Changing Planet

Gulf Restoration Plan Is Step Forward for Recovery, but More Work Remains

Oil washes up on the islands off of Grand Isle, La., where pelicans and other birds nest. Photo © Cheryl Gerber / Ocean Conservancy

If we hope to meet the future resource demands of a growing global population without destroying the natural systems that sustain us, we must put the ocean at the center of what we do. The ocean provides us with food, energy, transportation, carbon storage and more—it is truly our greatest natural resource.

Nowhere is this more true than in the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf is a national treasure and a significant driver of the U.S. economy, providing resources for food, recreation and livelihoods.

But the Gulf is still recovering from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster as well as decades of ecosystem decline. Restoring this region to health is the only way to ensure that we can enjoy its many benefits for generations to come.

That task lies in the hands of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, which just released its “Initial Comprehensive Plan: Restoring the Gulf Coast’s Ecosystem and Economy.” This plan is intended to serve as a framework to implement a coordinated, Gulf-wide restoration effort using RESTORE Act funding. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something great for the Gulf.

The Gulf Council’s plan is another small but important step forward in Gulf recovery, but we aren’t there yet.

While the Gulf Council has committed to a science-based approach to restoration, the plan does not establish criteria for project selection or commit to establishing an advisory board to guide the use of best available science. If we hope to succeed in restoring a healthy and vibrant Gulf of Mexico, science and adaptive management must be core ingredients of any restoration program.

The council must use the plan as a blueprint to guide the development of a science-based process to ensure that projects ultimately selected for funding will contribute to a vision for comprehensive restoration of the Gulf ecosystem from coastal areas to the marine environment.

Ocean Conservancy recommends the following concrete actions as next steps:

  • The Council should establish a scientific advisory committee to provide advice on the best available science and on restoration at a programmatic level.
  • The Council should hire a senior-level chief scientist who advises the executive director and Council. This chief scientist should manage and work with independent peer reviewers and the scientific advisory committee to provide guidance and feedback at programmatic and project levels.
  • The Council should enter into a formal agreement with the BP Deepwater Horizon Natural Resources Damage Assessment Trustee Council, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the National Academy of Science to link and coordinate oil spill and broader ecosystem restoration efforts.

The task at hand is monumental, but the council cannot afford to put off the tough decisions needed to develop an implementation plan that serves the citizens of the Gulf of Mexico and protects and restores the resources we rely on every day.

Andreas Merkl is the President and CEO of Ocean Conservancy, which 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, Andreas leads the organization’s efforts to tackle the ocean’s biggest challenges with science-based solutions. With a background in environmental science, resource economics and business, Andreas is particularly interested in determining the ocean’s rightful role in answering the central question of our time: how to meet the enormous resource demands of a rapidly growing global population without destroying the natural systems that sustain us.

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