Archive for Seafood

Oysters 101

August 5, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in Science, Seafood, Wildlife

By Shannon Hood, Environmental Defense Fund

Today is National Oyster Day, and we’re celebrating the holiday with a post about these useful and tasty bivalves and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s (UMCES) Horn Point Laboratory, which is growing them by the billions.

Previous posts have discussed the ecological and economic importance of oysters, so we won’t spend time on this today. In preparation for a series of other posts on the (r)evolutionary oyster industry, this post will explain their life history and introduce some of the research being conducted to ensure their continued success.

Oysters grow in large colonies that make up reefs. Mature oysters begin to spawn when the water temperature reaches 74-86 degrees Fahrenheit. When the first male or female spawns, others sense it as they filter the water, thus triggering more to spawn.

Oyster Fig1

Intertidal oyster reef

Oyster Fig2

Mature oysters spawning. Males and females can be differentiated based on the way they spawn.

The sperm and eggs join in the water column. The newly formed larvae will swim and feed for approximately two weeks until they reach what’s known as the pediveliger stage and are ready to attach to a substrate, a process known as “setting.” When an oyster sets, it secretes a glue-like substance and will not move from this location for the duration of its life. At this point, the oyster is known as a spat.

Oyster Fig3

Oyster spat on their host shell. These oysters will spend the duration of their lives on this host shell.

In the lab, this process is much the same as in the wild, however, it takes place in a controlled environment. In this environment, staff are able to control variables such as temperature, salinity and food availability – variables which have tremendous effects on oyster spawning and survival rates.

Oyster Fig4

Oyster life cycle

Aside from their work in growing oysters, the UMCES Horn Point Hatchery is a hotspot for research on all things oyster, including numerous graduate student researchers looking into how salinity affects setting and growth throughout oysters’ lives. Having a good understanding of optimal salinities and answering these questions, we remove yet another unknown in this industry, allowing greater understanding for how to ensure oysters are able to thrive now and into the future.

Oyster Fig5

UMCES graduate student examines larvae in preparation for experiment

Oyster populations and harvests are on the rise in the Chesapeake Bay for the first time in decades. In 2004, just 26,000 bushels were harvested from Maryland’s waters. In 2014, Chesapeake Bay harvesters reported their best year in three decades, bringing in 900,000 bushels from traditional on-bottom leases.

What’s the cause of this rebounding industry? It’s no miracle cure, but rather a host of federal and state management practices, a booming aquaculture industry, successful hatcheries that provide a reliable source of larvae and new science that is allowing these bivalves to thrive once again.

Oyster Fig6

An oyster aquaculture farm in Maryland's Chesapeake Bay. Photo courtesy of True Chesapeake Oyster Company.

What does this mean for Louisiana? Our coastal waters boast some of the best conditions for oyster growth in the nation. Using funds from the Natural Resources Damages Assessment (NRDA) Early Restoration Program, LSU Sea Grant is operating a new, state of the art hatchery on Grand Isle, a hatchery capable of producing up to one billion oyster larvae per year. This increased capacity can add significantly to the production potential of the state’s public and private oyster grounds. Additionally, off-bottom aquaculture and remote setting are looking more and more like realistic options to increase the industry’s success. Stay tuned for future posts about each of these new tools in the oyster industry’s toolbox.

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Final Phase of BP Oil Spill Trial to Begin Next Week

January 15, 2015 | Posted by Elizabeth Van Cleve in Birds, BP Oil Disaster, Clean Water Act, Media Resources, RESTORE Act, Science, Seafood, Wildlife

Press Statement + Interview Opportunities Available

Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation, 225.253.9781,
Elizabeth Van Cleve, Environmental Defense Fund, 202.553.2543,
Lauren Bourg, National Audubon Society, 225.776.9838,

Final Phase of BP Oil Spill Trial to Begin Next Week

BP must be held fully accountable for its role in nation’s largest oil disaster

(New Orleans – January 15, 2015) On Tuesday, January 20, 2015, the third and final phase of the BP oil spill civil trial will begin in New Orleans. This concluding portion of the trial will determine how much BP will be required to pay in Clean Water Act fines for its role in the 2010 Gulf oil disaster.

