Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Deepwater Horizon Project Tracking

September 24, 2014 [caption id="attachment_456" align="alignright" width="300"]Restoration at Rainey Refuge in Louisiana. Credit: NOAA Restoration at Rainey Refuge in Louisiana. Credit: NOAA[/caption] In the Gulf of Mexico region, 89 projects to date have been finalized for restoration and recovery in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. These projects are funded under several different mechanisms, including the Natural Resource Damage Assessment process and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund. Over the coming years, hundreds if not thousands of projects will be finalized under these mechanisms, the RESTORE Act, and other processes. The projects are often accompanied by lengthy descriptions and analysis, from cost and project descriptions to environmental review and ongoing maintenance and monitoring. With this wealth of information available or forthcoming, it becomes important to understand how it all fits together, and how Deepwater Horizon recovery projects will contribute to long-term ecosystem health and sustainability in the Gulf. So the big question is: How can we summarize thousands of pages and hundreds of thousands of words to paint a more complete picture of Gulf restoration that informs decisionmakers and the public? ELI’s Ocean Program and other organizations are trying to answer that question. To find solutions, we must keep in mind three important points: 1. It is difficult to track the various restoration and recovery processes as they move along, and it is only going to get more difficult as more funding is made available. 2. Easy access to understandable information leads to meaningful public engagement, enhances transparency, and increases opportunities for collaboration. 3. Geospatial information, user-friendly data layers, and tracking tools can help stakeholders and policy-makers make efficient and accurate decisions. What are the tracking tools, and how can you use them? [caption id="attachment_468" align="alignleft" width="249"]Restoration Projects Database - Google Chrome 9232014 83403 PM  [/caption] The Ocean Program manages a searchable database for all restoration projects that have been finalized to date. The database allows users to filter results by state and then by funding mechanism, and to find projects by state or county/parish through a search function. These tools attempt to track the projects as they are announced so people can see where the money is being spent, along with some details about specific projects. The Gulf of Mexico Alliance has a map of restoration projects and other efforts related to priority issues in the Gulf (not limited to projects receiving Deepwater Horizon recovery funds). It is an example of how maps may be especially useful at providing geospatial information and summarizing thousands of projects in a single snapshot. The Ocean Conservancy has produced a map of NRDA and NFWF restoration projects funded through May 2014. Finally, the NRDA Trustee Council maps all proposed Deepwater Horizon NRDA restoration projects and provides detailed information on projects that have been selected for early restoration. What is next? One thing we know for certain: there are many more projects coming over the next several years. As ELI refines its project tracking tools, our first priorities are to keep the current tools up to date and to incorporate feedback and suggestions to create the most useful information possible for the public and stakeholders. Our long-term priority, however, may turn out to be the most exciting: What if we incorporated all of the information from the databases and the maps into a single, straightforward, and simple mapping tool that anyone can use? [caption id="attachment_475" align="alignright" width="353"]Restoration underway in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana. Credit: ELI. Restoration underway in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana. Credit: ELI.[/caption] Those efforts are underway now, led by the Gulf of Mexico Alliance, the Trust for Public Lands, and Ducks Unlimited, with ELI’s Ocean Program and other entities participating in information-gathering for the new tracker. Read about this initiative here. What is the final goal for Deepwater Horizon project tracking? Thousands of words have been written on Gulf restoration and recovery projects, and many thousands more are coming. Very few people have the time or energy to understand how each individual project fits into the broader recovery picture. But by transforming those words into an easier-to-understand picture, our goal is to make participation in the recovery process something that is not limited to those with technical expertise; our hope is to use database and mapping tools to bring information about Gulf restoration and recovery to all.

