Friday, February 10, 2017

Six years after BP oil spill, dolphins, fish and corals inspire restoration 

The following article ran on on the sixth anniversary of the BP oil spill, April 20, 2016
Six years ago today, April 20th, TV viewers nationwide turned on the news to see a horrific site: footage of a fire on a rig in the Gulf off the Louisiana coast. The BP oil "spill" had begun, and at the time, no one would have imagined it would take 87 days to cap the Macondo well.
Twelve workers on the Deepwater Horizon rig died that day. For their families, today is a sacred and painful reminder that the errors made leading up to the spill are deeply personal. There were also several serious injuries, and countless illnesses tied to the catastrophe.
Beyond the human tragedy, which included individuals still suffering health effects from working on a Vessels of Opportunity boat that would prove cruelly and ironically named, respiratory illnesses, kidney problems, weight loss, and mysterious rashes would fill their family photo albums.
The tragedy of that day doesn't just include the oil. The dispersant, so called Corexit from the UK - again, ironically since BP stands for British Petroleum - was airdropped by the truckload on Barataria Bay and throughout the gulf.
I spoke to Ocean Conservancy's Bethany Kraft, Director of their Gulf Restoration Program, who said this week that while scientific studies have been and are being done on dispersant effects, largely, at this stage, it's tough to parse what damage was done by them versus the oil.
"I think the jury is still out on that," Kraft said. "In the early days (of the spill), some decisions were made - it was a trade-off, because had all that oil reached the coast, it would have been an environmental and public relations disaster on multiple fronts. It would have been a PR disaster for the government and for BP."
Her concerns right now are numerous. Early restoration projects have begun, even as the bulk of the BP billions won't roll out until next year. Projects currently underway include a seagrass restoration project in Florida; a loggerhead, green, and Kemp's Ridley turtle project in Texas that seeks to offset bycatch by way of trawling with gear improvements and increased monitoring; and a Florida-based fishing gear conversion project that will help bluefin tuna fishermen.
Her overarching concern is addressing this question: "How do we put together the suites of programs in an order and in places where they will reap the most benefits?" She said, too, that it is critically important that as ecosystem restoration goes into overdrive that the science leads, not politics or personalities.
From dead corals to dead turtles, dolphins who give birth to premies who wash up dead on Gulf shores, to deep concerns about the health of the ecosystem and human residents, the legacy of all that oil and Corexit will last for decades, maybe centuries.
And the fix can't be myopic. For example, when addressing a watershed issue, look too at oyster issues and fisheries, helping the oyster harvest and shoreline protection, said Kraft.
Ironically again, had the spill not occurred, the coastal erosion issues are among many preexisting problems funded by the BP dollars approved by Judge Carl Barbier in the New Orleans federal courthouse. Even so, the funds are "a drop in the bucket in terms of what our needs are," Kraft said.
Are there any positives in the Gulf six years following the disaster? She said yes.
"I think we learned this ecosystem is resilient, even though any rubber band eventually loses its elasticity and breaks," she said. "It is reassuring in some ways, and one thing the spill did do was catalyze cooperation across the region like we haven't seen before."
However, she said with a dark laugh, "it's a really dumb business model to get hooked on."
PHOTOS: Top, the author on a boat in Barataria Bay, early April, 2013; Bottom, via Wikimedia Commons Images, Department of the Interior - June 30, 2010. Birds Prepared for Release at Fort Jackson Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, CC BY-SA 2.0,

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