National and local conservation organizations committed to Mississippi River Delta and Gulf Coast restoration – Environmental Defense Fund, National Wildlife Federation, National Audubon Society and the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation – issued the following statement in advance of Tuesday’s proceedings:

“Nearly five years after the oil disaster, the people and wildlife of the Gulf Coast still wait for justice. For 87 days, BP dumped more than 200 million gallons of oil into our Gulf, contaminating our marshes and beaches and jeopardizing wildlife ranging from brown pelicans to sperm whales. But the oil giant has yet to take full responsibility. BP has dragged out litigation in the courts, challenging every decision only to have each decision against them confirmed by higher courts.

“Despite claims that it would ‘make it right’ in the Gulf, BP has, for the past five years, waged a public relations war focused on blaming everyone else and denying sound scientific research showing ongoing impacts from the oil disaster. The effects of the oil spill are far from over and may not be fully known for years, or even decades, to come.

“Now the court has the opportunity and responsibility to make it right, to hold BP fully accountable for the damage done to the Gulf and to assign the maximum penalty to BP for its gross negligence. The outcome from this decision must send a clear and powerful signal to every other operator in the Gulf: deep-sea drilling is risky business, and they must protect their employees, our communities and our ecosystems. BP chose not to do that, so they deserve to pay the maximum fines allowed by law.

“Through the RESTORE Act of 2012, Congress paved the way for the Gulf’s recovery by ensuring that 80 percent of the Clean Water Act fines BP will pay will be reinvested into Gulf Coast restoration. But that restoration can’t begin until this case is resolved and the legal wrangling ends – and BP remains the principle barrier to much-needed funding going to vital restoration projects.

“Holding BP fully accountable for the 2010 Gulf oil disaster is the fair and right thing to do for the Gulf’s ecosystems and economies. We are hoping, after five long years, that justice is close. The Gulf has waited long enough.”


Interview Opportunities: Interview opportunities are available with experts in science, policy, wildlife and restoration issues from our national and local conservation organizations.

Mississippi River Delta Restoration Experts:
David Muth, Director for Mississippi River Delta Restoration, National Wildlife Federation
Douglas J. Meffert, D. Env., MBA, Executive Director, National Audubon Society (Audubon Louisiana)
Steve Cochran, Director for Mississippi River Delta Restoration, Environmental Defense Fund

John A. Lopez, Ph.D., Coastal Scientist, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation
Alisha Renfro, Ph.D., Coastal Scientist, Mississippi River Delta Restoration, National Wildlife Federation
Natalie Peyronnin, Director of Science Policy, Mississippi River Delta Restoration, Environmental Defense Fund

Courtney Taylor, Policy Director, Ecosystems Program, Environmental Defense Fund

Since the BP oil disaster began nearly five years ago, ongoing findings deliver truths omitted by BP’s ads: the oil disaster’s negative effects are increasingly clear, present and far from resolved. Over the past year alone, new research has surfaced:

  • An October 2014 study showed that the Gulf oil disaster left an “oily bathtub ring” the size of Rhode Island on the sea floor.
  • A study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) detailed how exposure to BP oil can lead to abnormalities including irregular heartbeats and heart attacks in Atlantic bluefin tuna and amberjack.
  • A NOAA study revealed that dolphins exposed to BP oil had increased health problems, including adrenal problems, severe lung disease and reproductive issues.
  • A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences definitively linked a community of damaged deep water corals near the Macondo well to the BP oil spill.
  • A Louisiana State University researcher found that the BP oil spill is still killing Louisiana coastal insects.
  • Visible tar balls and tar mats continue to surface, including a 40,000-pound tar mat discovered off the coast of a Louisiana barrier island in June 2013, three years after the start of the oil spill.
  • An infographic depicts ongoing impacts of the Gulf oil disaster.
Deepwater Horizon rig explosion

