Changing the Gulf Forever

5 ways to understand which direction we’re going.

Remember working on group projects for school? In the rare occasion you actually got along with everyone in the group, it was always a struggle to coordinate and get everything done before your deadline. And sometimes, you were left waiting on something or someone. Imagine that you’re back in school and you’ve got another group project—this time your assignment is to help an entire ecosystem bounce back from one of the worst environmental disaster in US history AND it has to span 15 years. Essentially, that’s what the Deepwater Horizon Trustees are doing right now in the Gulf of Mexico.

Because of this enormous scale, restoring the Gulf takes time. Even though it’s been eight years since the disaster started, it’s been less than three since the federal government settled with BP and the other responsible parties, availing more than $20 billion in fines to help restore the Gulf over the 15 years that followed. As we attend the Trustee Council’s annual public meeting this week, we share five requests we hope the Council will adopt to help us track and understand how one of the biggest restoration efforts ever attempted is going to forever change the Gulf.

  1. Report on progress toward goals.
    We’ve heard a lot about how much money has been spent so far, but not as much on the more important question—how close or far are we from achieving restoration goals? Because many restoration projects are just getting on the ground, maybe it is too early to report on progress, but as projects are completed we urge the Trustees to report on both progress toward individual resource goals and overall program goals.
  2. Lead with the “why” when projects are selected, not just where it is and what it will cost.
    We want to know why you chose this specific project, and how it aligns with your goals. How is this a part of your larger vision for restoring the ecosystem?
  3. Use programmatic indicators.
    In restoration, an “indicator” is like a canary in a coal mine. It tells us when things are working well and when they’re not. The goals set by the Trustee Council are important ecosystem goals, but they are very broad. Without defined ways to track goals, it will be nearly impossible to report on progress toward successfully achieving them.
  4. Coordinate.
    Coordination is especially important when you imagine all of the birds, fish, sea turtles and more that cross our state and federal boundaries on a regular basis. The Regionwide strategic frameworks released last year are a step in the right direction. The total restoration funds available for some species groups—such as sea turtles and marine mammals—are enough to create a lasting legacy far beyond the 15-year BP payouts. However, without coordination restoration runs the risk of adding up to less than it could.
  5. Invest in science with restoration dollars.
    This is already happening at the state-level for some restoration plans. Keep it up. If we are going to have a comprehensive restoration effort, we have to have science informing the process.

From passing the RESTORE Act to settlement, Gulf restoration has made  significant progress over the last eight years. Now we’re seeing restoration planning and implementation move into full gear. As more and more projects get going, we urge the Trustee Council to share with the public how restoration is changing and benefiting the places and animals they care about.

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