Ocean Talk Header 6

Welcome to the Ocean Program’s blog, Ocean Talk! Ocean Talk is a tool to share salient issues, perspectives, and resources. We hope the entries will spur ideas and expand the ocean dialogue—and we’re always around to join.

Read our Intro message here, and click on a post you’re interested in to jump directly to that entry:

2015 Entries

2014 Entries

BP Proposed Consent Decree Released

Details of the Settlement and How You Can Participate

ELI Gulf Team, October 13, 2015

On October 5, 2015, a historic milestone was reached in Gulf restoration: the terms to settle the United States’ and five Gulf states’ remaining claims against BP were announced. Along with separate agreements with local government entities, these settlements total $20.8 billion. This amount includes…READ MORE HERE


RESTORE Council Draft Initial Funded Priorities List

Charting a Course for Gulf Restoration Activities

ELI Gulf Team, August 18, 2015

On August 13, 2015, another important milestone in Gulf restoration was reached: the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council released its draft Initial Funded Priorities List (“Draft FPL”). The Draft FPL proposes approximately $139.6 million worth of projects and programs, which will be funded with monies from the Transocean settlement, about $240 million of which were allocated to the Council (note that the much larger settlement with BP is not yet final, so the Council has yet to receive any of that funding).

In considering this milestone, we focus on a few key questions…READ MORE HERE


Deepwater Horizon Settlement

Some Answers, New Questions

By ELI Gulf Team, July 7, 2015 (last updated July 8, 2015)

On July 2, 2015, a monumental announcement was made: an agreement in principle has been reached to settle all federal and state claims against BP arising from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill for $18.732 billion (see BP’s press release here). This amount includes:
BP Settlement breakdown
While we are still waiting on the exact details of the settlement, we do know some of the terms. We will focus on the natural resource damages and Clean Water Act civil penalties (specifically the RESTORE Act) here…READ MORE HERE


NRDA Early Restoration Breakdown

Posted by ELI Gulf Team, Updated June 2, 2015

biloxiOn May 20, 2015, the Deepwater Horizon trustees released a draft plan for a fourth phase of early restoration, which proposed 10 projects costing around $134 million. With this recent announcement, now is a good time to review where the money has been spent so far and how the fourth round fits into the broader early restoration picture. First, we need to review some background.


As a refresher, a Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) is a process focused on restoring natural resources injured by an oil spill. In a typical NRDA, the trustees assess injuries to natural resources and then come up with a restoration plan to address those injuries. Restoration projects begin once the assessment is complete. Here, however, BP agreed to provide up to $1 billion so that certain restoration projects could be started before the assessment is finished.

Three phases of projects worth about $700 million have been finalized so far (and, if the fourth round of projects is approved, the total will reach approximately $832 million of the $1 billion). The first phase included eight projects (worth approximately $62 million), the second phase included two projects (worth approximately $9 million), and the third phase included 44 projects (worth approximately $627 million). So, how has this money been spent?…READ MORE HERE


Remembrance of Tragedy, Processes for Healing

Deepwater Horizon, Five Years Later
ELI Gulf Team, April 20, 2015

Deepwater Horizon explosion

It was five years ago today that a blowout rocked the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, leading to one of the worst oil spills in the nation’s history. Healing from a disaster like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is not simply achieved with restoration and recovery funding. Instead, healing is a process that restoration and recovery funding can support. So the question is, where are we with restoration and recovery funding?…READ MORE HERE


A New Wave of Ocean Management

ELI Joins the Blue Halo Initiative as it Expands to Curacao and Montserrat

By: Kathryn Mengerink, Ocean Program Director, March 4, 2015


It’s been an exciting couple of weeks for ELI Ocean Program in the Caribbean. Last week on Curacao, the Ministry of Health and Environment on behalf of Curacao and the Waitt Institute signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) agreeing to work together on Blue Halo Curacao. There is equal cause for celebration in Montserrat where a similar MOU was signed the prior week, launching Blue Halo Montserrat. Both island governments see the importance of ocean health for their long term economic and ecological success and have embarked upon this partnership to develop a new sustainable ocean policy. Across the Caribbean, the island of Barbuda—part of Antigua and Barbuda—in partnership with the Waitt Institute, pioneered this approach with great success to date, and their work is ongoing.

The ELI Ocean Team is excited to be a part of all of these efforts by providing the legal analysis and drafting support that these Initiatives and the project partners need. The Blue Halo Initiatives are based on an approach ELI believes in—led by local stakeholders, communities, and governments, with expert scientific and policy support provided by project partners, including ELI and the Waitt Institute, Our experience to date has shown that this approach can make important progress on conserving marine areas for future generations, while supporting livelihoods today.

Only two years in to the Initiative, the Barbuda Blue Halo already has resulted in legal success stories and a new ocean conservation approach…READ MORE HERE


Deepwater Horizon Litigation: Where Things Stand and What is Next

By: ELI’s Gulf Team
January 15, 2015

On Wednesday, January 14, we hosted a webinar on the litigation summarized below. The webinar featured a panel of experts to discuss the status of the litigation and what is next. You can read more about the webinar and view a recording when it is posted here.

The Disaster and the Trial

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. Over the next three months, oil gushed from the wellhead into the Gulf of Mexico, impacting more than 1,000 miles of coast.

