Restoring the Deep Water Environment of the Gulf of Mexico

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[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he Gulf of Mexico is an extraordinary place, but despite the growing number of people who live, work and play on the Gulf Coast, we know very little about the Gulf in its entirety. Its wonders are bountiful, and its resources provide the people who live along its shores a unique way of life. Ocean Conservancy has worked in the Gulf region for over two decades, with a primary focus on managing our fisheries sustainably. However, on April 20, 2010, the focus of our work took on a new direction. With the explosion of Deepwater Horizon, it became evident that this large marine ecosystem was in danger and would need extensive restoration to recover from this devastating disaster. However, the Gulf was no stranger to degradation prior to the oil disaster. Land loss, overfishing and polluted stormwater runoff are just a few of the factors that have hindered the productivity of the Gulf ecosystem for decades.

After the oil well was capped and the focus shifted from clean-up to recovery, Ocean Conservatory has advocated for comprehensive restoration, from the coast to the deep sea and including impacted coastal communities, in order to make the Gulf whole. With science as the guide, this comprehensive approach to restoration is critical to the successful recovery of our natural resources.

Decision-makers are often puzzled at the mention of restoring the deep-water environment. How does one even begin to restore this mysterious place, as well as the creatures and people who benefit from it? Ocean Conservancy seeks to answer this question by convening experts from around the Gulf Coast to identify projects that would restore the marine environment. Among the restoration options identified is a critical piece of the restoration puzzle– a comprehensive Gulf of Mexico marine habitat map. Mapping the Gulf would fill large gaps in our understanding of the Gulf by telling us what type of habitats exists where, as well as what condition they are in at this time. It would also provide a tool that allows scientists to more accurately study the abundance and health of fish populations and provide fishery managers the information needed to better sustain a healthy fishing industry. This type of project is unique, in that it builds knowledge rather than habitats.

The BP disaster brought to light the lack of baseline scientific information we have on the Gulf ’s ecosystem. In order to restore what was lost, we must first know what was there. Without good scientific data and a good understanding of both the species and their habitats, restoration efforts are not complete.

The Gulf needs a voice, and that’s where you come in. Join us at www. oceanconservancy.org/gulf to find out how you can help ensure that restoration of the Gulf of Mexico is done right.

Kara Lankford is Ocean Conservancy’s Constituent Outreach Specialist. She’s a lifelong resident of the Alabama Gulf Coast.

Ocean Conservancy educates and empowers 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 wildlife for future generations.

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