Oil-Spill Fines May Finance 39 Restoration Projects
Louisiana coastal officials have put together a list of 39 restoration projects that they hope will be partially or fully financed by money the state or federal agencies expect to receive as a result of the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
- The New Orleans Times-Picayune article describes some of the projects that may be funded by fines levied against BP ($1.2 billion) and Transocean ($75 million), the companies responsible for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. (What about that oil spill? What’s a picayune?) Most of these projects are “restorations” of barrier islands, wetlands, and oyster reefs. What activities do students think are involved in “restoring” a wetland?
- identifying and planting native vegetation, especially fast-growing species such as marsh grass and willows
- enhancing river banks and barrier islands with natural materials, such as logs
- stabilizing river banks and beaches with “living shorelines” of rock, soil, and plants
- For Further Exploration: This comprehensive guide from the Environmental Protection Agency, “Wetland Restoration, Creation, and Enhancement,” explains what wetland restoration projects are and how to conduct one of your own. Relevant information starts on page 18 (“Know Your Landscape”). A nice chart of “Common Wetland Problems and Corrective Methods” is available on page 32. Major restoration steps include:
- Identifying the major features of the specific wetland, including topography (hills and valleys), climate, soil type, groundwater, previous development (including existing dams, bridges, or levees) and—perhaps most importantly—native plants.
- Collecting seeds or seedlings of plants that will flourish in the wetland.
- Constructing drainage channels for water. This will help adequately irrigate wetlands in droughts and divert water during floods.
- Constructing earthen levees or living shorelines to protect wetlands and inhabited communities from floods.
- Destroying inadequate levees to re-establish natural flood plains. Wetlands are natural “sponges” that absorb floodwaters and, in coastal areas, reduce storm surges.
- Why do students think wetland restoration is important to the safety and economy of the New Orleans area? The first page of our short encyclopedic entry on living shorelines, and the last page of our encyclopedic entry on wetlands may help you.
- Wetlands prevent erosion. Hardy wetland plants anchor the soil and prevent it from washing out to sea. A wetland barrier between developed inland regions and the coast can protect fertile soil for agriculture, as well as development and recreation. ( According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Americans spend more than $100 billion on wetland-related recreational activities every year.)
- Wetlands protect coastal areas from powerful storm surges. Storm surges are the waves that follow a hurricane or typhoon as it makes landfall. Wetlands, with their spongy soil, absorb the energy and water of a storm surge. They also slow the surge. This protects homes, businesses, and agricultural areas.
- New Orleans is at flood risk from both freshwater and marine flooding. Nicknamed the “Crescent City” for its position on a C-shaped meander of the Mississippi River, the city is also close to the Gulf of Mexico. Increasing the flood risk is the elevation of New Orleans—the city actually sits below sea level. It relies heavily on management of the Mississippi River and the construction and maintenance of a series of levees.
- Wetland habitats help clean waterways. Oysters, for instance, live in coastal wetlands and bays. Oysters are filter feeders. As they absorb nutrients from the water, they also absorb runoff and pollutants.
- According to the Nature Conservancy, oyster reefs in the Gulf of Mexico increase catches of fish and crab, protect the coast from erosion and flooding, and remove nitrogen from coastal waters. Nitrogen is a “cause of algal blooms and dead zones, which negatively impact fisheries and tourism.”
- Wetlands also provide a habitat for a wide variety of organisms. Some organisms are commercially important to people, such as fish or crabs. (More than 75% of the fish and shellfish that are commercially harvested worldwide are linked with wetlands.) Others play an important role in the coastal food web, such as seagrass, snails, or wading birds.
- Read through our activity “Biodiversity in a Wetland Ecosystem” to better understand the amazing biodiversity of Gulf Coast wetlands.
- Wetland restoration projects often include establishing healthy habitats for wetland organisms. BioBlitz, the annual species inventory conducted by National Geographic, the National Park Service, and other partners, gets under way today (May 16) at Jean Lafitte National Park in New Orleans. What species do students think BioBlitz participants will find? These lists may help!
- plants: water hyacinth, taro, Spanish moss
- reptiles: alligator, copperhead (snake), snapping turtles
- amphibians: bullfrogs, salamanders, newts
- fish: catfish, herring, carp
- birds: warblers, terns, sparrows, buntings
- mammals: opossums, armadillo, raccoons, river otters, white-tailed deer
- Do students think Louisiana’s billion-dollar restoration projects will reduce the likelihood of another oil spill? Do they think the projects will lower the social or financial impact of another oil spill? Why or why not?
- The projects will not reduce the possibility of another oil spill. The fines, however, may encourage companies to take more safety precautions when constructing and operating their drilling platforms throughout the Gulf of Mexico.
- Wetland restoration may protect the Gulf Coast from the impact of another oil spill by absorbing some of the pollution before it can enter inhabited areas or water sources. Perhaps more importantly, wetland restoration will help protect the Gulf Coast, and New Orleans in particular, from devastating hurricanes and storm surges.