2010 Deepwater Horizon rig explosion.

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New study examines ecological and coastal restoration benefits of oyster reefs

October 3, 2014 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, Restoration Projects, Science, Seafood

By Alisha Renfro, National Wildlife Federation

“Oysters are the most tender and delicate of all seafoods. They stay in bed all day and night. They never work or take exercise, are stupendous drinkers, and wait for their meals to come to them.” – Hector Bolitho

Oysters are remarkable organisms. Not only are they delicious, but each oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day, which provides food for the oyster and improves local water quality. A collection of oysters form an oyster reef, which can provide food and habitat for a wide variety of fish and birds. In addition to these benefits, oyster reefs can also be an important tool for coastal restoration.

Oyster reef restoration project. Credit: NOAA.

Oyster reef restoration project. Credit: NOAA.

Oyster barrier reef restoration can reduce the erosion and retreat of nearby shorelines. An alternative to rocks in some areas of coastal Louisiana, oyster reef restoration can be a low maintenance project, as reefs can build themselves vertically over time, helping them keep pace with rising sea levels.

The benefits of oyster reef restoration can be great, but are all those benefits present as soon as the reef restoration project is finished or do they develop over time? A study published this year in Ecological Engineering, “Temporal variation in development of ecosystem services from oyster reef restoration,” examines the development of oyster reef benefits over time, including improved water quality, stabilization of nearby shorelines and use as fish and bird habitat.

In the study, led by Megan La Peyre, researchers built six experimental oyster reef projects along the shoreline of Sister Lake in Terrebonne Parish, La. The oyster reefs were created using shell material. The researchers found that:

  • Reefs were populated by oysters and other filter feeding organisms that provided water filtration benefits within the first year of post-project construction and continued for the duration of the study.
  • Shoreline stabilization benefits provided by the restored reef to nearby marshes varied with results suggesting that shoreline stabilization benefits only occurred during periods of high winds and more powerful waves.
  • Created oyster reefs immediately provided habitat and had increases in the abundance of fish species associated with them. This remained consistent throughout the study.
Forming bagged oyster shell reefs. Credit: NOAA.

Forming bagged oyster shell reefs. Credit: NOAA.

The results of this study suggest that oyster restoration projects can provide multiple benefits to the ecosystem that surrounds them fairly quickly after their construction, but that their ability to stabilize nearby shorelines may be limited in areas where waves are small but persistent. However, the researchers in the study suggest that modifications to the design and footprint of oyster reef restoration projects exposed to low energy wave may increase the shoreline stabilization benefits and should be explored further.

Oyster barrier reef restoration projects are an important component in our arsenal of coastal restoration tools. Prominently featured in Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan, this project type can have multiple benefits under the right conditions. However, like all types of restoration projects, there are factors that can limit project success. Oyster reef restoration projects depend on the recruitment and survival of oysters, which flourish under very specific conditions. Water that is too cold, too fresh, too salty or doesn’t have enough oxygen can limit the success of the project – if not dooming it to complete failure.

No one type of restoration project is the cure-all for combatting the rapid loss of land in coastal Louisiana. Instead, we need to use a combination of science-based projects in our restoration toolbox to staunch the rapid loss of our coast and build a more sustainable future.

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Profiles in Coastal Restoration: Allied Concrete Company

August 5, 2013 | Posted by Rachel Schott in Economics, Profiles in Resilience, Restoration Projects, Seafood

By Will Lindsey, Environmental Defense Fund

Allied Concrete Company, a 68-year-old firm based in Charlottesville, Va., is creating new business opportunities by partnering with conservation groups to deploy miles of new oyster reefs along the Gulf Coast. These reefs are composed of an innovative concrete product and create both a restored ecosystem habitat as well as a new business opportunity for Allied Concrete.

