Restoring the Gulf: Off to an Early Start

by Sarah Patterson

We have all heard about the BP Oil Spill or the Deepwater Horizon Spill that happened in April of 2010. Immediately after the spill, there was nonstop coverage for months about the explosion and the cleanup. But what is happening now? Let’s take a look at the restoration projects happening in the gulf today.

How the restoration process works.

According the Environmental Protection Agency, a group of experts or “trustees” forms to assess the damage done by the spill through the Natural Recourse Damage Assessment or NRDA. The Department of Interior, or DOI, conducts a part of the NRDA. They conduct four steps, pre-assessment screen, assessment plan, assessment implementation, and post-assessment, either through computer modeling or though human data collection The NOAA, or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, also conducts three steps in the NDRA; the preliminary assessment, injury assessment and restoration planning, and restoration implantation. In this feature we will be looking at how the NOAA is beginning to restore the gulf.

The NOAA stated that “The full spectrum of the impacts from this spill, given its magnitude, duration, depth and complexity, will be difficult to determine.”

There are four types of restoration, emergency, primary, compensatory, and early. Emergency restoration is the most time sensitive as it takes place before the completion of the assessments in order to prevent irreversible damage. Primary restoration tries to return the land to its previous condition and compensatory restoration provides reimbursement for the resources during this time of restoration. Early restoration is basically a combination of all three, and most of the restoration happening today.

In a NOAA press release, the trustees said that they “uniformly believe that restoration of the natural resources in the Gulf must begin as soon as possible.”

Early Restoration Projects

Early restoration projects started a year after the oil spill. The NOAA and the DOI started many projects and are still proposing projects for continual restoration in the Gulf. Phase one and two have produced ten restoration projects that are currently in the works. The NOAA releases information about all their ongoing and upcoming projects.

Phase one consists of eight projects in four states, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. The Florida projects are boat ramp enhancement, which is building four new boat ramp facilities, and duce restoration, which is restoring 20 acres of dune habitat. The projects in Alabama consist of protecting and creating 74 acres of salt marshes, and restoration of 55 acres of dune habitat. In Mississippi, the projects are restoring 1,430 acres of oyster beds, and creating 100 acres of artificial reef. The Louisiana projects are 850 acres of oyster bed placement and improvements, and 104 acres of marsh creation.

Phase two of the early restoration only includes two projects, but they span across multiple states. The first project is the improving of avian breeding habitat in Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi. This means that bird habitats and nesting areas are protected from disturbances. The second project is reducing artificial light at night so that seat turtle nesting is not disturbed. This project is located on the beaches of Florida and Alabama.

Phase three will by far be the largest of the phases so far and the final phase of the early restoration projects. There are 44 proposed projects in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. These projects will cost a total of 646 million dollars. These projects will be the biggest and most improvements to the gulf yet.

These projects consist of creating and improving wetlands, protecting shorelines, restoring barrier islands and beaches, restoring submerged aquatic vegetation, conserving habitats, restoring oyster beds, restoring shellfish, protecting birds, protecting sea turtles, enhancing public access to natural resources and recreation experiences, and promoting environmental stewardship.

What’s happening in Louisiana?

There are many projects that are happening in Louisiana to restore the coast back to what it once was, before the spill. These restoration projects are one step closer to restoring the Louisiana coast back to what it once was.

The Lake Hermitage Marsh Creation is a part of Phase 1 of the early restoration projects and cost an estimated 14.4 million dollars. The marsh is located in Barataria Basin in Plaquemines Parish. Approximately 104 acres of brackish marsh, which is saltwater marsh that has an inflow of freshwater that dilutes the salt water. A temporary pipeline will carry sediment from the Mississippi river into the marsh. Vegetation will then be planted on top of the land that was formed by the sediment.

The trustees of the NOAA have proposed two projects in phase three of the early restoration projects. The largest of these projects is the Louisiana Outer Coastal Restoration Project, predicted to cost 318 million dollars. Jenny Kurz, the outreach and engagement director for the Louisiana CPRA, “Louisiana’s barrier islands were heavily impacted by the spill. Numerous dead and oiled brown pelicans, terns, skimmers, and gulls were collected during and following the spill.” This project  aims to restore all those damages This project will restore beaches, dunes, and back-barrier marsh habitats in Caillou Lake Headlands, Chenier Ronquille, Shell Island, and North Breton Island. The project will also restore habitats for brown pelicans, terns, skimmers, and gulls, and provide compensation to the public for losses of these resources.

Kurz says that “The ecological resources and services that will be gained by this restoration are anticipated to help compensate the public for spill-related injuries and losses.”

Marine Fisheries Enhancement, Research, and Science Center is the other project in phase three for Louisiana. “The objective of this restoration project is to help compensate for the loss of recreational fishing services resulting from the spill,” says Kurz. There will be a center built in two locations, Calcasieu Parish and Plaquemines Parish. The Centers will research marine fish and provide fisheries extension, outreach, and education to the public. The research will focus on spotted sea trout, red drum, southern flounder, Gulf killifish, and Atlantic croaker.

What can you do?

If you have just have a couple of minutes- you can donate to the restoration effort here https://online.nwf.org/site/Donation2?df_id=32500&32500.donation=form1&s_subsrc=Web_MakeDiff_Donate_Sitewide

If you have a morning- you can submit plans and ideas for restoration projects to the NOAA at http://www.gulfspillrestoration.noaa.gov/restoration/give-us-your-ideas/

If you have a day- you can walk around the beach or marshes and look for oiled areas or any oiled habitats.

If you have a weekend- Make a wildlife habitat in your backyard for birds or other creatures around the Gulf. For more information visit https://www.nwf.org/How-to-Help/Garden-for-Wildlife/Create-a-Habitat.aspx

If you have a week- Help educate the public by volunteering at local events such as public meetings, fairs, or festivals. For more information contact oilspillvolunteers@nwf.org

If you have a month- Become a Habitat steward by organizing and teaching volunteers to educate and inform their local communities. You can also restore specific habitats or serves as a leader for a day restoration project. For more information contact oilspillvolunteers@nwf.org

Environmentalists, Scientists, and reporters have called the BP Oil Spill the worst environmental disaster in the U.S. But today the NOAA and many volunteers are working hard to return the Gulf to its once beautiful and magnificent self. However, there is still plenty of work that needs to be done, and this is only the beginning.

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