Prospects for Gulf of Mexico Environmental Recovery and Restoration

Jun 3, 2021

Author(s): Denis A. Wiesenburg (The University of Southern Mississippi), Bob Shipp (University of South Alabama), F. Joel Fodrie (Institute of Marine Sciences), Sean Powers (University of South Alabama), Julien Lartigue (NOAA's RESTORE Science Program), Kelly M. Darnell (The University of Southern Mississippi), Cam Ngo (Flordia Institute of Oceanography & Florida RESTORE Act Centers of Excellence Program), John F. Valentine (Dauphin Island Sea Lab & Alabama Center of Excellence), Kateryna Wowk (Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies & RESTORE Act Texas OneGulf Center of Excellence)

Previous oil spills provide clear evidence that ecosystem restoration efforts are challenging, and recovery can take decades. Similar to the Ixtoc 1 well blowout in 1979, the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill was enormous both in volume of oil spilled and duration, resulting in environmental impacts from the deep ocean to the Gulf of Mexico coastline. Data collected during the National Resource Damage Assessment showed significant damage to coastal areas (especially marshes), marine organisms, and deep-sea habitat. Previous spills have shown that disparate regions recover at different rates, with especially long-term effects in salt marshes and deep-sea habitat. Environmental recovery and restoration in the northern Gulf of Mexico are dependent upon fundamental knowledge of ecosystem processes in the region. Post-DWH research data provide a starting point for better understanding baselines and ecosystem processes. It is imperative to use the best science available to fully understand DWH environmental impacts and determine the appropriate means to ameliorate those impacts through restoration. Filling data gaps will be necessary to make better restoration decisions, and establishing new baselines will require long-term studies. Future research, especially via NOAA’s RESTORE Science Program and the state-based Centers of Excellence, should provide a path to understanding the potential for restoration and recovery of this vital marine ecosystem. More here.