Allied Concrete builds Oyster Castles to battle declining oyster populations in coastal regions. Photo Credit: Allied Concrete Co.

In 2011, the 100-1000 Coalition began implementing a project to build 100 miles of oyster reefs in Alabama, which would then support more than 1,000 acres of marshland. Coalition member organizations include Mobile Baykeeper, The Nature Conservancy, The Alabama Coastal Foundation, Weeks Bay Foundation, Dauphin Island Sea Lab, The Ocean Foundation, Alabama Wildlife Foundation and Coastal Conservation Association.

A displaced Louisianan, Allied Concrete company president Gus Lorber has a passion for saving the Gulf. “I grew up in Louisiana and worked, played and fished in the Louisiana and Mississippi Gulf Coast area my entire life,” said Lorber. “I have seen firsthand the degradation of the coastal wetlands in that area my entire life.”

Founded in 1945, Allied traditionally made concrete blocks, but the company has since diversified its product range in response to ever-changing markets and customer needs. Notably, in 2007, Allied joined forces with The Nature Conservancy and others to develop a solution to the declining oyster populations in coastal regions. The result of this partnership was the Oyster Castle, which is a concrete unit by Allied specially designed to build oyster reefs. The unit is made of a “certified blend of proprietary material conducive to attracting and fostering oyster settlement, attachment, and growth.”

Oyster Castles create habitats and also help to slow coastline erosion.
Photo Credit: Allied Concrete Co.

Significantly, the Oyster Castle has received a gold Cradle to Cradle certification for its environmentally-friendly design. With Gulf Coast restoration projects likely to ramp up in response to potential monies flowing as a result of the Deepwater Horizon Disaster, Allied’s business is expected to increase. “I firmly believe that, as the RESTORE Act monies become available, the monies should be spent on creating economies in the ‘home’ states, and we are prepared to license local manufacturers to make our units to accomplish this goal,” says Lorber.

Allied is proud to be making a product that has a positive impact in the Gulf Coast. “Besides being my passion, all of my employees love what we are doing with Oyster Castles,” said Lorber. “They feel good about this company for helping the environment, they feel good about their part in making a product that plays a part in this, and they always volunteer for whatever hair-brained scheme I come up with to make products that do good things.”

In addition to providing habitat, oyster reef restoration projects provide numerous environmental benefits including water filtration, habitat for other marine life, storm surge attenuation and erosion control.

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Gulf Tourism Depends on a Healthy Gulf

July 9, 2013 | Posted by Rachel Schott in Economy, Hunting and Fishing, Latest News, Media Resources, Reports, Seafood, Wildlife, Wildlife tourism


Molly Moore, Sanderson Strategies Group, 202.682.3700,
Elizabeth Skree, Environmental Defense Fund, 202.553.2543,

Gulf Tourism Depends on a Healthy Gulf

New report shows wildlife tourism is central to Gulf Coast economy

(New Orleans—July 9, 2013) The coastal environment of the Gulf of Mexico supports a $19 billion annual wildlife tourism industry that is highly dependent on critical investments in coastal environmental restoration, according to a survey released today by Datu Research LLC.

Wildlife Tourism and the Gulf Coast Economy” concludes that wildlife tourism is extremely valuable to the Gulf Coast economy and relies heavily on the health of the endangered Gulf Coast ecosystem in the five states of Louisiana, Florida, Texas, Alabama and Mississippi. Wildlife tourism includes recreational fishing, hunting and wildlife watching.

Key findings of the report show that wildlife tourism:

  • Generates more than $19 billion in annual spending.
  • Attracts 20 million participants annually across the five Gulf Coast states.
  • Delivers $5.3 billion annually in federal, state and tax revenues.

The study also found tourism jobs can account for 20-36 percent of all private jobs in coastal counties and parishes that are particularly dependent on wildlife activities. Those 53 counties and parishes have more than 25,000 tourism-related businesses and nearly 500,000 associated jobs.

