Beneficial marsh grasses like this will grow more plentiful as restoration projects enhance fish and wildlife habitat in Galveston Bay. With the Galveston Bay Foundation and Vanishing Paradise providing oversight and assistance, much of the work will be financed by the RESTORE Act, using funds provided by BP to compensate for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill five years ago.
Entries in BP (7)
The Gulf Coast was imperiled even before the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010.
That’s because erosion and saltwater intrusion are destroying wetlands and marshes in the Mississippi River Delta and have been for decades, mostly because of manmade alterations and degradations. In 2009, that realization prompted the National Wildlife Federation and Ducks Unlimited to unite to awaken Congress and the nation to the crisis through the Vanishing Paradise (VP) coalition.
As a result of that serendipitous timing, fish, waterfowl, sportsmen, and coastal communities have a champion in their corner today as BP pays billions for damage inflicted upon the Gulf. With more than 800 fishing and hunting businesses and organizations supporting its mission, VP wants that money used to restore and enhance those wetlands and marshes, as well as mitigate the environmental damage done by the oil spill all along the coast.
“We engaged heavily to get anglers and hunters to Washington, D.C. to talk to their legislators and help pass important legislation,” said Steve Bender, VP director. “And it worked. We delivered the RESTORE Act.”
A volunteer Advisory Council and Conservation Pro Staff deserve much of the credit not only for passage of the act but for promoting the campaign and educating the public about the coastal crisis, he added.
The 2011 RESTORE the Gulf Coast Act allocates a portion of the funds equally to the five Gulf Coast states for ecological and economic recovery, and establishes the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council to develop and fund a plan for recovery. It also establishes an endowment that includes funding for fisheries stock assessments and ecosystem monitoring.
“Since then, we’ve been focusing on restoration,” Bender continued. “We’ve been asked to expand our scope (from the Delta) into the Gulf.
“Louisiana already had a master plan. And now that other states are receiving dollars, we are working on getting that money spent on coastal recovery and economic restoration. We have policy specialists in those states, and we’re going to expand angler and hunter outreach.”
Ground Zero for protection and restoration work, however, remains the Delta at the mouth of the Mississippi River on Louisiana’s coast. This vast wetlands area is critical as spawning and nursery grounds for fish and overwintering habitat for much of the nation’s waterfowl. And since the 1930s, an estimated 1,880 square miles of habitat has been lost.
“Given the importance of so many of south Louisiana’s natural assets --- its waterways, natural resources, and unique culture, and wetlands --- this land loss crisis is nothing short of a national emergency, one that takes a daily toll on the lives of coastal residents,” said the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, which developed the 2012 Coastal Master Plan.
In Louisiana, what it all boils down to is trying to stop the destruction and implement a system that mimics, as much as possible, the natural process interrupted by development --- a system that will restore wetlands and marshes for fish and wildlife, while providing protection for coastal communities from saltwater intrusion.
Why is this needed? The reasons are many, according to VP, but one of the most significant is that the Mississippi River “has been straitjacketed with huge levees as part of a national program to ‘control’ the river and protect communities and economic infrastructure from flooding.”
But wetlands were built and sustained by sediment delivered by the river, and cutting them off with levees stopped new growth, allowing for saltwater intrusion that kills them.
“Without land-building deposits from the river, the Delta is doomed to continue sinking beneath the water, endangering the people, wildlife, and jobs that depend on these healthy resources,” VP said.
According to the master plan, restoration and protection projects will focus on sediment diversion, marsh creation, bank stabilization, structural and shoreline protection, and hydrologic, barrier island, and ridge restoration. Unfortunately, proposed diversions have generated opposition from some, who otherwise support the plan. That’s because sediment-carrying sediment, which will rebuild marshes, also will move saltwater species back toward the Gulf.
It’s easy to understand their point of view: They don’t want to surrender any of their fishing grounds, including those created by man’s interference with a natural system. But such a view is short-sighted, since the continued health of both freshwater and saltwater fisheries is dependent on freshwater and sediment. If saltwater continues to encroach, nearly all nursery habitat will be lost and redfish and trout will decline, along with bass and catfish.
