Osprey An osprey carrying a fish in its talons. © David Tipling

Stories in the Gulf of Mexico

Charting Restoration

Measuring restoration success seven years after Deepwater Horizon.

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The Deepwater Horizon oil spill focused the attention of the Gulf states and the nation on the ongoing problems in the Gulf of Mexico. In the years since, multiple restoration plans have been developed with the goal of guiding restoration and conservation decisions in the Gulf of Mexico and the lands along its coastline. This report analyzes those plans, maps restoration priorities across the Gulf, and then compares the findings to the BP-related money that has been distributed to date.

“This is a tool that helps answer the question of how Gulf restoration is tracking past and current plans for addressing the Gulf’s problems” said Dr. Christine Shepard, lead scientist for The Nature Conservancy’s Gulf of Mexico program. “In the seven years since the spill, state and federal agencies, as well as nonprofits and coalitions, have worked hard to identify restoration priorities. Understanding these existing needs and priorities is crucial to guiding the Gulf restoration process.”

This report identifies more than 1,500 unique priority needs along the Gulf of Mexico across 21 restoration plans. The report also identifies 332 funded projects totaling $2.86 billion and compares them to restoration plan priorities across the Gulf and state by state.

Among the report’s key findings:

  • The majority of funding has gone toward restoring and conserving the natural environment, which shows good overall alignment with the plan priorities that have been identified in this report.
  • The funded projects roughly track with restoration priorities, with more being spent to date on restoring and conserving habitat, and less on restoring water quality.
  • States vary in terms of alignment between restoration plans and funded projects with the highest alignment seen in states with more recent and comprehensive restoration plans.

We believe the information included in this study can be helpful for using the goals set out by government officials, citizens, and scientists in the many past Gulf planning efforts to identify future projects of high priority across the Gulf. Continually reviewing the alignment between restoration plans and funded projects can be useful to decision makers to ensure that the overall funding of Gulf projects reflects priorities set over many years for restoring the health of the Gulf and the well-being of its diverse communities.

Restoration of the Gulf of Mexico will extend well beyond the expenditure of Deepwater Horizon-related funds. In the long run, the Gulf of Mexico can best be restored through a continuum of effort that considers the good ideas and good science of the past and adapts them to the demands of new information and feedback from experience on the ground.