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Recommendations for Restoring Gulf after Deepwater Horizon Disaster Released

Sep 25, 2012

It's been just over two years since the Deepwater Horizon well was capped, ending the largest oil spill in U.S. history. But is it really over? The largest gathering of scientists since the spill met recently at the Tradewinds Island Resort in St. Pete Beach to discuss the damage to the Gulf - and what may yet happen.

In April, The Gulf of Mexico University Research Collaborative and Ocean Conservancy hosted a workshop focused on restoration of marine resources. The report from this workshop, which includes recommendations for restoration options from a mixed panel of experts from science, management and the fishing communities, is posted at http://www.marine.usf.edu/gomurc/docs/Marine_Restoration_Workshop_Report-9-6-12.pdf. Here's some of their recommendations:

Conclusions and Recommendations

The Deepwater Horizon disaster was the largest, unintentional marine discharge of hydrocarbons in history, impacting a large area of the offshore waters in the Gulf of Mexico and the coasts of the five states bordering the Gulf. Trustees continue to account for impacts of the oil spill on the marine environment, even though a full accounting of injuries may be impossible. In spite of this, acute wildlife mortalities and disaster-related fishery closures, combined with results from NRDA and published non-NRDA studies, provide strong evidence that the disaster resulted in injuries to and lost services of marine resources.

Sea turtles, seabirds, bottlenose dolphins, deep sea corals, reef fish (e.g., red snapper) and oysters that are oiled and dead or sick in the northern central Gulf provide some of the strongest indicators to date that the disaster resulted in a variety of natural resource injuries. Closed recreational and commercial fishing grounds and negative perceptions of the condition of local seafood are clear examples of impacted human uses. In addition, the disaster may have compounded chronic sources of stress on this large marine ecosystem, further compromising crucial ecosystem services such as food web dynamics, fisheries, wildlife viewing and other passive and consumptive uses beneficial to society.

A growing number of marine species and habitats, plus the ecosystem services and human uses they support, warrant restoration attention and funding to achieve recovery. The cosponsors held this workshop to explore and identify a suite of restoration priorities that should be considered and evaluated as candidate projects to accelerate recovery of ocean habitats, fishery resources, marine wildlife and human uses impacted by the disaster.

The workshop panelists identified a cross-section of approaches for restoring marine resources that fall into the primary and/or compensatory restoration categories. Approaches for direct, onsite restoration of open-ocean, marine resources (e.g., primary) are available mainly as protection or management measures. A large number of restorative actions considered scientific in nature qualify as compensatory—as distinct from primary—although they could justifiably be primary because determining recovery or detecting delayed impacts is only possible through on-going science.

The co-sponsors offer the following recommendations to restoration planners, particularly to the DWH Natural Resource Trustees, in the hope that a significant portion of NRDA or RESTORE Act funds will be dedicated to the recovery of marine species, habitats, ecosystem services and human uses. As one important measure of public support for marine restoration, the Trustees received thousands of public scoping comments for the DWH oil spill Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS), encouraging them to include restoration options for offshore resources and marine wildlife. The list of prioritized restoration options coming out of this workshop serves as a guide for making the sound investments in marine restoration, with emphasis on offshore resources.

• The cosponsors encourage the Trustees to nominate and fund scientifically sound marine restoration projects that address DWH oil spill injuries to marine resources, and related lost services or human uses of those resources. Marine restoration projects should have an offshore focus to complement coastal and nearshore restoration projects. That is, a restoration program should fund projects along the ecological spectrum and spatial scale of injury, from the coast to offshore benthic, midwater, and pelagic environments.

• The cosponsors encourage the Trustees to approach marine restoration with an expanded set of restoration alternatives and actions under NRDA that are tailored to the complex nature, offshore origin and ecosystem-wide scale of the disaster. This enhanced NRDA toolbox should include marine monitoring, research and observation, and resource management actions as effective forms of restoration, even if primarily compensatory in nature. Gaining a better understanding of the delayed or lingering impacts from the disaster on the Gulf ecosystem and how these interact with pre-existing, chronic stressors are important priorities for Gulf restoration.

 The cosponsors encourage the trustees to apply early restoration funding as well as funds secured through resolution of litigation and other sources to the types of scientific activities, management measures and habitat improvements described in the list of priorities for ocean habitats, fishery resources, marine wildlife and human uses.

In order to be most effective, it is appropriate to dedicate a portion of funds remaining from NRDA early restoration and/or resolution of legal claims to support a robust and long-term Gulfwide monitoring, research and observation program that supplements project-level monitoring required under NRDA. Responsible parties should receive credit for the costs of the science this program generates. A program of this scope and scale is necessary to detect latent, chronic or sublethal injuries and track the recovery of resources and lost uses across space, time and jurisdictional boundaries. This program could also contribute to the supporting science needed by the U.S. government to pursue future damage claims against responsible parties for environmental harms not evident at the time legal claims are resolved.