Article: Local efforts key to protecting environment

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Local efforts key to protecting environment
GMF director says grassroots work needed to stop damage to ecology

Copyright 2006 Mobile Register. All rights reserved. By Guy Busby
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FOLEY, AL - Jan 23, 2021 - Local efforts will do more than government projects to stop deterioration of the Gulf of Mexico, the director of a national environmental organization told area residents.

Population growth and other factors, such as global warming, are having a devastating impact not just in coastal Alabama, but throughout the Gulf region including Mexico and Cuba, Quenton Dokken, executive director of the Gulf of Mexico Foundation, told members of the Wolf Bay Watershed Watch at the group's annual meeting Saturday.

The foundation, based in Corpus Christi, Texas, is a nonprofit group founded in 1990 by citizens concerned with the health and productivity of the Gulf of Mexico, according to reports.

Dokken said that despite large amounts of money being spent on conservation, habitats are still being degraded and lost, erosion is increasing, water quality is deteriorating and the climate is changing, increasing the risk of flooding and major hurricanes.

"And development pressure is increasing to meet the growth of that population coming into here," he said. "So basically, every measured parameter that we're looking at as biologist, ecologist, resource manager is on a negative trend despite all our efforts. Which just means we've got to work harder."

He said that groups such as watershed watches are a key to helping turn around environmental degradation.

"You are perhaps the heart of the whole effort," he told Watershed Watch members. "Because in the Gulf Foundation, we can come in and we can talk and present a big picture, an overview, but if the people in each of the communities and each of the areas are not involved, it means nothing."

He said economic growth is not going to stop in the Gulf, but residents must work with industries and governments to control the environmental impact of development.

The Gulf of Mexico produces about $172 billion for the economies of the United States and Mexico each year through oil and gas production, fishing, tourism, shipping and other industries, he said.

"That is a big chunk of change out there," he said. "More than 33,000 businesses are tied to the Gulf of Mexico, more 672,000 jobs are tied to the Gulf of Mexico."

He said the size of the economic impact means that everyone, not just a few developers or industries, is responsible for what goes on the Gulf.

"There are no innocent bystanders," he said. "We are all involved in this. We are all part of it. There is no bad guy, no good guy. We're all here. We're all part of it. You cannot point the finger at one industry. Industry only does what we ask them to do and what we allow them to do. We've got to look in the mirror if we want to see the results of all this."

He said action by residents to get businesses and governments to take action to help protect the environment is more effective than just waiting for agencies to resolve problems without local action.

"We sit back and think the government will fix it for us. They will not," Dokken said. "I've worked with the government and I have learned the limits of what they can do. If we are really going to solve it, it's you folks and you getting the businesses and industry involved around you and you guys taking a leadership role in telling government. You cannot sit back and wait for a solution from Capitol Hill. It's not going to get here in time."

Watershed Watch members said the group is working to expand monitoring and protection efforts in the area.

Ann Crawford, watch president, said 2007 marks the 10th year that members have been conducting water-quality tests around the bay area. Volunteers check water clarity, temperature and other factors at specific sites once or twice a month.

She said the efforts provide benchmarks to check for changes over time and that while the work is tedious and uncomfortable, members have been faithful in continuing the tests.

"Water-quality testing is mundane as all-get-out," she said. "To take one day a month or two and go out in the middle of Wolf Bay and freeze your butt off or deal with mosquitoes and sometimes snakes, but they do it."

Stan Mahoney said members are also continuing education programs and efforts to expand testing. He said programs such as the Bay Buddies, in conjunction with the Alabama Coastal Foundation, help teach young people about the importance of protecting their local environment.

Watch members are also working with Riviera Utilities in Foley to develop a program to test water for phosphates, nitrates and other fertilizers that run off local lawns and fields and contribute to algae growth and other environmental problems, Mahoney said.

The group also plans to work with the city of Foley to install a water-flow meter on Wolf Creek to measure currents, temperature and other factors, he said.

Dokken said Wolf Bay is in a situation similar to that of many coastal areas around the Gulf.

"I see the same thing happening here that I see everywhere, and that is growth," he said. "This is a beautiful place. It still has tremendous biological productivity and that's how you want to keep it. You don't want it to go downhill from here."

2007 The Mobile Register

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