Latest Oil Spill Punctuates Urgent Need for Gulf Protection and Restoration
The Nature Conservancy released the following statement today from Texas State Director Laura Huffman concerning the threat of the oil spill in Texas’ Galveston Bay.
Houston, Texas | March 24, 2014
By now, most of the country has seen reports of Saturday’s oil spill, which resulted in up to 168,000 gallons of fuel oil spilling into an ecologically sensitive area of Galveston Bay.
Timing is never good for such a disaster, but this spill came at an especially precarious time. The season’s first significant waves of migrant shorebirds—species such as sandpipers, plovers, ducks and terns—are making their way north to the Texas coast. Many of these species use this area to roost and feed.
All sea traffic in or out of the bay has been halted and beaches up and down the Galveston Bay coastline have been closed. The impacts to nature are of grave concern.
While an aggressive clean-up effort is underway, we know there will be unavoidable impacts on habitat for thousands of birds and potentially nesting areas for the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle. Some reports have also predicted the tides will carry the oil out of the bay, into the Gulf and push it south towards Corpus Christi. If that occurs, there could be significant impacts to other critical wildlife habitats, including Matagorda Bay, where The Nature Conservancy and partners just spent months rebuilding Half Moon Reef, one of the largest oyster reef restoration projects in the country.
The Nature Conservancy is acutely focused on this spill, not only from the perspective of an environmental organization, but as landowners – the Conservancy stewards two nature preserves and other conservation projects within just 10 miles of the spill—Texas City Prairie Preserve, Elm Grove and Pierce Marsh Preserve. Right now, the urgency and priority lies in cleanup; the larger conversation must continue to be how we can fortify coastal wetlands, bays and shorelines to ensure they can rebound as much as possible when accidents like this happen.
The way we do that is through conservation. This spill reinforces, once again, the urgent need to ensure that large-scale coastal restoration projects in the Gulf of Mexico and its bays and estuaries are funded, prioritized and happen in a timely manner. Specifically, restoration in the Gulf should include a significant focus on three critical issues:
- Restoring healthy shorelines and protecting critical habitats
- Protecting freshwater resources, which are the lifeblood of the Gulf and those who depend on it
- Ensuring Gulf communities are part of the economic and social benefits of restoration activities.
The Gulf of Mexico is arguably our nation's hardest-working body of water, supporting more than 20 million jobs and adding $234 billion to our annual economy. But the natural systems that support the Gulf are vanishing, threatening not only our economic livelihood, but the viability of an irreplaceable national treasure. The Gulf has lost 50 percent of its oyster reefs, nearly 50 percent of its wetlands, and 60 percent of its seagrass beds.
The time for meaningful, purposeful action is now. The Gulf of Mexico affects every individual in this country, and it needs our help.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org