One Year Later…The Story of The Gulf of Mexico

By April 20, 2011Ocean News

Today, April 20th 2011, marks the one year anniversary of the most devastating oil disaster in the history of the Gulf of Mexico. There will be a number of events and articles dedicated to recount the events that occurred on this day last year, but will they speak about the future of the Gulf of Mexico (GOM). What did we learn from this disaster? Do people remember the stories and images of marine mammals suffocating in the oil slicked waters trying to find a place in their Ocean where they can swim in clean water, only to fail and vanish into the deep blue sea. Do people remember the videos of Wallace ‘J’ Nichols and Carl Safina documenting tar balls on the beaches of the Gulf states and the vast slicks on the Ocean’s surface that can be seen for miles on end? I hope so. But did the GOM recover after one year? NO!

Surely, parts of the GOM may not show evidence of an oil spill, but there are parts that are still showing evidence of tar balls finding their way onto the beach…and that is only in the shallow areas. What about the deeper regions of the GOM? Results from a January research cruise with Carl Safina and Dr. Sylvia Earle should be available soon. Evidence of damage to coastal areas such as the loss of seagrass beds and salt marshes (important habitats for juvenile fish and invertebrates for the persistence of their species) are still apparent in some regions. What are the Gulf States doing about the damage suffered along their coastlines and to their industries such as fishing?

The Ocean Foundation can tell you. They have partnered and collaborated with many organizations to help with relief and restoration efforts of the GOM’s most critical habitats and industries. Mark J. Spalding, President of The Ocean Foundation, reveals the efforts conducted by the Foundation’s grants and partners to help the GOM bounce back for its worst disaster in history. Below is a snippet of a newsletter to update all interested in knowing more about the Ocean’s. Please visit The Ocean Foundation to find out more on how you can contribute to the various funds that will not only help the GOM, but also help the people who live along its coastline and depend on it’s resources to feed their families.

From Mark J. Spalding, President of The Ocean Foundation

Dear Friends of The Ocean Foundation:

I am not a Pollyanna, foolishly expressing blind faith that all is well a year after the Gulf oil disaster. There will continue to be many depressing stories issued well beyond this week’s anniversary. I have no doubt that there is harm done that is deep and lasting, and perhaps beyond comprehension. At the same time, there are many positive steps that can be taken. We must continue to re-build, restore, and/or find new opportunities in America’s tropical sea. I would like to highlight some reasons for hope for the future of the Gulf as we reflect today on the lives and livelihoods lost when the BP Deepwater Horizon rig blew a year ago.

And, you can visit our Gulf Restoration Fund.

A Change in Perception

The continuing disaster has lit a fire under long-delayed efforts to understand, protect and restore the Gulf of Mexico. We now have a federal task force that has formally recognized that the Gulf is grossly underfunded compared to other less biologically diverse and less productive water bodies in the U.S., and several federal agencies are already moving to address the concerns of that task force.

Just as important, there is a growing recognition among the public at large that the United States isn’t just a bicoastal country. An increasing number now know that North America’s richest large marine ecosystem isn’t found off the coast of New England or Los Angeles or Seattle, but in the Gulf of Mexico. And even people landlocked deep in the country’s interior are increasingly aware of their downstream connection to the Gulf of Mexico, and the significant role the Gulf plays in supporting the nation’s food supply and environmental health.

And finally, we’re discovering that our great tropical sea, the Gulf of Mexico, does have an immense capacity to rebound from severe insults – as long as we offer it an opportunity to recover and support restoration where we can. The reduction in overharvesting of the fishery last year allowed a bumper crop of shrimp, fish and other creatures to develop and spread throughout the Gulf. This little bit of breathing room for Gulf life may well have begun to offset some of the worst impacts of the oil spill on spawning fish and other creatures, and averted a much worse human and biological disaster. The lesson is that the Gulf can and does respond bountifully to our attention and care.

