I am fortunate to be able to continue working towards a healthy ocean and Gulf (albeit from a distance)—not only for wildlife but for all of us that depend on resilient, thriving coastlines. Now more than ever is the time to look out for one another, the health of our planet and our ocean.
The BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster has been a critical part of our work here and this month marks 10 years since an estimated 210 million gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico. The tragedy cost the lives of 11 oil rig workers and killed hundreds of thousands of sea turtles, marine mammals and birds, along with trillions of larval fish.
But there has been a tremendous amount of progress and restoration—millions of dollars in restoration funds have gone towards promising projects aimed at restoring Gulf species. Continue reading to learn more about how sea turtles, dolphins and deep-sea corals are bouncing back from oil spills.
Five out of seven sea turtles species can be found in Gulf waters and the Kemp’s ridley is one of the smallest (weighing in at about 100 pounds) and the only species that crawls from the ocean to nest during the day.
These sea turtles travel hundreds of miles to reach their nesting grounds, and often return to the same beach where they hatched. Sadly, many of their nesting areas on the Gulf coast are threatened by urban development and sea level rise, and are at high risk of impacts from offshore oil spills since their open ocean foraging areas overlap with major areas of drilling.
Fortunately, there are many projects that are committed to restoring all of the Gulf’s sea turtle populations, including projects that aim to reduce disturbances to nesting habitats, improve nest detection and enhancement and develop emergency response programs for strandings.
Dolphins are an integral part of the Gulf tourism industry and economy—frequently spotted since they live so close to shore. Unfortunately, this puts dolphins at increased risk for human-related impacts.
The estimated time it will take for dolphins in Louisiana estuaries to recover from the oil disaster is 39 years. Recovery times are additionally impacted by issues like pollution, prey availability and fishing interactions.
NOAA’s RESTORE Science Program has been working on a project to conserve and restore dolphin populations since 2017. This team developed an innovative approach attaching satellite tags to cetaceans without actually having to capture them—helping researchers understand how different species move between and use habitats.
Deep-sea corals have some of the longest recovery times—up to 500 years—from the oil disaster.
Corals are ancient and fragile ecosystems that provide food, shelter and breeding grounds for sharks, crabs and fish. They create invaluable habitat that plays an important role in the health and vitality of the Gulf of Mexico.
But this vibrant seafloor is no less immune from human activities than our coasts. Though corals can live for more than 1,000 years, they are incredibly slow-growing and have extremely long recovery times.
The historic, first-of-its-kind Open Ocean Restoration Plan proposes projects to uncover the exact locations of the Gulf’s deep-sea corals, model how they reproduce and function, and mitigate stressors like oil and gas development, invasive species and marine debris. One project will even test innovative new methods to grow and replant corals in the deep sea—an impactful restoration effort for Gulf corals.
Although we still have many years of restoration work ahead, it’s wonderful to reflect on how far we’ve come in 10 years and how, with your help, we have been able to stand up for marine wildlife and help restore their populations.
And just like our Gulf species, we will get through these troubling times, restoring the health of our families and communities, together.
For our ocean and the Gulf,
Science Manager, Scientific Initiatives