- I visited several restoration sites this month as part
of the GMF's role as administrator of the
Gulf of Mexico Community-based Restoration Program (GCRP). Many
of the sites are in coastal areas close to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Though the flow of oil from the well has currently ceased with the new cap, there is
no way to know the immediate effects of the spill.
Despite that, there have been startling images of oiled seabirds,
marshes and beaches in the local and national media, including alarming remarks
such as the “BP oil disaster may destroy more habitat than hurricanes, Katrina,
Gustav and Ike combined.” With these images and statements in mind, the Gulf of Mexico Foundation continues to take an up-close and personal
look at the coastal areas of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana in order to
examine the issues and to work with our
Since 2001, the GCRP has implemented more than 70 habitat restoration projects
around the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea. The GMF monitors these projects on a regular basis and
conducts routine monitoring on most projects. During the first few
weeks of the oil spill we tracked the NOAA spill trajectories in order to monitor our restoration projects in relation to the affected areas
(Figure 1). This allows us to assist our project managers around the Gulf to determine whether they should suspend project activities
or, in the case of a completed project, allow us to determine if we should conduct visits to see if the project was lost.
Monday, July 12: I flew into Mobile,
Alabama, and by 1:30 pm I was with staff from the Mobile
Bay National Estuary Program (Brenda Lowther)
and the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, State Lands Division (Carl Ferraro). Together we visited
Helen Wood Park,
one of our GCRP projects conducting marsh restoration. In the distance there were several bands of orange boom (Figure 2), and the marsh at
the site looked great, especially considering that it was very think and rich in species diversity after only being planted less than a year
before. It was at this time that my hosts set the tone for my trip,
and which was shared by most others; things were not looking so bad.
Though state agency personnel did spend a lot
of their time conducting the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) process, efforts have
been significant and damage has been minimal to local habitats.
Tuesday, July 13: In the morning I was on a boat with staff from Mississippi Department of Marine Resources (DMR) heading out to Deer Island, Mississippi.
The journey to the site took much longer than normal, I soon found out, due to the fact that you had to pass through three to five boom
barriers to cross the back bay of Biloxi (Figure 3). The project site,
great! The actual restoration work here was
submerged due to high tides, but should be since it is an
oyster reef restoration project that doubles as a shorelines protection
project for adjacent marsh habitat (Figure 4). DMR staff told me that no oil had been reported for Deer Island, but that a small
amount had washed up on a nearby beach. Booms around the island were in place as a precautionary measure, so it appeared that
this was another restoration site unaffected by the spill.
Wednesday, July 14: I joined four faculty members from Nicholls State University (including Dr. Allyse Ferrara and Dr. Quenton Fontenot)
on their visit to Elmer’s Island, Louisiana. This area is considered one of the sites most at risk from the spill, and the efforts here were more
than noticeable (Figure 5 a-d): A temporary building with air conditioning for workers; an arsenal of dump trucks, ATVs and cranes;
sandbags, pom-pom booms, rock and sand by the truckload; tents every
half mile marked with the corresponding cleanup “zone” number.
All-in-all I would describe the effort as pretty tremendous. Everything was operating like clockwork, or so it appeared from the
outside looking in. There was some evidence of oil here, as can be seen by
the blackened pom-pom booms lining the beach (Figure 5d).
If there were any other oil remnants along the beach, we did not see
them, and if there were any, they would likely have been picked up by workers as they
conducted their sweeps every 20 minutes.
The GCRP project at
Elmer’s Island involved installing sand fencing to build dunes that act as protection for the bay behind it.
By installing the fencing and sediment tubes, along with planting dune vegetation, the project has successfully built dues at a rapid rate.
In less than six months some areas have accumulated nearly one meter of sand dune. This project has been
supplemented by BP,
which installed two additional rows of fencing in some locations along the beach (Figure 6). Though the
dunes' main purpose is to protect the coast from storms and to prevent erosion, they
could serve a third purpose in the sense that since they hold back high
tides and storm surges, they could prevent oil from spilling into the marshes behind this barrier island.
Wednesday, July 15: Back in New Orleans,
I made the trip across Lake Charles to the North Shore. The last stop on my tour
was Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge. Joining me were staff from
Bayou Rebirth (Colleen Morgan), St. Tammany Parish
Department of Engineering (Dan Bond), and US Fish & Wildlife Service (Danny Breaux). The airboat ride to the marsh
planting sites for two GCRP projects was gorgeous. This area is truly a natural beauty and a remarkable resource (Figure 7 a-b).
The project managers told me that all of the students that had the fortune of coming here to volunteer are
very excited to return.
Fortunately these sites are far enough removed from the main bay to remain protected, though some
sightings of oil along the outer
marshes have been reported. As a matter of fact, we visited these outer margins and I saw my first and only glimpse of oil (other
than that already soaked into a pom-pom boom). The patch, which was located on
Spartina alterniflora, was only a few inches in
diameter, and without my airboat captain pointing it out, I would have
walked right by it
(Figure 8). By no means when
I set out on this trip did I imagine that this would have been the fullest extent of oil that I would see.
