Ocean Currents

Ocean Conservancy’s Recipe for Gulf Restoration


Restoring the environment is a lot like planning what to cook. A coral reef restoration project and a pie both have a recipe for success. Using a good plan, or recipe, helps to create a product we can’t possibly pull off by ourselves. My latest culinary triumph, a delicious (if I do say so myself) chocolate silk pie made from a recipe featured in a cooking magazine, looked tantalizing, but frighteningly labor intensive. Because it had a lot of detailed steps, I was nervous about making a mistake and ruining some pretty expensive ingredients, but in the end I took the plunge. Unfortunately, the RESTORE Act Council has not taken the plunge into creating a detailed recipe for restoration of the Gulf of Mexico. It is still missing some important ingredients.

Developing a comprehensive restoration plan for the Gulf of Mexico is not unlike baking a chocolate silk pie. It’s complicated. There are a lot of steps, the ingredients and the sequence you incorporate them matters, and the preparation is just as important as the baking itself. I couldn’t just go to the Piggly Wiggly and throw stuff in the cart. Leaving out key ingredients is the surest way to sorrow. You avoid disaster by having a detailed plan. If you pay attention to the recipe and ensure that you have everything you need on hand, you can tackle pretty much anything and be reasonably confident of an edible outcome.

But even with a great recipe, things only got more complicated when I tied on my apron and started cooking. I invariably found a step that I missed, and was forced to adapt on the fly, which was why I ended up melting chocolate on the stove with one hand and beating a heated egg concoction with the other. In the meantime, my freshly whipped cream melted on the counter. Even the best laid plans go awry, but adaptation is key. (Stay with me, I’ve almost exhausted this particular metaphor.)

Last week, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council released their Draft Initial Comprehensive Plan. The ingredients to cook up comprehensive restoration are in the plan, but the actual steps to achieve the goals and priorities of the plan are lacking in many areas. We need specific details about how we are going to restore the resources we rely on for our food, fun and livelihoods. RESTORE Act funding is a once in a lifetime opportunity to do something great for the Gulf. We have one Gulf and one chance to make sure our restoration recipe is the best it can possibly be.

Ocean Conservancy’s recipe for comprehensive restoration calls for:
1 Part Science
1 Part Public Engagement
1 Part Clear Criteria for Decision-making

Science and adaptive management are the core ingredients of a successful restoration program. The Council must use the best science on the shelf to help guide their decisions. While some of the science needed already exists and just needs to be put into the cart, some of it will need to be created from scratch and the Council should make sure the resources to create it are available.

The Council also needs a Head Chef, or a Chief Scientist. This senior-level position can advise the Council and provide guidance and feedback on restoration as a whole and for individual projects. And the final decision on what goes into the recipe for restoration should be guided by a clear set of criteria.

Although there can sometimes be too many cooks in the kitchen, it is important to learn from those who have spent lots of hours in the kitchen. This is why it is so important to infuse meaningful public engagement throughout the process. Advanced notice of meetings open to the public, opportunities for public comment on draft strategies, plans and projects is essential.

Finally, folding in a comprehensive approach to restoration will make sure all of our hard work results in a dish we can all be proud of. The final plan must be an integrated, regional approach and contain specific objectives. Detailed information on how progress will be monitored must be clear as well. Sound objectives and clear ways to measure effectiveness of projects are essential to making sure the plan addresses restoration of both coastal and marine ecosystems, as well as coastal communities.

For more details on our initial recommendations, click here.

Oh, and if you want that chocolate silk pie recipe, you can find it here.

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