Members of GulfCorps create a living shoreline that will become a home to oysters and other water creatures along the last natural shoreline in Biloxi, Mississippi.
GulfCorps in Mississippi Members of GulfCorps create a living shoreline that will become a home to oysters and other water creatures along the last natural shoreline in Biloxi, Mississippi. ©: John Stanmeyer

Stories in the Gulf of Mexico

Restoring the Gulf and Creating Jobs

GulfCorps Director Jeff DeQuattro talks about the program that will protect and restore the Gulf of Mexico while creating 300 jobs over 3 years.

The Nature Conservancy has a new GulfCorps Program, a $7 million NOAA-funded conservation corps project that will protect and restore critical habitat along the Gulf of Mexico while creating an estimated 300 jobs over three years in all five Gulf states. We talked to Jeff DeQuattro, Restoration Director for the Gulf of Mexico Program as well as the new GulfCorps Program Director.

nature.org:
Tell us about GulfCorps Program and how it works.

Jeff:
In a nutshell, the GulfCorps program will hire people from communities along the Gulf of Mexico to carry out projects that are (and will be) planned in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill (also known as the BP Oil Spill) settlements. Over the next 15 years, the RESTORE Council, which consists of representatives from five states and four federal agencies, will be pumping out billions of dollars in restoration projects that address impacts from the oil spill. The projects will be large, comprehensive and complex projects with multiple phases and components, many of which are perfect for small tactical teams of people like GulfCorps crews.

The point of GulfCorps is to help people in communities impacted by the spill to become the new stewards of their environments. They'll do this by restoring marshes and streams and working in watersheds and along shorelines to address threats or conduct ecosystem restoration.

nature.org:
Why is TNC uniquely positioned to take on this program?

Jeff:
I think one thing that makes TNC special is our long-standing partnerships with agencies, businesses and communities at all levels. Without our partnerships, getting great things done becomes incredibly difficult, if not impossible. Additionally, we not only purchase land or have a good track record with policy issues, we also undertake restoration projects from cradle to grave. We have experience in managing comprehensive programs that involve lots of dollars, lots of tracking, and lots of planning, which sets us apart from the rest.

nature.org:
Can you share why TNC is implementing a conservation corps model in this case?

Jeff:
While I've been working with conservation corps over the past 4 years, TNC has successfully partnered with conservation corps across the country for decades. Corps have worked with TNC on our preserves conducting prescribed fire, repairing hydrologic health, and addressing invasive species issues, while other initiatives more recently have helped to foster the creation of conservation corps in the Gulf. Along with our partners at The Corps Network and Student Conservation Association, we've been preparing for this type of a Gulf-wide program for over four years by creating new conservation corps and partnerships in Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida that are actively working on oil spill restoration projects and conservation initiatives.

TNC's Gulf of Mexico Program puts a high value on initiatives that protect nature and people and has a strong desire to engage communities in restoration, as does NOAA, our partner. It's important to recognize that conservation corps in the Gulf and around the country have become staples in their communities and have made a real impact on the lives of many people, as well as making the natural spaces even greater. Our dream of a powerful and inclusive Gulf-wide force of conservation corps that bolsters existing local corps groups who have the experience, knowledge needed to effectively operate corps and the relationships to sustain them along the way is happening now.

nature.org:
What kind of projects will you undertake?

Jeff:
That's what we're starting to hammer out right now. Our GulfCorps Crews will be addressing the priorities of the RESTORE Act's Comprehensive Plan (Comp Plan), which could include any environmental projects coming from the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. The Comp Plan, created by some very smart, strategic thinkers, many of whom live in and love the Gulf of Mexico, lines up nicely with TNC's conservation and restoration priorities and projects - one of the reasons we wanted to lead this program. Our crews will receive appropriate and extensive training that will be based on the actual project work. They'll also be exposed to soft-skills training that will prepare them for permanent jobs in the Gulf's blooming restoration economy. GulfCorps Crews will address impacts from invasive species and become experienced in ecosystem restoration by working in habitats that range from freshwater wetlands, riparian streams, sandy beaches, salt marshes, oyster reefs, and more.

nature.org:
How long will this project last?

Jeff:
The GulfCorps project currently has a three-year timeframe. We're striving, however, to make this program fully sustainable and something that communities in the Gulf take ownership in and continue into the foreseeable future.

nature.org:
Let's hope it does continue! Anything else you'd like to share?

Jeff:
TNC is often seen as a facilitator between science and community, and the GulfCorps is no different than that – our team will create the framework for a program that is scientifically sound, achieves high conservation and restoration goals, and provides jobs to people from communities along the Gulf that need it the most. This is urban-fueled conservation at its core, and this is exactly where I want to be.