The BP oil spill has national attention focused on the Gulf, which is why the Nature Conservancy issued its report called Gulf 20/20, describing the link between the region's economic and ecologic health. Cindy Brown directs the Gulf of Mexico program for the Nature Conservancy.
"Sadly, the oil spill has happened at a time in the history of the Gulf of Mexico where it was already a very fragile and degraded system. And that's been ongoing over the course of the last several decades. We've seen a tremendous amount of habitat lost — up to 50 percent, 80 percent of sea grass, salt march, oyster reef — all the things that really are sort of the foundation of life here and so the foundation of the region's economy."
Because of that, Brown says cleaning up the oil won't be enough to save the fragile ecosystems of the Gulf. She says the region's economy will depend on restoring and protecting the estuaries, reefs and wetlands that aren't affected by the oil spill.
"But part of that means we have to really commit ourselves to finding the funding to make that happen. There are some calculations out there that we're looking at least about $600 million a year for decades forward to do the kind of large scale restoration that's going to be needed to make the system ultimately a healthy system that's resiliant in the face of hurricanes, natural, man-made disasters."
Brown says they're lobbying the legislature for funding. They're also putting together a coalition to represent the various interests in the Gulf — including fishermen, energy companies, environmentalists and other stakeholders.
The Gulf 20/20 report is available online through a link on our website kuhf.org.
Laurie Johnson, KUHF News.