Halting the Lionfish Invasion through Smart Law and Policy

August 6, 2014 By Read Porter, Senior Attorney and Director of the Invasive Species Program It is an invasive species that is one of the most pressing threats to ocean ecosystems in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. And my wife was wearing one on her ear. Lionfish EarringMy wife had just bought these beautiful earrings, made from the spines of the venomous red lionfish (Pterois volitans), from a studio in Rincon, Puerto Rico. Later that trip, we shared delicious empanadas con pez leon. The jewelry and the food share a common thread—using markets as a tool to control the raging lionfish invasion that is wreaking havoc on Caribbean and Gulf coral reef ecosystems. Red lionfish are native to the Pacific and Indian Oceans, where they share the reefs with and are kept in check by other species that co-evolved with them over millions of years. But the story in the Atlantic is very different. DNA evidence indicates that the Atlantic lionfish invasion began with a small number of female lionfish that escaped or were intentionally released from captivity and first observed in the Atlantic in 1985. Lionfish are voracious carnivores capable of consuming half their weight in a single feeding, and they are highly fecund, producing 30,000 eggs every four days in warmer climates. As a result, the initial escape of a handful of individuals proved the vanguard of a much bigger problem.   [caption id="attachment_395" align="aligncenter" width="576"]USGS animation of lionfish sightings from 1985 to 2013               USGS animation of lionfish sightings from 1985 to 2013[/caption] Today, red lionfish and their cousins, common lionfish (Pterois miles) are widespread across the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico—in some places they reach concentrations of up to 1000 lionfish per acre. These lionfish are causing substantial economic and environmental harm, as well as harm to human health. They get into lobster traps, where they reduce catch and can sting fishermen; they compete with other economically-important fish (such as snapper); and they deplete herbivorous fish that keep algae in check, undermining reefs’ ability to respond to stressors like climate change and ocean acidification as well as affecting tourism. While we can’t get rid of lionfish entirely, scientists, lawyers, fishermen, community members, and others are all working to limit its harm—and my wife’s earrings are part of the story. 1. Prevent the introduction of other lionfish and scorpionfish! So far, 2 species of lionfish are established in the Atlantic, but at least another 10 species are commonly in trade in the United States (see pp. 11-12) and could be introduced at some point in the future—and there are hundreds of other scorpionfish species, every one of which is venomous and few of which are native to the Atlantic. For example, stonefish (Synanceia spp.) are the world’s most venomous fish, and their stings cause intense pain—a fact that many Indo-Pacific swimmers and even researchers have learned to their lasting regret—but they can be and are purchased in the aquarium trade. Despite their potential to harm the economy, environment, and human health, neither the species that are already here nor any other related species are on the list of “injurious wildlife” maintained by the Fish and Wildlife Service. As a result, importation and trade in these species continues unabated, and it’s only a matter of time until the next species is introduced to our waters. New injurious wildlife listings take years, so it’s important to get the process started now, before it’s too late. Congress can help, too—just two weeks ago, the Senate Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife held a hearing on a bill that would reform the injurious wildlife listing process—a long overdue step. And the House Natural Resources Committee may take up the lionfish issue soon. States are getting in on the prevention action. Florida previously outlawed importation of red and common lionfish, but just last week expanded its protections to cover all Pterois species—a step forward, even though there’s a long way to go before the full range of potentially invasive scorpionfish are adequately regulated. If other states follow suit, the risk of future invasions can be substantially reduced—even if the federal government doesn’t take action. To learn more about injurious wildlife, watch our recent webinar: Meeting the Injurious Wildlife Challenge: Legislative, Regulatory, and Voluntary Approaches from Environmental Law Institute on Vimeo. 2. Implement Strategic Management Laws and Policies Prevention is the most important and cost-effective strategy for managing invasions, but we can also take concrete steps to manage the fish that are already here. In the United States, the Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force will soon act to adopt a national lionfish management plan—a critical step that will help us identify priority areas and habitats in need of special protection, what strategies we use to knock back the population, and how we may need to adapt our laws to manage the problem. Control efforts will require all stakeholders to work together. [caption id="attachment_392" align="alignright" width="462"]The derby winners caught more than 60 lionfish (credit: Barbuda Blue Halo and Eli Fuller) Credit: Barbuda Blue Halo and Eli Fuller[/caption] Derbies represent one key strategy for engaging the fishing community in lionfish control. Last month, local fishermen in Barbuda competed for $2,500 in prizes for the largest lionfish catch—and along the way, they learned how to safely handle lionfish. Check out our work with the Barbuda Blue Halo Initiative. Market measures are also promising—lionfish are tasty and can be used to make beautiful goods.  In Texas, lionfish meat can sell for up to $18 per pound. Governments can participate in these new markets by providing financial and technical support for fishermen, distributors, and consumers, by purchasing lionfish directly, and—most importantly—by ensuring that regulations do not unnecessarily restrict harvest of invasive species. Florida has taken the lead here as well—in the rule issued last week, the state authorized spearfishing for lionfish in certain instances and began the process of ensuring that open season on lionfish continues year-round. Lionfish are an integral part of ecosystems in the Indo-Pacific. But they are a destructive force outside of their native habitat. The threat facing Atlantic, Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and even South American reefs is severe, but there is still hope. If we can move enough lionfish off our reefs and onto our plates and ears, we can limit the destruction—and if we can learn a lesson from lionfish, we can protect the ocean by stopping the next invader before it arrives.

Deepwater Horizon: Four Years Later

More than four years ago, on April 20, 2010, an explosion rocked the Deepwater Horizon mobile offshore drilling unit. Eleven crewmen lost their lives in the blast, and the rig burned for the next thirty-six hours. Then, 41 miles off the southeast coast of Louisiana, the Deepwater Horizon sank. At the wellhead, nearly a mile underwater in the Gulf of Mexico, the environmental disaster was just beginning. Oil gushed for the next three months, during which millions of barrels of oil mixed with millions of gallons of dispersant to contaminate more than 1,000 miles of coast. New pictures released in Daniel Beltrá’s book “SPILL” show some of the acute impacts on the Gulf in the month after the April 2010 explosion. The pictures are evocative, often resembling haunting impressionist paintings. The Deepwater Horizon disaster occurred nearly four years ago, and the recovery and restoration processes in the Gulf of Mexico region are ongoing. The environmental, social, and economic impacts on the region are massive and enduring. But across the country and the world, the disaster and its aftermath have largely receded from current attention. Although huge swaths of oil no longer coat the Gulf of Mexico and beaches of the Gulf coast, oil still is present four years later in some areas, and the long-term effects of the Deepwater Horizon spill will continue to be felt for years and decades to come. The Environmental Law Institute (ELI), through our publicationsworkshops, and social media outreach (FacebookTwitter), aims to shine a spotlight on the ongoing impacts and the efforts to restore injuries and recover from harm. This blog will be another tool to stay abreast of Gulf issues. Among other things, we will highlight legal developments, economic and industry news related to the restoration process, and other relevant storylines. Most of all, we aim to never forget the human story, and the environmental and economic realities faced by the people and communities that comprise the Gulf Coast. --David Roche Public Interest Law Fellow