During the 2010 spill, the oily reach of gushing crude (in orange) extended across 1,300 miles of Gulf coast, fouling waters and shorelines that still suffer ill effects today. Fortunately, scores of restoration projects—such as the examples below—are offering new hope for the region’s recovery.
1 TEXAS Oyster reefs improve water quality, protect shorelines and provide habitat for hundreds of species of wildlife, from American oystercatchers to larval white shrimp. With adequate water quality and quantity, oyster reefs keep growing even as sea level rises. But natural oyster reefs have declined dramatically Gulf-wide during the past three centuries. A proposed project in Galveston Bay would help rebuild up to 400 acres of vital oyster-reef habitat.
2 LOUISIANA Starved of sediment by jetties and dredged channels, the uninhabited Caminada Headland has eroded during the past century. But thanks to a project that involved barging more than 180,000 dump-truck loads of sand from an offshore shoal, more than 13 miles of beach and dune have been reconstructed on the headland. It now protects a port and thousands of acres of saltmarsh, offering refuge for nesting least terns and Wilson’s plovers.
3 LOUISIANA The Mississippi River is straitjacketed by levees and shunts its precious sand and sediments—which build and nourish land—straight into the Gulf of Mexico through navigation channels. A project now in design will begin to reverse 300 years of engineering against nature by engineering with nature, building a new delta lobe in the Barataria Basin, making a home for everything from crawfish to bald eagles and helping existing marsh withstand sea-level rise.
4 MISSISSIPPI Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge boasts a diversity of threatened coastal habitats, including some of the nation’s last wet pine savanna, of which only 3 percent remains. But with 1,600 acres recently added to the refuge, protected estuarine habitat important to both Mississippi and Alabama in and around the refuge increased to some 25,000 acres, providing a home for box turtles and hundreds of species of migratory birds and aquatic wildlife.
5 ALABAMA Fed by six rivers, the Mobile-Tensaw Delta is one of the nation’s most biologically diverse ecosystems, hosting at least 125 species of fish, 45 mammals, nearly 70 reptiles, 30 amphibians and at least 300 species of birds. A proposed project here will elevate a section of a 1920s causeway that severs the delta from Mobile Bay, interrupting the vital exchange of fresh and salt water, which is critical to the estuary’s productivity.
6 FLORIDA The Apalachicola River feeds what used to be one of the estuarine gems of North America—the bay of the same name—once famous for its oysters. Much needs to be done to restore the quality and quantity of fresh water reaching Apalachicola Bay, including a proposed project that would plant wetland buffers in two disturbed areas, force water into the floodplain and capture sediment and excess nutrients before they cloud the bay’s waters.
The National Wildlife Federation’s interactive website, Making the Most of Restoration: Priorities for a Recovering Gulf, details 57 specific projects and efforts that would improve the health of the Gulf of Mexico and its estuaries.
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