Friday, December 9, 2011

The complexities of coastal restoration: Revisiting the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Attempts to control Deepwater Horizon fire.
Credit: U.S. Coast Guard/Marine Photobank.

Over the last year and a half there has been much attention to restoring the coastal ecosystems of the Gulf of Mexico affected by the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. But these efforts have been less than simple, as have the goals in restoration. On November 16th experts from around the country came together to discuss the complexity in restoring these ecosystems for both economic and ecological benefits. The panel discussion, titled ‘Restoring the Ecological and Economic Vitality of the Gulf of Mexico’ and moderated by Mr. David Malakoff of Science Magazine, focused on some of the broad topics around valuing ecosystem services and the obstacles encountered in restoration attempts.
The marshes became flooded with oil
along the coast of Louisiana. Eileen Romero/Marine Photobank

As discussed by the panel members, the obstacles to effective restoration sometimes lie in both a lack of knowledge on how some ecological communities interact as well with the federal mandates for restoration programs. Dr. Nancy Rabalais, Executive Director of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium pointed out that this mismatch can create a scenario of shifting baselines in ecological data that can be a hang up in implementing restoration plans. She suggested a landscape view approach to restoration-where stakeholders determine what they want to see in the coastal estuaries and marshes over the next 25-50 years and that through prioritizing a set vision in the plans could led to an effective realization of restoration goals. 

Man works to clean up oil from the beach.
Patrick Kelley, U.S. Coast Guard/Marine Photobank
The other main component of the discussion focused on the importance of recognizing and valuing ecosystem services. Ecological modeling software and economic analysis serve as main techniques in identifying and ascribing monetary value to ecosystem processes, but there are other novel ways to discern the full impact of these systems as suggested by Dr. Heather Tallis, Lead Scientist at the Natural Capital Project.  Taking an ecosystem services ‘watershed’ approach- where ecological attributes, like critical fish habitat, are linked to the people who receive first (recreational & commercial fishermen) or secondary benefits (consumers, local businesses) within a geographical boundary- can help better illustrate the importance of certain ecosystem services to a region.

In moving forward, the panel made it clear that there is still much work to be done, with the full impact of the oil spill yet to be seen.  

Written By: Kirby-Rootes Murdy

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