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Entries in wetlands (25)


Citizens Must Be Voice for Fish and Wildlife in Gulf Restoration

Less than five years after the largest marine oil spill in U.S. history, BP has agreed to pay $18.7 billion in penalties and damages for its role. This stands in stark contrast to the decades-long litigation following the Exxon Valdez spill, and is great news not only for those who live along the Gulf Mexico, but for all of us who recognize the ecological, recreational, and economic value of this region to the nation.

Much of our seafood comes from there. Millions of us visit the five Gulf states annually to fish and enjoy other outdoor pursuits. And if you live in the Midwest or Great Plains, the waterfowl hunting that you enjoy annually is  dependent on healthy and abundant marshes and wetlands along the Gulf Coast, where 70 percent of waterfowl from the Central and Mississippi Flyways stopover or winter annually.

Now that we have an amount for what it likely the largest environmental settlement in history, it's important that plans and projects be implemented wisely and effectively. The federal RESTORE Act of 2012 will ensure that 80 percent of any Clean Water Act civil and administrative penalties paid by BP and other companies responsible for the disaster goes to the Gulf Coast Restoration Fund. That means each of the Gulf states will receive hundreds of millions of dollars to implement recovery plans, starting with Pot 1 for wildlife habitat restoration and improvement of water quality. This category also provides for “job creation” and “infrastructure projects,” which could allow expenditures that sound good but that won’t help the Gulf.

That's why it will be important for citizens along the Gulf to be a voice for fish and wildlife. They must tell their governors and state legislators that they want the money spent on projects such as restoring wetlands, sea grasses, and barrier islands, as well as ensuring adequate freshwater flows, which are important for sustaining healthy spawning and nursery habitat for fish and wintering areas for ducks and geese.

Vanishing Paradise looks forward to working with federal and state officials and the RESTORE Council to make sure that the BP funds go to meaningful, comprehensive restoration.

And as this work begins, we should remember that we still don't know the true extent of the damage caused by an estimated 4.9 million gallons of oil pouring onto the ocean floor. Years and possibly even decades will be required to determine population level impacts to species.

What we do know is that an estimated one million birds died from exposure to the oil, as well as large numbers of dolphins and sea turtles. We also know that cleanup crews removed 106,465 tons of "oily material" from Gulf shorelines by the end of 2013. And BP reports that it already had spent $14 billion and 70 million personnel hours on cleanup and response by that time.

With direction as provided by the RESTORE Act and watchful oversight from those of us who want the best for Gulf Coast fish and wildlife, it now will spend an additional $18.7 billion.


Galveston Grass

Photo by Robert MontgomeryBeneficial 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.


Restoring Galveston Bay

Activist Angler is down at Texas' Galveston Bay, looking at efforts to improve the wetlands, sea grasses, and oyster reefs.  Galveston Bay Foundation and Vanishing Paradise (VP), an initiative by the National Widlife Federation, are making certain lots of good work is being done with money from the RESTORE Act.

Following a tour of the projects, we found time to do a little fishing with Captain Chris Howard. Andy McDaniels, VP national sportsmen's outreach coordinator, is holding the redfish.


Coral Diseases Threaten Marine Fisheries


Coral reefs, among the most valuable marine habitats for fisheries, are suffering. Overfishing, world climate change, and other stressors likely are contributing to their degradation and increasing susceptibility to disease. 

One of the most recent examples comes from Hawaii, where a new disease has been found on coral colonies.

This disease can spread fast and has the ability to kill a small coral colony within a week,” said Anne Rosinski, a marine resource specialist with the state’s Division of Aquatic Resources.

Additionally, the state reported that a “mass bleaching event” of coral colonies occurred last fall. Scientists don’t know if there is a direct connection between the disease and the bleaching, “though bleached coral is generally more susceptible to diseases.”

Here is what NOAA says about the value of coral reefs:

  • The commercial value of U.S. fisheries from coral reefs is more than $100 million. In addition, the annual value of reef-dependent recreational fisheries probably exceeds $100 million per year.
  • Coral reefs support more species per unit area than any other marine environment, including about 4,000 species of fish, 800 species of hard corals and hundreds of other species. Scientists estimate that there may be another 1 to 8 million undiscovered species of organisms living in and around reefs.
  •  Storehouses of immense biological wealth, reefs also provide economic and environmental services to millions of people. Coral reefs may provide goods and services worth $375 billion each year.
  • Millions of people visit coral reefs in the Florida Keys every year. These reefs alone are estimated to have an asset value of $7.6 billion.
  • Coral reefs buffer adjacent shorelines from wave action and prevent erosion, property damage, and loss of life. Reefs also protect the highly productive wetlands along the coast, as well as ports and harbors and the economies they support.



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.)