NWF Press Release (NEW ORLEANS April 7, 2020) — The National Wildlife Federation report from Restore The Gulf website summarizes the latest information available about ten wildlife species that were affected by the “ecosystem-level injury to the northern Gulf of Mexico.” as well as the restoration efforts underway — what constitutes the largest ecosystem restoration effort in U.S. History!
“For many wildlife (species) in the Gulf, the decade-old Deepwater Horizon oil spill is not over. We will probably never understand the full extent of the damage, but we do know that we have an obligation to restore the Gulf of Mexico and to ensure that a disaster on this scale never happens again,” David Muth, Director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Gulf of Mexico Restoration Program.
The Deepwater Horizon disaster is a poster child for deadly oil spills. Eleven people lost their lives, and an estimated 200,000,000 gallons of crude oil were leaked into the Gulf of Mexico over an agonizing period of 87 days. The shores of the Gulf of Mexico have suffered hurricanes, systemic erosion of marshes from canals, deforestation of the protective chenieres, invasive Nutria rats and pollution. America’s lost 2000 square miles of Gulf coastal land over the past 90 years. Could this next decade herald better times for the Gulf coast, it’s wildlife and the people who depend upon a healthier environment?
The report describes several species that are still struggling a decade after the Deepwater Horizon disaster:
- The endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle’s once-promising recovery seems to have been halted by the disaster. Before 2009, Kemp’s Ridley nests were once increasing at a rate of 19 percent a year on average; in the past decade nesting has been erratic according to the NWF. It’s thought the spill killed about 20% of the nesting females.
- “THE DEEPWATER HORIZON DISASTER was the most significant factor behind the largest and longest lasting recorded dolphin die-off in the Gulf of Mexico. Between 2010 and 2014, more than 1,000 dolphin carcasses were found in the oiled areas of the northern Gulf.” Coastal Bottlenose Dolphins in oiled areas are still sick and dying a decade later. Successful births remain less than a quarter of normal levels.
- Corals in several locations — including some colonies that are more than six centuries old — still show signs of oil damage and are not expected to recover.
- An estimated 17 percent of the Gulf’s tiny population of Bryde’s Whales died as a result of the oil spill, and scientists predict reproductive failures among exposed whales that survived. The population was listed under the Endangered Species Act after the disaster.
Jessica Bibza, policy specialist on the National Wildlife Federation’s Gulf of Mexico restoration program says “It’s important to continue to study the impacts of the spill so we can understand how to better protect the Gulf in the future.”
“Many questions about the impacts of the oil spill on wildlife and habitats remain unanswered to this day.” Jessica Bibza
The legal battle resulting from the oil spill eventually resulted in the largest environmental damage settlement in U.S. history. As a result of the criminal and civil fines, more than $16 billion was made available for the restoration of the Gulf of Mexico. Roughly $12 billion remains and will be used through 2032 in the restoration of America’s frontline struggle against ecological collapse.
The report describes restoration activities underway on behalf of Gulf wildlife, such as:
- Restored barrier islands in Louisiana providing nesting habitat for brown pelicans and laughing gulls, as well as other coastal birds harmed by the oil spill such as terns and skimmers.
- Endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles are benefiting from a multi-faceted project, which includes boosting their food supply of Blue crab, funding for monitoring and protecting a 4,800 acre nesting beach in Texas, and enhancing capacity to find and assist injured or cold-stunned sea turtles Gulf-wide.
- Oyster restoration efforts are underway across the Gulf of Mexico. Restored oyster reefs provide habitat for dozens of species of fish, Blue crabs and other wildlife, stabilize shorelines, and improve water quality.
“Right now, we have an unprecedented opportunity to meaningfully improve the health and resilience of the Gulf of Mexico,” Muth says. “Great projects are being put in the ground from Texas to Florida. We need to continue to focus on helping Gulf wildlife and their habitats recover from the oil spill while increasing their resilience to sea level rise and increasingly extreme storms. We also need to make sure that all restoration investments are based on sound science.”
The report also makes several policy recommendations to protect the Gulf into the future, such as improving drilling safety regulations and enforcement, fully implementing laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and transitioning to a clean energy economy.
The National Wildlife Federation is America’s largest conservation organization uniting all Americans to ensure wildlife thrive in a rapidly-changing world. Follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.