Last week, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation approved nearly $370 million in new projects to help the Gulf of Mexico recover from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. Among these new projects is Mississippi’s Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Conservation Recovery and Monitoring Program, a nearly $10 million, five-year project. This is the largest sea turtle or dolphin recovery project funded by any one state in the six years since the BP oil disaster began, and Ocean Conservancy is thrilled to see Mississippi investing in the health of the Gulf’s marine life.
Mississippi has a small coast, but it has felt the effects of the BP oil disaster on its shores. From 2010-2014, a record number of more than 1,100 marine mammals were stranded on beaches all across the Gulf Coast. The bottlenose dolphin population in Mississippi Sound is expected to take 40-50 years to recover. And an estimated 61,000 to 173,000 sea turtles were killed during the BP oil disaster. These long-lived species will need the help of projects like Mississippi’s to fully recover.
The scope of this project is big—for sea turtles alone, it includes purchasing new fishing gear for fishermen that prevents sea turtles from accidentally getting caught in shrimp nets, hiring a marine biologist to rehabilitate stranded or injured turtles and monitoring the turtles’ movements after they’ve been released back into the Gulf. For both dolphins and sea turtles, this project will expand the Mississippi stranding network to the state’s many barrier islands and collect better data on why and how marine life strand in Mississippi—an important step in tracking the overall health and recovery of Gulf marine life after the BP oil disaster. The project will also increase coordination among the many state and federal agencies, research groups and academic institutions involved in sea turtle and marine mammal studies.
In addition to this nearly $10 million project, Mississippi has another $15 million in Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) funding to help sea turtles and marine mammals recover from the BP oil disaster. Marc Wyatt, Director of the Office of Restoration, Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, explains why Mississippi chose to invest even more money in these species: “Up until now the state had not invested in marine mammals and sea turtles in the restoration landscape. We knew we wanted to, but we wanted to do it in such a way that resulted in a coordinated partnership between everyone involved,” said Marc. “What this will also do is have everyone talking, working towards where we need to go, such that when the NRDA funds are needed, then we already have started down the restoration path and potentially have identified needs.”
Mississippi is not the only state to fund projects to help sea turtles and dolphins. Florida and Alabama have also invested in their capacity to respond to stranded marine life, and a $45 million Gulf-wide project funded last year will enhance sea turtle protection and rehabilitation in Texas and establish a joint United States/Mexico conservation program to protect sea turtle nests. With this new project, Mississippi plans to coordinate data collection efforts and communicate their findings across state and federal agencies to help sea turtles and dolphins across the Gulf recover—not just those in Mississippi waters.
To track the success of this project, and to find out how Mississippi is restoring its birds, beaches, wetlands and many other resources, visit www.restore.ms.