6 years after the oil disaster: Coastal restoration in action

By Estelle Robichaux, Senior Restoration Project Analyst, Environmental Defense Fund

Today marks the 6th anniversary of the BP oil disaster, an event that changed not only the landscape and economies of the Gulf Coast but also the relationship that many residents have with their surrounding environment.

In Louisiana, of course, this devastating event only exacerbated our ongoing land loss crisis by killing wetland plants and speeding up erosion, as well as damaging communities that had only just begun recovering from the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina five years earlier.

We can still plainly see some impacts from this disaster, such as the complete erosion of Cat Island in Barataria Bay, La., or the less obvious ongoing ecological effects, like a recent study linking increased juvenile dolphin mortalities to the spill.

But with the recently approved BP settlement and the finalized Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration (RESTORE) Council Initial Funded Priorities List, there is more hope than ever before.

Barrier islands, Louisiana’s first line of defense

Here in coastal Louisiana, the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) has been working since Day 1 to restore some of the areas hardest hit by the oil spill. The barrier islands and in the salt marshes of Barataria Bay experienced some of the highest concentrations of oiling during the spill, so this is where a lot of the early restoration funding has been focused.

Restoration Timeline

Restoration timeline of completed and future priority projects

Even before money from Transocean and BP was available, CPRA used other funding, like from the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act (CWPPRA), to complete different parts of the Barataria Pass to Sandy Point Barrier Island Restoration Project, one of our campaign’s priority projects. East Grand Terre, which we visited last year, was first of the four islands restored between late 2010 and early 2014 in this important barrier island chain. Two other projects, at Chaland Headland and Bay Joe Wise, had been completed before the oil spill.

Now that some of the funds from the oil spill settlements can be spent, active restoration of two more barrier islands has begun. Both Shell Island West and Chenier Ronquille, also part of the Barataria Pass to Sandy Point Barrier Island Restoration Project, are being restored with Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) Early Restoration funding. We expect both of these projects, being co-implemented by CPRA and NOAA’s Habitat Restoration Team, will be complete by early 2017!

restoration_map2

Completion of priority projects

Once CPRA receives funding from the RESTORE Council to implement projects on the Council’s Funded Priorities List, the state will finalize the design and begin construction of one more barrier island in the area: West Grand Terre. If all goes well, this island should be restored by the end of 2018. And with that, almost the entire barrier island chain between Barataria Pass and Sandy Point will have been restored!

We’re only getting started

The road to recovery for Louisiana communities and ecosystems will be long. But in many respects, we’re well on our way: Barrier islands are being restored, the $20.8 billion BP settlement has been approved and the RESTORE Council has finalized its first list of funded projects. Louisiana already has a plan to restore its coast via the 2012 Coastal Master Plan, and because of the BP and Transocean settlements, the state will have over $8 billion to spend on coastal restoration over the next 15 years. Six years after the spill, there is still work to do, but we are seeing real progress.

As Senior Restoration Project Analyst, Estelle Robichaux advocates for the implementation of science-based restoration projects and programs in coastal Louisiana. Estelle leads the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Coalition’s project-related efforts, including science-based decision-making processes, project implementation, and related research. Estelle’s work also focuses on science communication and monitoring the development of scientific and research programs related to coastal Louisiana in the wake of the BP oil disaster.