This area does not yet contain any content.
Get Updates! and Search
No RSS feeds have been linked to this section.

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Entries in Vanishing Paradise (15)

Wednesday
Dec172014

Vanishing Paradise Champions Gulf Coast Restoration

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.)

Friday
Sep052014

Judge Rules BP Grossly Negligent in Gulf Oil Spill

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.”

Monday
Apr282014

Tuna Possible Casualties from Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

More bad news has surfaced about the long-term consequences from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Scientists say the pollutant can cause severe defects in the developing hearts of bluefin and yellowfin tuna.

The 2010 spawning season coincided directly with the spill, meaning floating embryos were exposed to large surface slicks as oil gushed from the damaged wellhead.

“We know from the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Prince William Sound that recently spawned fish are especially vulnerable to crude oil toxicity,” says Nat Scholz, head of the ecotoxicology program for NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle. “That spill taught us to pay close attention to the formation and function of the heart.”

Scientists add that affected fish likely would have died soon after hatching. Additionally, scientists know from previous research that survivors of exposure to crude oil can suffer subtle and transient changes in heart rhythm during development. These changes can permanently impair heart function and swimming ability at later life stages.

“This creates a potential for delayed mortality,” says one scientist. “Swimming is everything for these species.

And evidence that the threat is still out there appeared last June, when a 40,000-pound (20 tons) tar mat was discovered in the surf off Grand Terre Island. Considered hazardous to marine life, the mat reportedly was made of up 15 percent oil and 85 percent sand, shells, and water.

Also, a report last spring revealed the damage done to dolphins, sea turtles, and killifish, a common forage fish at the base of the food web.

“Three years after the initial explosion, the impacts of the disaster continue to unfold,” said Doug Inkley, senior scientist for the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). “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.”

All this is not to say that the fishing is not good along the coast and in the Gulf or that it will deteriorate in the next few years. The truth is that we just don’t know what the long-term consequences will be.

But evidence certainly suggests that fish and other wildlife immediately exposed to the crude oil were harmed and some species continue to be.  

That means we haven’t seen the end of this disaster. No one can legitimately declare that damages have been mitigated, or that our wildlife, marshes, barrier islands, and offshore habitat are “cleaned up.”

“It is crucial that impacted regions of the Gulf implement restoration projects that are based upon the best available science, and to spend every single dime of the penalty money from the spill wisely,” says NWF. “That is our priority. The Vanishing Paradise campaign is focused on these goals as we continue our work in all five of the Gulf states. In Louisiana, that means two things:

  • Supporting the implementation of the Louisiana State Master Plan
  • Ensuring the integrity of the financial mechanisms that fill the gaps between Plan-Funding- and Restoration

“The moral of the story is that the Gulf is still hurting, four years after the largest oil spill in U.S. history. Recovery and restoration are far from complete.”

Tuesday
Feb182014

Exotics Take a Bite Out of Wetlands

Nutria photo from Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries website.

Most anglers know that Asian carp are harming this nation’s fisheries, from the Upper Midwest down to the Gulf Coast and eastward through the Ohio River watershed.

What many do not realize, however, is that other exotics also are doing severe damage. They don’t receive as much publicity because their range is more limited.

But in Louisiana, the nutria, a large rodent, is devouring the wetlands, destroying spawning and nursery habitat for a multitude of important sport fisheries. In fact, the state estimates that damage at any given time is about 46,000 acres, as about 5 million of the web-footed animals with large, orange teeth feed on the roots and stalks of aquatic plants.

Additionally, the giant apple snail also is taking a giant bite out of the wetlands. They’ve been banned from the state since 2012, but that was too late to keep them from becoming a destructive force, courtesy of irresponsible hobbyists who dumped their aquariums into waterways.

“They eat a ton of plant material, anything they can get their tiny little mouths on,” said Michael Massimi of the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program. “You are converting a water body from one dominated by plants to one dominated by algae.”

Asian carp, tiger prawns, water hyacinth, and giant salvinia also are among the exotic species doing damage to Louisiana’s coastal system.

Some limited good news is that the state’s nutria control plan, implemented in 2002, has lessened the impact of these furbearers, which were imported during the 1930s and promoted as a way to combat water hyacinth and other invasive plants during the 1940s.

Giant apple snails also are gobbling up wetlands.

Still the cumulative effect of these invaders is significant for an ecosystem already under siege. First came decades of habitat degradation and mismanagement, most of it originating from development and water diversions. These actions accelerated erosion and saltwater intrusion, which are crumbling away the equivalent of a football field every hour.

Then came the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and its aftermath, which added to the peril of an ecosystem that is critical for sustaining the food web of the Gulf of Mexico.