The study reported that all forms of tourism generate 2.6 million jobs in the Gulf states, nearly five times the number of jobs provided by the region’s other three largest resource-based industries: commercial fishing, oil and gas, and shipping.

“With so many outdoor adventure opportunities, tourism is a critical industry to our coastal parishes,” Louisiana Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne said. “Sportsman’s Paradise is more than our state’s nickname. If Louisiana is to remain the Sportsman’s Paradise, we have to ensure that funds Louisiana receives as a result of the Deepwater Horizon spill are properly and wisely spent preserving our paradise.”

Lt. Gov. Dardenne will speak at a press conference Tuesday, July 9 in New Orleans along with Billy Nungesser, president, Plaquemines Parish; Charlotte Randolph, president, Lafourche Parish; John F. Young, Jr., president, Jefferson Parish; Capt. Ryan Lambert, owner, Cajun Fishing Adventures; Mark Romig, president, New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation; Alon Shaya, executive chef, Domenica, Besh Restaurant Group; and Marcy Lowe, president, Datu Research LLC.

The study’s findings underscore the direct connection between the health of the ecosystem and the economic health of the Gulf region and the urgency for using the pending influx of monies from the RESTORE Act and other payments resulting from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill to properly and effectively restore the fragile Gulf Coast ecosystems.

“The conservation solutions that last are the ones that make economic sense and consider the needs of local communities,” said Scott Burns, director of the environment program at the Walton Family Foundation, which helped fund the survey. “This study connects the dots between a healthy Gulf environment, abundant wildlife and the good jobs that depend on tourism. This report adds to the growing evidence that investing in real restoration in the Gulf is the best way to create jobs and build economic prosperity across the region.”

Datu Research LLC is an economic research firm whose principals were part of the Duke University Center on Globalization, Governance & Competitiveness. They have previously released three analyses of supply chains associated with the work of coastal restoration, showing that more than 400 businesses in 36 states would benefit from such work.

This study was funded by Environmental Defense Fund with support from the Walton Family Foundation.

Part II: Supporting comments

Comments from participants in release of study: Wildlife Tourism and the Gulf Coast Economy

John Young, president, Jefferson Parish: “This study further supports the direct link between a healthy coastal environment and a robust economy which depends on a $19 billion wildlife tourism industry. The well-being and continued growth of our coastal communities depend on the health of the Gulf, restoring and strengthening our fragile ecosystems, and promoting a wildlife tourism industry which can thrive, not only in Jefferson Parish but in all Gulf Coast states.”

Billy Nungesser, president, Plaquemines Parish: “Plaquemines Parish and Louisiana are the nation’s premier delta coastline. We are strategically positioned as the fishing capital of the world, the sportsmen’s paradise state and the seafood capital of the United States, and these factors which make Plaquemines and Louisiana unique depend on the health of our coast.”

Michael Hecht, president & CEO, Greater New Orleans, Inc.:  “Tourism overall, including wildlife tourism, provides 2.6 million jobs across the Gulf States – and many of these are with small businesses. To protect this vital economic base, as well as other important coastal industries, we must prioritize large-scale coastal restoration projects that will ensure a stable coast and healthy environment.”

Mark Romig, president,  New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation: “New Orleans attracts the experiential discover type of tourist, one who enjoys using the city as a base to go out and explore any authentic and unique aspects of the city and region, including the natural world. For the many businesses in this region, the need to restore and preserve our coastal wetlands is not optional; it’s an urgent economic necessity.”

Capt. Ryan Lambert, owner, Cajun Fishing Adventures: “I’ve grown up loving and making a living from the waters of the Louisiana coast and for more than 30 years, my business has been taking people fishing in those waters. But every year, as I see places disappearing from the map, I fear I may be part of the last generation to live off the water.”

Ralph Brennan, president, Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group: “Family restaurants like mine depend on a healthy Gulf Coast for the fresh seafood that has made New Orleans the culinary capital of the United States. The money states are beginning to receive to repair the damages from the Deepwater Horizon spill are our best – and may be our last real chance – to reverse decades of mistakes.”

