Lengthy Gulf Restoration Plan Needs to Dive Deeper

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]f you’re like me, the recent holiday season has erased some of your memory (I think it’s all the sweets), and you may be in need of a refresher on where we left off in the Gulf restoration process. Recently, the Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) trustees released a long-awaited draft Early Restoration Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) and Phase III Environmental Restoration Plan (ERP). This was exciting news for the Gulf of Mexico, because the PEIS is critical for laying the groundwork for a comprehensive, long-term and integrated restoration process in the wake of the BP oil disaster. Ocean Conservancy’s experts have been going through the nearly 2,500- page document with a fine tooth comb over the last several weeks, and we are pleased to present you with our preliminary views.

The Draft ERP/PEIS does not articulate an ecosystem-wide vision for restoration. Understanding that early restoration is not intended to fully compensate for injuries, it is still crucial that a comprehensive, regional pathway toward restoration is established to guide project selection. Selecting projects in a piecemeal fashion without consideration of the overall ecosystem is not likely to bring us to full recovery in the future.

While the 44 projects included in this phase of restoration are a big step towards restoring the Gulf, only 9 of those projects are truly ecosystem restoration projects. The other 35 are meant to compensate the public for the lost days at the beach, on a fishing pier, or out on a boat, in 2010 when oil was still spewing into the Gulf. This means building new boat ramps, fishing piers, and beach boardwalks. The question remains: without restoring fish populations, what will we be fishing for on those new piers? In order to restore the public’s use of the Gulf, we must first restore the Gulf itself.

We are also disappointed to see that the offshore environment, where the disaster began, is left out of the picture. Project types do not include restoration of marine mammals, pelagic seabirds or their habitats, deep-water habitats, or fisheries assessment and management as restoration techniques eligible for Early Restoration funding.

The release of the draft PEIS is a step in the right direction, but we must urge the trustees to make the necessary changes and additions in order for this to be a truly holistic, ecosystem-based restoration plan.
Please go to the website below and submit your comments to the trustees by the comment deadline of February 19. For more info visit: http://www.gulfspillrestoration.noaa.gov/

Kara Lankford is Ocean Conservancy’s Constituent Outreach Specialist. She’s a lifelong resident of the Alabama Gulf Coast. Ocean Conservancy educates and empow- ers citizens to take action on behalf of the ocean. From the Arctic to the Gulf of Mexico to the halls of Congress, Ocean Conservancy brings people together to find solutions for our water planet. Informed by science, our work guides policy and engages people in protecting the ocean and its wild- life for future generations.