The Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2011 put a sharp focus on something we already knew: the Gulf of Mexico needs our help. The Conservancy is committed to the large scale restoration of this critically important system; contrary to popular thought, freshwater and marine restoration shouldn’t be seen as separate endeavors—they are inextricably linked.
What happens in thousands of rivers, lakes and streams across the country ultimately affects the Gulf. The impurities in our local freshwater sources flow downstream and into the Gulf; without adequate filtration, that’s where they stay. The Gulf of Mexico is the final outlet for 207 estuaries and more than 30 major river systems, including the mighty Mississippi River. The Conservancy is not only tackling issues upstream, but we’re working toward the goal of a healthy Gulf system all the way from Florida to Mexico, for the benefit of wildlife, sea life and local economies.
Texas (and other Gulf states) scored a big success this year with the passage of the federal RESTORE Act, which directs fine money from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill to projects in the Gulf. The first infusion of this money is $2 million, which we are using to purchase Big Tree Ranch, near Rockport. This 80-acre tract provides ideal land and water habitat for the endangered whooping crane and contributes to the long-term, whole-system restoration and recovery of the region.
We have also embarked on an important undersea adventure, just below the surface of Matagorda Bay—kicking off the construction of Half Moon Reef, an oyster reef restoration project. This type of restoration work offers nature a jumpstart of sorts: oyster reefs are natural buffers against rising sea tides and hurricanes (and they are one of nature’s best water filters, too), but the region has lost a full 50 percent of them. Restoring the reefs will give spat—or oyster larvae—a suitable habitat to thrive in, which is vital to restoring the Gulf.
The summer of 2012 also proved to be an incubator of incredible ideas. Our marine scientists helped create a series of tools and an interactive web portal to help coastal managers, scientists, the conservation community and people within the Gulf of Mexico Governor’s Alliance predict how hurricanes, storm surges and sea level will affect their cities and coastal habitats in the future.
Add to all of that our success with the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle—our shoreline protection ensured a safe place for a record number of hatchlings to re-enter the Gulf this year!—and the summer of 2012 wound up offering plenty of distractions from the Texas heat.