“The problem in Louisiana is we’re addicted to salt because that salt brings tremendous benefits in fisheries,” explained Robert Twilley, a coastal scientist at Louisiana State University.
Every year, he cautioned, that artificial fishery moves closer to the river than nature ever intended.
Along the Mississippi at Buras, a stark contrast highlights the importance of using freshwater diversions, explained Ryan Lambert, a VP supporter and owner of Cajun Fishing Adventures. On the west side, which receives little to no freshwater, only open water and dead marsh grass remains. On the east side, where freshwater flows, the wetlands are alive and thriving.
In that area, he added, “bass fishermen and redfish fishermen go to the same place to catch fish. From Buras down to the mouth of the Mississippi is the best fishing in North America.
“You can’t just pump in sediment,” he said. “You have to have freshwater too (for sustained fisheries).”
Lambert pointed out that the Davis Pond Diversion, where Kevin VanDam won the 2011 Bassmaster Classic, is no longer a viable fishery because diversion flow has been reduced. “Saltwater has come in and killed the grass,” he said. “There are no bass, no brim, no crappie, no catfish, and no duck habitat. And it’s all because they want to grow oysters there.”
As work goes forward, Bender emphasized that the master plan is not just about diversion and VP wants to work with all stakeholders, including those who oppose that aspect. “We want to limit the impacts on folks who might be hurt,” he said. “We need to find a way to work together.
“But we also feel strongly that you have to let the river do what it does naturally.
“Gov. (Bobby) Jindal has been very supportive of restoration, and we’re hoping that the new governor coming in will be the same,” Bender said. “We have more partnerships on the horizon and a new campaign coming up in Louisiana soon.”
(This article appeared originally in Fishing Tackle Retailer.)
BP could be fined the largest penalty ever levied under the federal Clean Water Act (CWA).
That’s because U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier recently ruled that the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico occurred because of the company’s gross negligence, meaning BP could be liable for as much as $18 billion in pollution fines.
That amount is far more than the $3.5 billion that the company had set aside and, according to the Wall Street Journal, “would easily exceed the biggest previous fine under the statute.”
That amount was based on BP’s belief that the court would rule the company liable for simple negligence. But a verdict of gross negligence means a fine of as much as $4,300 for each barrel of crude oil spilled in the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.
The judge could decide on lower penalties per barrel, but still the amount is likely to surpass the previous CWA record of $1 billion paid by Transocean Ltd, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig.
“More than four years after the BP oil disaster, today’s ruling is a vital step towards restoring important waterfowl and fishing habitat for the next generation of sportsmen and women,” said Vanishing Paradise, a coalition of about 800 hunting and fishing organizations advocating for restoration of the Mississippi River Delta and the gulf.
“The oil spill tarnished hundreds of miles of coastline and marshes important to fresh and saltwater fishing and waterfowling. The areas most damaged by the spill cannot wait any longer for restoration to begin. Recreational fishing is a critical component of the Gulf economy generating $8 billion annually.
“In Louisiana alone, some 10 million ducks, geese and other waterfowl winter along the coast and depend on healthy marshes. We must invest penalty monies in real restoration projects that clean up and restore the waters and coastal habitat that are the backbone of the Gulf region’s economy.”
Anglers, environmentalists and many others are pleased with a recent decision by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) to reduce pollution of Lake Michigan and its fisheries.
A stricter IDEM permit requires BP’s Whiting oil refinery, just outside Chicago, to lower its mercury discharges from 23 parts per trillion to 8.75.
“We are pleased the agency responded to our recommendation by strengthening the mercury requirements and requiring BP to submit and update its stormwater plan,” said Lyman Welch of the Alliance for the Great Lakes. “Still, we are disappointed that IDEM did not go as far as we’d hoped to protect the waters of the Great Lakes.”
At BP, meanwhile, spokesman Scott Dean said that new technologies for pollution reduction are promising.
