Restoring the Gulf

See our most recent Gulf Coast Comments

Read Laura Bush's speech in support of sanctuaries in the Gulf

One reason marine sanctuaries are such a valuable tool is they involve the community in their designations and management. However, under current law citizens have no meaningful way to propose new national marine sanctuaries. NMSF is working hard to change that.

Current legislation includes restrictions that make new national marine sanctuaries virtually impossible to establish because of unworkable funding constraints. This de facto moratorium holds regardless of an area's need or desire, leaving communities with fewer ways to resolve ocean problems. Lacking options, they make wide no-fishing or no-drilling zones, frustrating industry, or they take no action at all, frustrating conservationists. Public input is ignored as a cycle of costly repair continues instead of preservation . Worst of all, this restriction is not a temporary budget constraint, but rather a cap that has already been in place for a decade. It’s time to put marine sanctuaries back on the table for discussion.

After the devastating Gulf oil spill in 2010, the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling agreed with our position that marine sanctuaries should be considered as one way to offset environmental damage. However, this is not an option thanks to the de facto moratorium. If the moratorium were lifted, a series of hard-bottomed areas around the Gulf, many which already have some form of limited use, could create a chain of sanctuaries where wildlife and communities could recover. The suggested space is minute – less than one fifth of a percent of the Gulf itself – but would yield positive effects throughout the region.


In Brief: NMSF’s Comments on the Preliminary Gulf of Mexico Regional Ecosystem Restoration Strategy

For more detail on these recommendations, please see our full comments to the Task Force.

Recommendation #1: Implement place-based protection for previously-identified areas meriting conservation

Although many areas of our ocean remain unexplored, the Gulf of Mexico is one of the best-studied marine ecosystems on the planet. Locations of many of the Gulf’s ecologically significant, hard-bottom structures have been known for almost 30 years, and specific candidates for offshore conservation and protection have been clearly identified by the Task Force itself: the Florida and Texas Snapper Banks, the Alabama Pinnacles, the Alabama Alps, the Florida Middle Grounds and Pulley Ridge, and the Texas and Louisiana Flower Garden Banks are listed in the preliminary report as significant offshore sites essential to the Gulf’s productivity and resilience.

It is counterintuitive for the Task Force to identify candidate areas directly while simultaneously recommending a resource-intensive mapping and exploration enterprise that could take years to complete. The preliminary report makes clear that candidate locations for offshore conservation and protection, including coral reefs and oyster reefs, have already been identified, and sufficient science is available today to support the implementation of place-based protection at those sites. A comprehensive analysis is not necessary to identify candidate locations for offshore protection in the Gulf of Mexico – many are already well-known to scientists, fishermen, and state and federal authorities.

Before initiating a study to identify undiscovered sites meriting conservation, we strongly encourage the Task Force to support the swift implementation of place-based protection for the ecologically significant, hard-bottom structures already identified in the preliminary report.

Recommendation #2: Use national marine sanctuaries to implement place-based protections in the Gulf

In 1972, the US Congress established the National Marine Sanctuary Program to develop a national conservation framework and prioritization criteria for protecting offshore areas. Over the past 40 years, national marine sanctuaries have helped to conserve and restore ecologically significant marine ecosystems, including coral reefs, while engaging in stakeholder-intensive processes that encourage compatible uses and accommodate the needs of human and natural communities. There is no need to reinvent the wheel for Gulf of Mexico restoration: the National Marine Sanctuary Program is an existing conservation framework for offshore protection that meets all of the Task Force’s stated objectives for such an effort, as listed in the preliminary report.

It is impractical for the Task Force to recommend development of a new conservation framework as an alternative to the capable and successful National Marine Sanctuary Program. There is simply no need for such an alternative: sanctuaries’ conceptual foundation, management performance, and overall effectiveness have been validated repeatedly by the Government Accountability Office (1981), the National Research Council (1997 & 2001), the National Academy of Public Administration (2000 & 2006), the US Commission on Ocean Policy (2004), the Commerce Department Inspector General (2008), and the BP Oil Spill Commission (2011), among others.

Given the Task Force’s desire to recommend specific actions and identify lead agencies for implementation, we urge you to consider supporting reactivation of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s sanctuary Site Evaluation List and repeal of the de facto moratorium on new sanctuary sites. These two, separate barriers present a significant impediment to the use of existing authorities in implementation of the Task Force’s protection and restoration goals, and they also offer challenges to the advancement of ecosystem-based science and management in the Gulf of Mexico by effectively eliminating one of very few options for offshore ocean governance. The prohibition on creation of new marine sanctuaries stifles the development of effective measures to protect the Gulf of Mexico and deprives Gulf communities of a unique and proven-useful ocean management tool.

Instead of recommending the expensive development of a duplicative conservation framework for offshore protection, we strongly encourage the Task Force to support the use of national marine sanctuaries for protecting ecologically significant areas of the Gulf of Mexico.

For more detail on these recommendations, please see our full comments to the Task Force.

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