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A Times Editorial

Editorial: Projects will restore Gulf Coast habitats

The recovery from the BP oil spill took a big step last month with the announcement of $100 million in restoration efforts in the Gulf of Mexico. The projects in five states, including Florida, will go a long way toward strengthening the gulf ecosystem and the region's economy. Florida should keep the focus on ecological health, coastal habitats and the fisheries as it steers new work into the pipeline.

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation announced awards for 22 projects across the gulf, including six in Florida, in the first round of restoration work funded by a settlement of criminal charges in the BP case. The list includes tens of millions of dollars to rebuild wetlands, restore the bird population and the fisheries, and repair oyster reefs and marshes.

The foundation is starting off on the right note in doling out the $2.5 billion the agency was awarded as part of the $4 billion settlement. These projects will help the gulf recover from the 2010 spill, provide a baseline for future restoration projects and strengthen the gulf's ability to withstand any such disaster in the future. Officials were right to take the long view by investing in design, river flow and coastal protection projects. These are down payments the foundation can build on in future years as new restoration funding comes to the table.

The Florida work is especially well targeted. About $4.2 million will go to enhance and improve the management of 3,000 acres of degraded oyster habitat in Apalachicola Bay, whose fishery accounts for 90 percent of the oysters in Florida. Another $3 million will track the health of reef fisheries, which is critical to sustaining red snapper and other species. And $1.5 million will go to eliminating light pollution on Panhandle beaches, which can disorient sea turtles, keeping nesting females and hatchlings from making it back to the sea. That's a welcome investment for a population hard hit by the spill, and for a state that hosts more than 90 percent of all loggerhead turtles nesting in the continental United States.

The nation has focused much of its attention in the past three years on the economic damage of the spill. With these awards, the foundation is moving to address the ecological impact, too, which is key to the region's economy. As officials look to spend another $340 million over five years in Florida, the priority should be on projects that provide a scientific base for restoration efforts. The worst environmental disaster in this country's history should at least lead to equally ground-breaking changes in how the United States manages its natural resources. These monetary awards are a good start.

Editorial: Projects will restore Gulf Coast habitats 11/29/13 [Last modified: Friday, November 29, 2013 1:33pm]

    

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