I left Louisiana and traveled back to Texas with several thoughts on my mind. Many of them dealt with the extent
my site visit hosts felt the media focused on alarmist outcomes and worst-case scenarios. The habitat that they all showed me
were doing remarkably well! There were some places where oil had hit the shore, but these were few and far between, with minimal
damage. At what point will our focus turn from the oil spill to the day-to-day tragedies facing the Gulf of Mexico? What about the
“dead zone”, sea level rise, subsidence of our coastal zones and habitat loss due to development? For me this visit was truly
eye-opening for two reasons. One: Habitats are truly resilient! The only thing that they can’t seem to handle is us. Two: We
need to focus our attention on prevention of habitat loss in general. We need to start managing more effectively in order to provide
a sustainable Gulf for generations to come.
GMF provides support for sea level rise conference
March 2010 - GMF staffers
Ryan Fikes, Bobbi Reed, and
Mikell Smith attended and provided key support for the
International Conference on Sea Level Rise (SLR) in the Gulf of Mexico held in Corpus Christi, Texas, March 1-3.
GMF's Executive Director Dr. Quenton Dokken was one of many scientists and other professionals
to give presentations at the conference.
Harte Research Institute for
Gulf of Mexico Studies, the conference sought to examine the phenomenon
of sea-level rise in the Gulf and to consider how people and the
natural environment can or will respond.
During the conference, the
Gulf of Mexico Alliance Habitat Conservation and Restoration Team co-facilitated a special session with the NOAA Coastal Services Center. A series of quick presentations and ten-minute panels, informally referred to as “speed dating,” touched on modeling and monitoring activities
ongoing across the Gulf of Mexico coastal zone, as well as on ecological and resiliency considerations that should shape GOMA SLR efforts. This primed participants for an interactive exercise designed to elicit their knowledge through responding to
five questions geared to:
The SLR data, tools, or models being used
- Whether SLR modeling is accurate enough
- Tools or models needed but not presented
- How GOMA can help prepare for SLR
- SLR training needs and delivery
Breakout groups rotated among flip charts, each displaying one of the questions. Facilitators stationed at each chart kept the groups focused
during the rapid elicitation rounds, consolidating responses as a group prior to closing the session. Due to the diversity of stakeholders in the
room, a rich set of responses was captured. The outputs from this innovative exercise have been compiled and are currently being distilled
into a summary report to aid GOMA as it advances its plans for SLR assessment, preparedness, and public engagement.
GMF staff attends freshwater inflows conference
February 2010 - Two GMF staff members, Ryan Fikes and
Mikell Smith, joined others from around the Gulf of
Mexico to participate in a conference
called "Freshwater Inflows: 2010 and Beyond"
held February 8-10 in Corpus Christi, Texas. The event was hosted by Texas Parks & Wildlife, Gulf of Mexico Program and Harte Research Institute.
The conference's purpose was to highlight the importance of freshwater
inflows and to identify water management questions and approaches that protect
discussion ranged from economic valuation of inflows to how states and communities are dealing with issues. Touching on the “four-legged stool” of sustainability
– science, policy, economics and the social/human dimension – techniques and real-world examples dominated the discussion. Climate change, water supply, and turning the tide of ecosystem degradation
were presented as the key challenges.
A presentation by George Ward of the University of Texas at Austin's
Center for Research in Water Resources presented a grim prediction
for Texas' surface water for estuarine inflows. According to his calculations, a five-percent reduction in rainfall could portend a 24-percent decrease
in fresh water flows to the Texas coast.
Attorney Robin Kundis Craig of Florida State University, author of the book
The Clean Water Act and the Constitution, told of "managing inflows by managing the Corps of Engineers" through litigation
affecting Apalachicola Bay in Florida, acknowledging this is not the preferred mode of interaction.
Workshop looks at new ways to stabilize shores
February 2010 - GMF staff members
Richard Gonzales and
attended the "Texas Coastal Bend Living Shorelines" workshop held on February 11
in Port Aransas, Texas. The event was sponsored by
Gulf of Mexico Coastal Training, a
agencies and groups aiming to deliver relevant information to
key stakeholders on issues related to the ecological and economic health of the Gulf of Mexico.
GMF's Ryan Fikes, center, participates in the Feb 11 'Living
Shorelines' workshop in Corpus Christi.
During the one-day event held at the Port Aransas Community Center,
participants learned about new methods to protect land and ecosystems from
shoreline erosion – natural systems
that provide more effective protection than conventional methods such as
bulkheads or seawalls.
A panel of government representatives walked participants through the permitting process.
Workshop packets included a CD containing informational resources. The next two Living Shorelines
workshops will be held in Moss Point, Mississippi in March and in Apalachicola, Florida in May.
Participants addressed the need for stakeholder involvement in preventing
coastal erosion. Landowners, scientists and resource managers all came together
in the event. Participants learned that all those involved -- land owners,
scientists and resource managers -- are stakeholders and that recognizing the
equal importance of all contributions may encourage broader stakeholder
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