“BP is committed to protecting Lake Michigan and we are cautiously optimistic that our recent investment in new water treatment equipment will further reduce the Whiting Refinery mercury discharge,” Dean said. “Having said that, the mercury limit in the revised permit has decreased by more than half and the refinery needs to gain experience operating the new equipment before we will know if the refinery can successfully and consistently meet this revised limit.”
The company has almost completed a $3.8 billion expansion that will make it a top processor of heavy crude oil from Canada’s tar sand deposits. Following announcement of construction in 2007, IDEM allowed BP to increase its discharge of mercury, ammonia, and suspended solids.
Public outrage over that decision convinced BP to abide by stricter standards for ammonia and dissolved solids. But Indiana allowed an exemption for mercury as the company worked on technology to scrub its waste of that pollutant.
(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)
In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, consequences for fish and wildlife weren’t nearly as disastrous in the Gulf of Mexico as I feared they would be. Still, they weren’t good.
And they still aren’t. No one is suggesting that the coastal states aren't open for tourism business or that the fishing isn't good, but some species still are being harmed.
“Three years after the initial explosion, the impacts of the disaster continue to unfold,” said Doug Inkley, senior scientist for the National Wildlife Federation. “Dolphins are still dying in high numbers in the areas affected by oil. These ongoing deaths—particularly in an apex predator like the dolphin—are a strong indication that there is something amiss with the Gulf ecosystem.”
Restoring a Degraded Gulf of Mexico: Wildlife and Wetlands Three Years into the Gulf Oil Disaster looks at how different species of wildlife across the northern Gulf are faring in the wake of the oil disaster:
- Dolphin deaths in the area affected by oil have remained above average every month since just before the spill began. Infant dolphins were found dead at six times average rates in January and February of 2013.
- The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) called the dolphin die-off “unprecedented”—a year ago. While NOAA is keeping many elements of its dolphin research confidential pending the conclusion of the ongoing trial, the agency has ruled out the most common causes of previous dolphin die-offs.
- More than 1,700 sea turtles were found stranded between May 2010 and November 2012—the last date for which information is available. For comparison, on average about 240 sea turtles are stranded annually.
- A coral colony seven miles from the wellhead was badly damaged by oil. A recent laboratory study found that the mixture of oil and dispersant affected the ability of some coral species to build new parts of a reef.
- Scientists found that the oil disaster affected the cellular function of the killifish, a common baitfish at the base of the food web. A recent laboratory study found that oil exposure can also harm the development of larger fish such as mahi mahi.
“The oil disaster highlighted the gaps in our understanding of the Gulf of Mexico,” said Ian MacDonald, professor of Oceanography at Florida State University.
“What frustrates me is how little has changed over the past three years. In many cases, funding for critical research has even been even been cut, limiting our understanding of the disaster’s impacts. For example, we know that some important coral communities were damaged, but funding for the necessary follow up has not been there.”
The report’s release comes as BP and the other companies responsible for the disaster are on trial in federal court for violations of multiple environmental laws. The report describes different sources of restoration funding resulting from the disaster and provides initial suggestions for how this money can be used to improve the outlook for the species discussed in the report.
“Despite the public relations blitz by BP, this spill is not over,” said David Muth, director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Mississippi River Delta Restoration Program.
“In 2012 six million pounds of tar mat and contaminated material from the BP spill were cleaned up from Louisiana’s coast. Justice will only be served when BP and its co-defendants pay to restore the wildlife and habitats of the Mississippi River Delta and the Gulf of Mexico.”
Other oil disasters have taken years to reveal their full effects, and often recovery remains incomplete after decades. To date, the disaster response has focused on removing the visible oil, but little has been done to tackle the region’s long-standing habitat degradation and water quality problems—issues that were exacerbated by the oil disaster.
“I’ve always considered myself truly fortunate to make a living fishing these waters,” said Ryan Lambert, owner of Cajun Fishing Adventures, a lodge and charter boat operation in Buras, Louisiana. “Right now, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get this ecosystem back on its feet, but we need to make sure we use the money from BP’s penalties on projects that will improve the health of the Gulf in the long run. That’s the best way to restore our economy, and it is the best way to make sure our children have the opportunity to enjoy this region as we have for decades.”