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Ocean Currents

Making History in the Gulf’s Open Ocean

$225 million will help sea turtles, fish, marine mammals and the deep sea recover from the BP oil disaster.

Dry Tortugas National Park.
© Benjamin Drummond

Today marks a new chapter in the future of the Gulf of Mexico. That’s because the Deepwater Horizon Trustees, who are charged with restoring the Gulf after the BP oil disaster, proposed more than $225 million in new projects to restore the Gulf’s open ocean and deep-sea environments. This plan is part of the $20 billion settlement that BP paid for its role in the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

This tremendously important milestone is a step toward the ecosystem recovery that Ocean Conservancy envisioned when the BP oil disaster began nine years ago. It is also the first time anyone has attempted to restore the ocean or the deep sea from a major oil disaster, so not only is it a first for the Gulf but this is a first for the world. Ocean Conservancy is encouraged see that the plan not only addresses existing stressors but also looks ahead by addressing critical gaps in knowledge.

Among the 18 projects proposed, four projects worth more than $125 million are dedicated to mapping and studying the Gulf seafloor to better understand, manage and protect our deep-sea habitats that are still largely unexplored. A mile below the surface, the Gulf seafloor is home to ancient deep-sea corals, curious squat lobsters, mysterious-looking squids and many more species we have yet to identify. It is incredible that we know more about the surface of the moon than our own ocean.

But this vibrant seafloor is no less immune from human activities than our coasts are. Research expeditions to the blown-out wellhead found dying corals covered in a layer of oil-tainted material. The recovery time for these slow-growing corals, which can live for more than 1,000 years, is unknown. That’s why these projects are fantastic news for this unique and fragile ecosystem. In this plan, the Trustees propose projects to uncover the exact locations of the Gulf’s deep-sea corals, model how they reproduce and function, and remove stressors like invasive species and marine debris. One project will even test innovative new methods to grow and replant corals in the deep sea. We commend the Trustees for this large-scale, comprehensive approach to help corals and the Gulf’s deep-sea environment recover from the BP oil disaster.

permitreef
© NOAA
But this plan is not just for corals—sea turtles, fish and even the rare Gulf Bryde’s whale that was recently listed as endangered will all benefit from this plan. Reducing noise and vessel strikes will help marine mammals in the Gulf—a long overdue strategy considering the amount of industry and shipping in the Gulf. A cooperative project to reduce bycatch of protected bluefin tunas will work not only with fishermen in Texas, Louisiana and Florida, but also our neighbors in Mexico. And for the first time ever, fishery observers will work the multimillion-dollar menhaden industry to monitor its interactions with sea turtles.

This is your victory. Over the past nine years, more than 70,000 ocean supporters have joined Ocean Conservancy and our partners in the Gulf region to call for projects that will help marine wildlife like tuna, red snapper, sea turtles, deep-sea corals, dolphins and whales recover from this disaster.

But we can’t run a victory lap just yet—please act now to show your support for this plan and encourage them to include all 18 proposed projects in the final version.

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