Report Urges FL to Make the Most of Deepwater Horizon Settlement
PENSACOLA, Fla. - Beginning this month, Florida will receive about $74 million a year over 15 years from BP's 2016 settlement agreement from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and experts say it's critical to let science guide the use of those funds.
The National Wildlife Federation has compiled a list of 50 restoration projects its scientists believe will make the most difference in the overall health of the gulf. Gulf restoration scientist Ryan Fikes said much of the emphasis should be on estuaries, which he described as "critical mixing zones."
"They serve as spawning, nursery and feeding grounds for nearly all of the species of fish and shellfish that we like to consume," he said, "and these places also provide essential habitat for many species of birds and waterfowl."
According to the report, Florida's portion of the settlement will be roughly $1.7 billion. One-sixth already has been awarded to projects aimed at improving water quality, restoring oyster reefs and benefiting birds and sea-turtle populations. The remaining money will become available over the next 15 years.
Jessica Bibza, a Florida policy specialist for the federation, said some of the restoration funds will be allocated by the state's 23 Gulf Coast counties, some by state agencies and some by state and federal lawmakers. With the vital role the gulf plays both ecologically and economically, she said she believes Floridians have a responsibility to weigh in on the process.
"It was a horrible tragedy, both for the 11 men that lost their lives as well as for the Gulf of Mexico and the fish and wildlife that live within it," she said, "and it's only by staying engaged that we have a better shot at having these funds go to meaningful restoration."
The National Wildlife Federation has estimated that the oil spill killed from 2 trillion to 5 trillion larval fish and up to 8 billion oysters, while nearly all the dolphin and whale species in the northern gulf have quantifiable injuries and at least 93 bird species were affected.
The report is online at gulfrestoration.nwf.org.