A Chance to Reboot the Gulf

Fish congregate around High Island Platform 389
School of fishGulf from space photo credit NASAGulf of Mexico Watershed
August 2013
By:
Dr. Larry McKinney, Director Harte Research Institute, Texas A&M University Corpus Christi
After we watched yet another Gulf platform burn uncontrollably last month, it brings into focus the vulnerability of America’s Sea. At the same time it also demonstrates just how resilient the Gulf of Mexico can be and why it is important to do all we can to give it a fighting chance.

Even as flaming natural gas lights the night skies off Louisiana, the stage is being set to heal the Gulf and make sure it can continue to meet the countries energy demands and function as the healthy and productive ecosystem we all depend on and hope sustain for the future. We are not there yet and everyone of who loves the water and the Gulf in particular, must remain vigilant. We cannot let this opportunity slip away.

Over the summer of 2012 Congress took unprecedented action to help assure the environmental and economic health of the Gulf of Mexico. The Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourism Opportunities and Revived Economy of the Gulf Coast (RESTORE) Act was adopted as part of an omnibus transportation bill. With overwhelming support from both parties, this historic act guarantees that 80 percent of the penalties recovered from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill will return to the five Gulf Coast states to fund environmental and economic restoration activities.

We will not know how much is available until the case against BP is resolved, but it will be in the billions of dollars, possibly between $10 billion and $30 billion. Other cases related to this incident have settled and some billions are already on the way to the Gulf. This resets everything for the Gulf of Mexico, the long ignored third coast. The federal government has shamefully ignored the Gulf for years while it expended significant dollars to address problems on the East and West coasts and the Great Lakes. This is despite the fact that the Gulf of Mexico is the single most valuable body of water touching the U.S. and vital to the energy security, economic vitality and environmental health of the country. RESTORE is a chance to reboot the Gulf.

We all have a stake in a successful restoration effort in the Gulf. Those who advocate for investing in sustaining our oceans health have long stated that funding expended on assuring a healthy ocean returns both economic benefits and enhanced health and well-being for us all. Now we have the chance to prove that for the Gulf of Mexico. If we are successful we can be an example for the rest of the country. Perhaps then we will make the investments to assure our oceans health and future.

The Gulf of Mexico can be a laboratory for the rest of the world, showing how a healthy environment and a vibrant economy can coexist. The Gulf annually produces 1.4 billion pounds of seafood and accounts for 44 percent of all recreational fishing in the U.S. At the same time, the Gulf is home to 47 percent of U.S. refining capacity and accounts for more than 50 per cent of domestic oil and gas production. Fifteen of the top 50 shipping ports are located in Gulf States.

We have come to take for granted the bounty we receive from the Gulf and few realize that it has come at great cost. We have lost half of our productive wetlands, seen annually occurring dead zones the size of some New England states, and increasing areas of coastal waters closed to full use because of pollution.

RESTORE can turn this deteriorating situation around and assure a healthy and productive future.

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