Every day we monitor the health of our economy through indicators such as the Dow Jones Industrial Average, NASDAQ or S&P 500. We are able to understand the trends in our economy through the long-term values of these indicators. Decisions are made each day based on these trends and affect every aspect of our lives. Very few business leaders would dare conduct business without analyzing these indices.
The ocean is an important driver of our economy and a major player in our ability to thrive. It provides the oxygen we breathe. It controls the weather systems that produce our food and the marine systems that sustain much of the biological wealth of this planet. The health of the ocean is immensely important, yet we conduct business every day without knowing the changes or trends in the ocean’s health.
As the BP trial presses on this week, BP and other responsible parties should be on the hook for ensuring that the Gulf of Mexico recovers from the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The Gulf—like the global ocean—is critical to our economy. In order to track recovery, the resolution of this case should fund an monitoring system that tracks the health of the Gulf for at least 25 years.
When a disaster occurs like the financial crisis of 2008, we can understand its severity by looking at stock indices. When a disaster occurs in the ocean, like the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, we struggle to comprehend its severity, because we have no reliable indicators to recognize trends. Sadly, there are very few sustained, long-term monitoring programs to track the health of our oceans.
Only by having a long-term, comprehensive monitoring system in place will we know if we are achieving desired goals. By tracking progress, we will be able to understand how restoration is performing, which allows for course corrections, and thereby reduces the risk of failed approaches. Any settlement intended to resolve BP’s penalty for harming the Gulf must recognize the requirement to monitor restoration in the context of the ecosystem.
Ocean Conservancy is working with scientists around the Gulf Coast, including members of the Gulf of Mexico Alliance, the Gulf Coastal Ocean Observing System and the National Academy of Science’s Gulf Research Program, to map out the current landscape of long-term monitoring programs that could serve as components to this comprehensive system. The goal is to help identify existing programs that maintain a long-term data record of resources that were ultimately injured by the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. By incorporating existing programs, the cost and effort of monitoring the entire Gulf is much less daunting.
For a successful resolution of the BP trial, it’s critically important that funding is made available for this long-term monitoring.