Decision-makers need to make meaningful and strategic investments in the Gulf of Mexico region.
Faced with a finite amount of funding and a long list of restoration projects, decision-makers need to make meaningful and strategic investments in the Gulf of Mexico region. Restoration strategies must incorporate coastal and marine resources that address longstanding environmental stressors and must support the recovery of coastal communities with strong historical, economic and cultural ties to those resources. Restoration strategies must also be periodically evaluated and modified based on performance, new data or shifts in the types, distribution or severity of environmental stressors.
The Gulf’s coastal habitats form an incredibly productive ecosystem. Restoring the coast, and particularly its wetlands, would support a diversity of habitats important to fish and wildlife and related industries and livelihoods, strengthen the resiliency of coastal communities vulnerable to storms and sea-level rise, and reduce the risk to private property and infrastructure.
Barrier islands, beaches, oyster reefs and sea grass beds provide a range of ecosystem services for people and wildlife by buffering shorelines and coastal communities from storms, providing nesting habitat for endangered or threatened species such as sea turtles and shorebirds, and providing nursery habitat for commercially and recreationally important finfish.
Gulf residents, stakeholders and resource managers will need to know whether and how quickly restoration efforts are moving the region toward an ecologically healthier Gulf. Decisionmakers must be able to evaluate the performance of restoration measures, understand whether these measures are improving ecosystem health and based on this information, adjust restoration approaches as needed.
Restoration of the Gulf ecosystem must be informed, supported and evaluated by science, and it is critical that a robust, long-term science program be in place from the outset. This program should provide information to support the design and selection of ecosystem restoration projects, evaluate the effectiveness of those projects and the overall program, and allow for adaptive management going forward.
The dead zone is an area of low oxygen that forms every summer in the northern Gulf of Mexico near the coasts of Louisiana and Texas. It is characterized by hypoxia, a condition where dissolved oxygen levels drop and create conditions unlivable for oxygen-breathing organisms. The primary cause of the dead zone is nonpoint source pollution that contains excess nutrients and is carried to the Gulf by rivers and streams.
Among the rich fauna of the Gulf are five species of sea turtles, more than 150 species of coastal and marine birds, and at least 22 species of marine mammals. More information is needed from Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) studies and other research in the Gulf about impacts of the BP oil. Beyond impacts from that event, all have suffered to one degree or another from population declines and the systemic degradation of the Gulf ecosystem. Obtaining this information would require coordinated and cooperative effort at the state, federal and international levels. Beyond gathering scientific information, restoration can take many forms. For example, there is need and opportunity to protect beaches, barrier islands and other habitats where birds and sea turtles nest.
Across the Gulf, the commercial and recreational fishing industries are cultural and economic pillars, generating more than $22 billion in economic activity. Beyond the regional importance, healthy fisheries in the Gulf will help the fishing industry compete more effectively in the global marketplace where buyers and consumers are increasingly interested in sustainably caught seafood.
Restoring the Gulf ecosystem must address the needs of the people who live or work in the region. Essential to the region’s economic recovery, long-term prosperity and cultural identity is the restoration and sustainable management of fish stocks, wetlands, beaches, ocean habitats, marine wildlife, oil and gas reserves, and many other goods and services that the Gulf yields.
Learn how you can help us restore the Gulf of Mexico and other special places across our ocean.
Degradation in the Gulf threatens fish, wildlife, the places where they live and the people who depend on a healthy ocean for jobs and business.
An effective ecosystem restoration program must be driven by a comprehensive vision for a healthy Gulf of Mexico.