A Great Start for Gulf Restoration

Flock of white ibis and roseate spoonbills Photo: Galveston.com
Flock of white ibis and roseate spoonbills. Photo: Galveston.com
The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation has announced funding for 22 restoration projects in all five Gulf States. The more than $100 million comes from BP and Transocean’s criminal plea agreements resulting from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The Justice Department structured the criminal settlements in such a way that $2.5 billion for restoration that will be paid out in installments over the next five years—the recent announcement was just the first of many.

The 22 projects selected in this first round set a high bar for subsequent rounds of funding from all sources—including the Natural Resources Damage Assessment funding and the RESTORE Act.

The Restore the Mississippi River Delta coalition explained the importance of the critical barrier island restoration and river diversion projects in Louisiana in this way:

“Restoration of Louisiana’s disappearing wetlands is important not only to Louisiana but to the entire nation. Louisiana’s wetlands and waters provide one-third of the nation’s seafood, are a stopover point for migratory birds traveling the Mississippi Flyway and provide critical wildlife habitat. Projects like the Mid-Barataria Diversion can help revive Louisiana’s coastal wetlands—part of America’s largest delta— to a productive, functioning state, which provides important ecological and economic opportunities for people and wildlife.”

There is much to commend in the projects that were chosen elsewhere as well. For example, funding will be used to restore oyster beds in Texas, Alabama and Florida. An adult oyster can filter as much as 50 gallons of water per day; oyster reefs provide important forage and refuge habitat for hundreds of other species, such as shrimp, crabs, and redfish. Therefore, restoring oyster reefs in the Gulf’s bays and estuaries will have widespread impacts, even in the deeper waters of the Gulf.

It is critical to note that this is just the beginning. This money comes from the criminal settlement; the civil trial is ongoing and could bring billions more restoration dollars to the Gulf.

Destin, Florida beaches. Photo courtesy of Thermodynamix via Flickr.
Destin, Florida beaches. Photo courtesy of Thermodynamix via Flickr.
The decisions we make on how to use this money will have lasting economic repercussions. The Gulf’s 53 coastal counties and parishes have over 25,000 tourism-related businesses and nearly 500,000 associated jobs. Furthermore, the Gulf of Mexico produces 40% of the seafood caught in the United States. We can increase the supply of healthy fish stocks by restoring fish habitats, breeding grounds, and natural supplies of food. We can improve water quality by protecting watersheds, restoring oyster beds and improving infrastructure.

We hope to see the various funding streams resulting from the oil disaster orchestrated in a coordinated manner that will ensure the Gulf’s numerous restoration needs are addressed.

We have the opportunity to leave our children and grandchildren a lasting legacy of healthy fish, wildlife, seafood and resilient coastal communities—but only if we make sure that all this money is used wisely and transparently on projects that will make a difference for the health of the Gulf.

Take Action ButtonUrge the Secretary of Commerce to make sure BP’s oil spill fines are used to restore wildlife habitat in the Gulf of Mexico today.