Restoring the Gulf Coast


The Gulf of Mexico is home to approximately 15,000 unique species of wildlife, include 29 marine mammals, five threatened or endangered sea turtles, and 49 types of sharks. A wide variety of habitats support this diversity of species, including fresh and saltwater wetlands, beaches, barrier islands, coral reefs, benthic flats, and oyster reefs.

In April of 2010, much of this incredible natural resource was threatened when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, killing 11 people and unleashing a torrent of oil and natural gas into the Gulf of Mexico. The impacts of the disaster on wildlife were severe and they are ongoing. Learn more about how Gulf wildlife is faring after the Deepwater Horizon disaster >>

Helping Wildlife Recover

The National Wildlife Federation has staff on the ground across the Gulf working to make sure its habitats and waters are restored for the benefit of people and wildlife.

Support our work protecting wildlife in the Gulf and across the country >>

BP and the other companies responsible for the disaster have paid significant criminal and civil fines. As much as $16 billion of these fines could be spent over the next two decades for helping Gulf wildlife and restoring estuaries, wetlands, oyster reefs, and other important habitats. National Wildlife Federation experts in the Gulf states are working to ensure that this money is spent wisely on ecosystem restoration efforts that will improve the health of the Gulf of Mexico for generations to come.

  • $8.8 billion will be available via the Natural Resources Damage Assessment, a process created by the Oil Pollution Act.
  • $2.5 billion will be available from the criminal fines. This money is being administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation's Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund.
  • $5.2 billion will be available as a result of a 2012 law called the RESTORE Act. This bipartisan law, passed with the backing of the National Wildlife Federation, sends money from the Clean Water Act fine to the five Gulf states for restoration. Spending this money wisely, with as much of it as is possible going to meet ecosystem needs, will require thoughtful planning.

Restoring Gulf Ecosystems

The money from the legal settlements provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make meaningful progress towards restoring the damage to the Gulf—from the BP disaster and from a century of over-exploitation. The National Wildlife Federation is working to make sure these funds are spent on projects that will benefit wildlife, such as efforts to:

  • Restore the Balance Between Fresh and Salt Water: Over the past hundred years most of the rivers that flow into the Gulf have been substantially altered in one way or another - leveed, dammed, deepened, or straightened. Where possible, restoring more natural flows of fresh water and sediment into our coastal estuaries will greatly benefit fish and wildlife, both along the coast and in deeper waters.
  • Restore Wetlands: The entire Gulf Coast is rapidly losing marshes and wetlands, but the problem is most pronounced in Louisiana's Mississippi River Delta, which loses an average of a football field of land every hour. Strategically reintroducing sediment and fresh water from the Mississippi River into the delta could rebuild or protect as much as 300 square miles of wetlands by 2060.
  • Bring Back Oyster Reefs: Estuaries like the Mississippi Sound and Pensacola Bay are estimated to have each lost more than 90% of their historical oyster reefs. Restoring oyster reefs across the Gulf will improve water quality, recreate lost habitat for fish, and better protect communities from hurricanes.
  • Protect Key Landscapes: The Gulf Coast hosts a diversity of habitat types, including barrier islands, beaches, dunes, marshes, forested wetlands, and coastal prairies. Where appropriate, particularly important parcels of coastal lands should be acquired and managed to support the long-term health of the Gulf. Additionally, these oil spill penalties could support voluntary conservation measures on private lands.Bon Secour NWR coastline

Our December 2014 report, Restoring the Gulf of Mexico for People and Wildlife: Recommended Projects and Priorities, details 47 specific strategies that would improve the health of the Gulf of Mexico and its estuaries.

Reforming Offshore Drilling Policy

As a nation, we need to make sure catastrophes like the Deepwater Horizon do not happen again. The National Wildlife Federation advocated for policies that will:

  • Reform federal oil and gas leasing practices to improve safety monitoring
  • Lift liability limits so companies responsible for spills are held fully accountable for the costs
  • Dedicate funds from the sale of exploration licenses in the Outer Continental Shelf to Gulf restoration efforts
  • Invest in more effective response techniques, such as better containment methods and less use of toxic dispersants

Support our work protecting wildlife in the gulf and across the country >>

Related Resources
REPORT: Five Years and Counting: Gulf Wildlife in the Aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon Disaster  

Five years after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, sending oil into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days, wildlife are still struggling..

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Deepwater Horizon and How We Can Restore the Gulf