Building a Green Future for the Gulf

100-1000 Restore Coastal Alabama

This winter, hundreds of volunteers from as far away as Virginia, Indiana and Illinois wallowed in the mud of Mobile Bay to sling 50-pound sacks of oysters shells – the first step in an ambitious goal to restore 100 miles of lost oyster reef and 1,000 or more acres of marsh in Mobile Bay. Just weeks after the first small section of that project was installed this winter, scientists were reporting that seagrass beds are already returning to the waters protected and clarified by the new oyster reefs. Fishermen anticipate an explosion of shrimp and fish as reef and marsh work together again to create valuable new nursery habitat. The effort and the results were so impressive, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation last week announced that the Mobile Bay Restore Coastal Alabama project would receive a $600,000 award to continue this restoration work.

New Orleans East, Louisiana

New Orleans East (NOE) is a mostly Vietnamese-American community located approximately 10 miles from downtown New Orleans. NOE families lost their homes, their jobs and indeed, their entire community support system following Hurricane Katrina and the needs in this community remain significant. The BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill was another powerful blow to this community, 80 percent of which works as fishermen or in the fishing industry.

Despite monumental hardships, the Vietnamese community is demonstrating its exceptional determination not only to survive, but also to breathe new economic life into its community while establishing itself as a visionary leader in green business and technology. Its vision: The Viet Village Urban Farm Sustainable Aquaculture Park – a joint project with The Ocean Foundation – will bring green jobs and a vibrant business model to the region. It will provide organic produce and poultry to the area’s restaurants, and offer a sustainable alternative to fishing wild stocks and environmentally unfriendly forms of fish farming/aquaculture. Using the latest technology, land-based recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) – which have no connection to the marine environment, recirculate 99 percent of their water and require no chemicals or antibiotics – offer the promise of an industry that is both environmentally and economically sustainable. The project will reduce reliance (and fishing pressure) on the Gulf while helping the community stay in the seafood business and do so profitably and with more resilience.

In October 2010, The Ocean Foundation and Mary Queen of Viet Nam Community Development Corporation co-sponsored a workshop in New Orleans East to assess the community’s support for the project. Community members – including many fishermen – were strongly supportive of the effort and hope to serve as a model for other impacted communities around the Gulf of Mexico. The project has attracted the attention and support of the White House, and the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School recently joined the project to help develop a strong business plan.

Havana, Cuba

As oil spread from the BP Deepwater Horizon site, computer models predicted that much of it would enter the Gulf’s powerful “Loop Current” and be transported south, then east across the Florida Keys and up the East Coast of the U.S. But the models also predicted that the first stop along this route would be the vibrant coral reefs and productive mangrove estuaries of Cuba’s northwestern coast on the Gulf of Mexico. Dr. David E. Guggenheim, director of The Ocean Foundation’s Cuba Marine Research and Conservation Program, responded to concerns about the oil spill from colleagues in Havana. Dr. Guggenheim coordinated numerous meetings and conference calls from Washington, DC and engaged U.S. governmental agencies and officials, serving as a liaison and information facilitator between the U.S. and Cuban governments, which have no formal diplomatic relations due to the 50-year-old economic embargo imposed by the U.S.

The Ocean Foundation also established a special web site for the benefit of Cuban colleagues with the latest information on the trajectory of the spill and technical information on oil spill response measures. Fortunately, a large eddy formed in the Gulf of Mexico, altering the course of the Loop Current, and no oil is believed to have directly affected Cuba or Eastern Florida, but the emergency underscored the importance of more than a decade of strong collaboration between Cuban and American scientists that allowed them to react to this crisis swiftly, share needed information, and help advise their respective governments.

In January 2011, President Obama’s National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, issued its final report and recommendations, which include the recommendation that the U.S. “lead in the development and adoption of shared international standards, particularly in the Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic” and specifically recommends that Cuba be part of such a process. Dr. Guggenheim is currently working with the Commission to assist with such efforts in Cuba.

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