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DU Reflects on Deepwater Disaster

Three years after oil spill, ecosystem remains threatened

By: Ducks Unlimited

LAFAYETTE, La. -- As the third anniversary of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster passed on April 20, Ducks Unlimited remembered the 11 lives lost and reminds decision makers that Gulf Coast ecosystems intrinsically linked to the regional and national economy are still in a devastating state of decline.

"The Gulf Coast ecosystem is a vital national asset," said DU Chief Conservation Officer Paul Schmidt. "Shipping and waterborne commerce, commercial and recreational fishing, hunting, tourism, oil and gas infrastructure and agriculture from Gulf Coast states are a significant contributor to the national economy. The financial strength of the region and its large contributions to the national economy are firmly tied to the sustainability of its natural resources."

Long-term losses of more than 1.2 million acres of coastal marsh and barrier islands along the Gulf Coast have significantly degraded the area's ability to continue to support regional and national economies. The 2010 oil spill was another blow to an already highly threatened coastal wetland system. Conservationists are concerned that further delays in large-scale restoration will mean even more accelerated loss of habitats foundational to the regional economy and crucial to millions of migratory birds, including more than 15 million waterfowl.

"As harmful as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill was, I think the important thing to remember is that these marshes were under siege long before the spill, and those same forces continue to threaten them long after the spill," said Dr. Tom Moorman, director of conservation planning for DU's Southern Region.

Immediately following the spill, in order to protect waterfowl and other water bird populations, DU partnered with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service as part of the Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative along the Louisiana and Texas coasts. The effort resulted in the shallow flooding of approximately 79,000 acres of harvested rice fields, idle rice fields and other wetlands to provide foraging habitat for a variety of bird species.

"While the MBHI was initially developed to provide alternative habitat after the oil spill, this initiative remains essential to off-setting the long-term loss of foraging habitats on coastal wetlands. Today, Louisiana's coastal habitats have the capacity to support only about 60 percent of the waterfowl they did in the 1970s," Moorman said.

Because of the success of the MBHI, DU worked to secure funding to continue a similar conservation program indefinitely in coastal Louisiana and Texas. This will ensure that desired populations of waterfowl can continue to depend on this continentally significant wintering area.

In the wake of the 2010 spill, DU also worked alongside other conservation partners and policy makers to ensure passage of the RESTORE Act, which dedicates 80 percent of the estimated $5-21 billion in Clean Water Act fines from the oil spill to restoring the Gulf Coast ecosystem and economy. With passage of the RESTORE Act, the ongoing Natural Resources Damage Assessment, and channeling of other penalties through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the most significant opportunity for large-scale, meaningful ecosystem restoration has materialized.

"Various plans for coastal restoration have long been in play with some partial funding sources, but we really need long-term, nationwide commitment and creative policies to fully restore the Gulf Coast," Moorman said.

Over the last century or so, billions of dollars have been used to alter the Gulf Coast ecosystem and subsequently caused many unintended negative impacts. It will take an equal commitment of time and resources to restore the system for future generations.

"We believe the fines and penalties associated with the 2010 spill, if used properly, could bring us significantly closer to a sustainable coastal ecosystem," Schmidt said.

Economic benefits of coastal restoration include creating and retaining jobs, increasing non-consumptive recreational opportunities and increasing hunting and fishing potential - all of which strengthen the local communities, as well as regional and national economies.

"DU will continue to work with partners and policy makers to seek projects that provide overlapping environmental, economic and waterfowl benefits in our highest-priority habitats, particularly along the Gulf Coast, where approximately 90 percent of America's coastal wetland loss occurs," Schmidt said.

Ducks Unlimited Inc. is the world's largest non-profit organization dedicated to conserving North America's continually disappearing waterfowl habitats. Established in 1937, Ducks Unlimited has conserved more than 13 million acres thanks to contributions from more than a million supporters across the continent. Guided by science and dedicated to program efficiency, DU works toward the vision of wetlands sufficient to fill the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow and forever. For more information on our work, visit www.ducks.org. 

Connect with us on our Facebook page at facebook.com/DucksUnlimited, follow our tweets at twitter.com/DucksUnlimited and watch DU videos at youtube.com/DucksUnlimitedInc. 

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