Fortunately, the spill also provided impetus for passage of the RESTORE Act, which provides a rare opportunity to restore and enhance the Delta and its wetlands. Guiding that restoration is a multi-state, multi-agency group known as the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council.

And a coalition known as Vanishing Paradise is working to make sure that Council members remember the importance of habitat restoration, which can drive and support economic recovery.

“The people, business, communities, and economy of this region are undeniably reliant upon a healthy and productive Gulf, and ecosystem restoration should be the top priority,” said spokesman Ben Weber.

Sadly, passing legislation and creating coalitions will do little to counter the damage already being done by established exotic species, including the nutria and giant apple snail.

But something could be done to lessen the likelihood of future harmful invasions in Louisiana’s marshes and wetlands, as well as other waterways nationwide. Congress needs to strengthen the Lacey Act, which prohibits the import and trade of harmful species.

Here is how bad the problem is: Since the act’s implementation more than a century ago, only about 40 animal groups have been prohibited, and that usually occurred long after they were imported, escaped into the wild, and started doing damage.

By modernizing the Lacey Act, Congress could empower the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to first assess the potential risks associated with a species proposed for import before deciding whether to allow or prohibit its trade in the United States. The ineffectiveness of the current law is easily evidenced by Burmese pythons in the Everglades, Asian carp threatening the Great Lakes, and giant apple snails joining nutria in gobbling up Louisiana’s wetlands.

Wednesday
Jan152014

Anglers Divided Over Diversion to Restore Mississippi Delta

Vanishing Paradise staffer Ben Weber

The campaign to protect and restore the wetlands and marshes of the Mississippi Delta has been fractured. Sadly, anglers now are pitted against anglers regarding the strategy for coastal Louisiana, with the future of fish and waterfowl, as well as their habitat, in the balance.

“It breaks my heart to see this fragmenting,” says Ben Weber, a Louisiana native and staffer for Vanishing Paradise, a coalition endorsing a comprehensive plan for rehabilitation of the Mississippi Delta. “Opposition is not based on science, and bass fishing is taking a hit.”

“This is the greatest environmental disaster in our country and no one knows about it,” adds Ryan Lambert, owner of Cajun Fishing Adventures. “We have to get bass fishermen involved in the fight.”

In short, manmade alterations in the river’s natural flow during the past 70-plus years, mostly for flood control, have allowed saltwater intrusion. That has killed vegetation and prompted erosion and loss of about 1,900 square miles of wetlands.

As this habitat for bass and waterfowl has been destroyed, a multitude of saltwater species, including redfish, flounder, speckled trout, shrimp, and crab, have enjoyed an expanded range. Not surprisingly, some commercial fishermen, charter captains, and local communities  want to maintain the status quo.

Their Save Louisiana Coalition supports restoration, but opposes freshwater diversion, one of the most effective tools for doing so. That’s because this sediment-carrying water, which will rebuild marshes, also will move saltwater species back toward the Gulf.

As an angler, 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 they also are short-sighted. Freshwater diversion is vital to the continued health of both the fresh and saltwater fisheries in the Delta. If saltwater continues to encroach, nearly all nursery habitat will be lost and redfish and trout will decline, right along with bass and catfish.

“The problem in Louisiana is we’re addicted to salt because that salt brings tremendous benefits in fisheries,” offers Robert Twilley, a coastal scientist at Louisiana State University.

But every year, he cautions, that artificial fishery moves closer to the river than nature ever intended.

“In 15 years, I’ve seen 80 percent of the marsh near our camp (Leesville) vanish,” says Weber. “There are cemeteries in bayou communities with just one or two headstones left (above water). We fish in the cemeteries for trout.”

Along the Mississippi at Buras, a stark contrast highlights the importance of using freshwater diversions, adds Lambert. 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, the Louisiana angler notes, “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 says. “You have to have freshwater too (for sustained fisheries).”

He also points out that the Davis Pond Diversion, where Kevin VanDam won the 2011 Bassmaster Classic, is no longer a viable fishery because flow has been reduced. “Saltwater has come in and killed the grass,” he says. “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.”

Freshwater diversion is but one of several tactics that will be used to revitalize the Delta. Others will include vegetation planting, dredging and placement of sediment, and protecting shorelines and barrier islands.

But reconnecting the river to the Delta is of paramount importance.

Only by restoring the natural process as much as possible can we achieve a solution that will benefit both freshwater and saltwater species.

 “Sportsmen and women have always had an eye towards long-term conservation,” says Steve Bender, Vanishing Paradise director. “That is what this is all about ---  the long term. To do it any other way is shortsighted and will not ensure that future generations will have the hunting and fishing opportunities we have all come to enjoy.”

(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)