By Jonathan Hoekstra, The Nature Conservancy
Is the story of the Gulf oil spill over? Not by a long shot. Does the Gulf—one of the most productive ecosystems on Earth—still need your help? As a scientist and someone who cares about the region, I can say: Absolutely.
Last April, just before the one-year anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, I traveled to New Orleans to serve on an expert panel charged with identifying science-based priorities for long-term restoration of the Gulf of Mexico. The panel was filled with oceanographers, ecologists, marine engineers, fisheries biologists, sociologists, biogeochemists and more—all brought together to review the science, debate the implications for restoring the Gulf, and write a comprehensive report that has been recently released by the Pew Environment Group.
However, I gained the clearest insight into what still needs to be done—and why—when I went out for dinner at one of New Orleans many oyster houses. I was meeting Cindy Brown, The Nature Conservancy’s Gulf of Mexico program director and a New Orleans native.
I ordered oysters, anticipating a platter of Louisiana’s finest, only to learn that the oysters had actually been brought in from Texas. Then Cindy ordered chicken. As much as she loved Louisiana seafood, she said, she wasn’t going to eat it on a regular basis until she could be more confident that there weren’t any lingering health risks from the oil spill.
I realized then and there that long-term restoration of the Gulf of Mexico was about far more than just cleaning up the oil. It also had to be about rebuilding the oyster, shrimp and other Gulf fisheries, and about restoring people’s confidence that they could once again count on the Gulf to provide safe food, good jobs and other benefits of nature.
My fellow Gulf experts agree. Our report lays out three overarching priorities for restoring the Gulf of Mexico:
- Assess and repair damage from the Deepwater Horizon spill and other stresses on the Gulf;
- Protect existing habitats and populations; and
- Integrate sustainable human use with ecological processes in the Gulf of Mexico.