the health of the Gulf of Mexico and its estuaries, including strategies to:
Restore the Balance of Fresh and Salt Water—Estuaries, found where fresh water from rivers mixes with salt water from oceans, are among the most productive ecosystems in the world. Restoring more natural patterns of water flow to the Gulf’s estuaries will improve the health of these critical ecosystems for the many species of wildlife that use them.
Rebuild Wetlands—Wetlands play a critical role in the Gulf ecosystem—providing habitat, filtering pollutants, stabilizing shorelines, and providing protection from storms. The Gulf Coast is home to more than half of all saltwater wetlands in the country, but wetland losses in the Gulf region have been massive.
Strengthen Shorelines—Oyster reefs improve water quality and provide habitat for hundreds of species of wildlife. But oyster reefs in the Gulf have declined dramatically—by as much as 90 percent in many places. Rebuilding lost reefs and creating living shorelines will benefit Gulf wildlife and protect coastal communities.
Replace Lost Sediment—The Mississippi River is straitjacketed by levees; sediment that once fed the Mississippi River Delta’s wetlands and barrier islands is now sent deep into the Gulf of Mexico. Projects to mimic the natural processes that built the delta will rebuild key habitats and protect communities.
Shore Up Barrier Islands—Barrier islands serve as a first line of defense against storms and maintain the balance of fresh and saltwater in the estuaries behind them. However, many of the Gulf’s barrier islands are eroding rapidly due to loss of river sediment, sea level rise, and intense storms.
Protect Key Places—The vast majority of the Gulf’s coastal lands are currently in private hands. Where appropriate, key parcels of coastal habitats should be permanently protected so they can continue to benefit the health of the system as whole.
More than $16 billion has been made available for ecological restoration in the Gulf, the result of legal settlements with BP, Transocean, and Anadarko for their roles in the Deepwater Horizon disaster. These are the totals available through the different legal mechanisms:
Collectively, these settlements will fund the largest restoration effort in U.S. history. The National Wildlife Federation is working to ensure that this money is spent wisely on efforts to comprehensively restore the Gulf. Maximizing this unprecedented opportunity will require vision, coordination, and a commitment to science. It will require decision-makers to think big and act boldly. And it will require active engagement by the people who live, work, or play on the Gulf Coast.
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More than one-third of U.S. fish and wildlife species are at risk of extinction in the coming decades. We're on the ground in seven regions across the country, collaborating with 53 state and territory affiliates to reverse the crisis and ensure wildlife thrive.