Deepwater Horizon explosion
                                                                   Credit: US Coast Guard/Marine Photobank

The Deepwater Horizon disaster spurred numerous lawsuits. The trial that is the subject of this blog is largely focused on Clean Water Act (CWA) civil penalties related to the oil spill. Two phases of the trial have already been completed, with the next phase set to begin on January 20. The third phase will focus on eight factors set out in the CWA, which must be taken into account in determining civil penalties. This has important implications for the 80% of CWA penalties that will be channeled through the RESTORE Act for economic and ecological recovery activities in the Gulf.

But before we talk about Phase III, it’s important to know where things stand leading up to January 20….READ MORE HERE


Fisheries Observers: an Important Enforcement Tool

By: Read Porter, Senior Attorney, Director of Invasive Species Program
October 30, 2014

Top: short spine thorny head. Bottom: rare broad banded thorny head. Credit: Johanna Marsters
A fisheries observer analyzes two specimens. Top: short spine thorny head. Bottom: rare broad banded thorny head. Credit: Johanna Marsters

Fisheries observers serve important roles in fisheries management. From a scientific perspective, they provide independent verification of the amounts and types of fish caught, providing key data for stock assessment. In some fisheries, observers also have an important enforcement function: they report to law enforcement when they witness violations of fisheries regulations. In 2010, I published an article, based on NOAA’s enforcement data, showing that observer reports are a key source of information for understanding fishers’ compliance while at sea. With observer information, enforcement agents can take action to investigate and prosecute violators who are undermining fishery sustainability, and fisheries managers can design better regulatory systems to increase compliance.

Just last week, NOAA lawyers successfully concluded three cases for $1.75 million against American Seafoods Company (ASC). Observers first broke the case when they noticed and reported that ASC was tampering with the scales on its massive pollock fishing vessels. As a result, ASC caught more fish than it was allowed to over a five-year period, overfishing and threatening the long-term sustainability of the world’s second largest fishery—a resource that provides filet-o-fish sandwiches for McDonald’s, artificial crab meat for sushi, fish fingers for Bird’s Eye, and many other products. Observer reports led to an investigation by the Office of Law Enforcement (OLE) and eventually to a case prosecuted by NOAA’s General Counsel. What can we learn from this case?…READ MORE HERE


A Picture (or a Tracking Tool) Can Say a Thousand Words

Deepwater Horizon Project Tracking

By: ELI’s Gulf Team
September 24, 2014

Restoration at Rainey Refuge in Louisiana. Credit: NOAA

Restoration at Rainey Refuge in Louisiana. Credit: NOAA

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?…



Halting the Lionfish Invasion through Smart Law and Policy

By: Read Porter, Senior Attorney and Director of the Invasive Species Program
August 6, 2014

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….READ MORE HERE



Understanding the Great Unknowns and Preventing Permanent Harm to the Deep Ocean

By: Kathryn Mengerink, Ocean Program Director
May 16, 2014

Today, the journal Science published a paper by a group of deep sea experts, including me, calling for stewardship of our deep ocean.

Also, today, the International Seabed Authority closes its “stakeholder survey,” soliciting information about how to design a regulatory framework for deep seabed mineral exploitation. Driven by expanding interest in exploiting the deep ocean, the Seabed Authority is designing the legal framework that may determine the long-term health of the largest living space on Earth. Nations too are taking steps to lease their seabeds for mining activities. In light of these important legal developments, it is worth pausing to consider the special nature of the deep ocean and how to best manage it…READ MORE HERE


Deepwater Horizon: Four Years Later

By: David Roche, Staff Attorney
April 20, 2014

Four years ago today, 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…READ MORE HERE


Welcome to Ocean Talk

By: Kathryn Mengerink and Jordan Diamond, Ocean Program Co-Directors
April 20, 2014

In 2006, we launched the Ocean Program at the Environmental Law Institute to tackle pressing ocean and coastal governance challenges. Through discussions and brainstorming sessions the team explored potential target topics, from addressing climate change impacts to exploring ecosystem-based management implementation, and even the contentious (and critically important) issue of whether we would be the plural “Oceans Program” or the singular “Ocean Program.” With a small team of fantastic attorneys and research associates, we quickly moved beyond brainstorming and initiated research in several key areas, keeping our primary focus of making law work for people, places, and the planet.

Eight years later, the initiatives we began in 2006 continue to inform our efforts and serve as a starting point for new directions. In Alaska, we support the role of Alaska Natives in managing resources, In the Gulf of Mexico, we partner to train communities about the legal framework related to post-Deepwater Horizon restoration. In the Mid-Atlantic, we help state and federal decision-makers examine and strengthen legal frameworks for renewable energy development and marine spatial planning. Our research, analysis and training has taken us to places like Israel, to host a study session on ecosystem-based management for the offshore environment and Barbuda, to support local efforts to achieve sustainable fisheries with ocean zoning and improved regulations. The list goes on with our fabulous and growing team of law and policy experts.

We are fortunate to work on a diverse array of issues and be exposed to an incredible web of leaders, experts, and individuals while we do it. Through our Program we are continually inspired to tackle new issues and expand our reach to support healthy oceans and communities.

Today we begin a blog, Ocean Talk, as a tool to share salient issues, perspectives, and resources. We hope the entries will spur ideas and expand the ocean dialogue—and we’re always around to join.

Thanks for following. Ocean Talk is a product of the Environmental Law Institute Ocean Program.
We welcome thoughts, comments, and ideas for blog posts at roche@eli.org