Marcy Lowe, president, Datu Research LLC.: “This study shows the vital connection between the health of the ecosystem and the economic health of the Gulf region. Wildlife tourism is a major contributor to the Gulf Coast economy, but it’s very survival depends on the restoration of an endangered and irreplaceable ecosystem.”

Part III: Key study findings

Report: Wildlife Tourism and the Gulf Coast Economy

Key findings for the Gulf region

Wildlife Tourism and the Gulf Coast Economy,” a survey produced by Datu Research LLC, finds that in the five Gulf Coast states:

  • Tourism generates 2.6 million jobs, nearly five times the number of jobs created by the region’s other three largest resource-based industries combined: commercial fishing, oil and gas, and shipping.
  • In Gulf Coast coastal counties and parishes where economies are particularly dependent on tourism, 20-36 percent of all private sector employment is tourism-related.
  • Wildlife tourism, which includes wildlife watching, recreational fishing and hunting, generates more than $19 billion in annual spending.
  • Wildlife tourism generates $5.3 billion annually in federal, state and local tax revenues, divided roughly equally between local and state tax revenues and federal revenues. In 2011, Gulf Coast state and local governments received $2.5 billion and the federal government $2.8 billion from wildlife tourism. Recreational fishing generates the highest amount of tax revenue at $2.2 billion followed by $2 billion from wildlife watching and $1.2 billion from hunting.
  • Wildlife tourism attracts 20 million participants annually across the five Gulf Coast states. The wildlife tourism industry consists not only of wildlife guide businesses that directly serve wildlife tourists, but also the lodging and dining establishments where they eat and sleep.
  • Gulf Coast tourism – and wildlife tourism in particular – is highly dependent on a healthy coastal environment.
  • More than 11,000 lodging and dining establishments and 1,100 guide and outfitters businesses create business networks that depend on each other for referrals. In a survey of over 500 guide and outfitter businesses, about 40 percent of respondents said clients ask them for hotel recommendations and 55 percent said clients request restaurant recommendations. Likewise, more than 60 percent of guide businesses receive clients based on recommendations from hotels and restaurants.
  • Guide and outfitting operations represent a strong network of small businesses that have a large impact on local tourism. More than 86 percent of these businesses have one to five employees, and nearly 60 percent host more than 200 visitors per year, with many hosting several thousand.



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What does a “record-setting dead zone” mean for Louisiana’s coast?

June 25, 2013 | Posted by Rachel Schott in Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA), Reports, Science, Seafood, Wildlife

By Rachel Schott, Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign

Dead zone. Words that bring images of military exercises or deserted, war-torn areas of land, but certainly not an acceptable description of a region that contains some of the nation’s most vibrant and diverse ecosystems, wildlife and habitats. Right?

The predicted "record-breaking" area of the Gulf of Mexico and coastline that would be affected in this year's dead zone.

Recent studies released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and conducted by Louisiana State University, Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, and University of Michigan scientists forecast a “record-setting dead zone” for the Gulf of Mexico this summer. The studies suggest that the 2013 dead zone area could be anywhere between 7,286 and 8,561 square miles, which would be substantially larger than last year’s dead zone of almost 2,900 square miles.

According to NOAA, dead zones are not uncommon for waterways and estuaries, as they have recorded 166 dead zones along United States coastlines. As the Gulf of Mexico is at the receiving end of the country’s largest river system, the Mississippi River’s discharge is one of the main causes of the Gulf dead zone. Unfortunately, a dead zone is exactly what it sounds like: an area normally teeming with wildlife and vegetation is infiltrated by pollutants, fertilizer chemicals and industrial runoff. When the river’s more buoyant fresh water enters the Gulf of Mexico, it lies on top of the denser, saltier water, causing a stratification that isolates the deeper waters from receiving a necessary amount of oxygen.

The Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act (CWPPRA) explains that the influx of these unnatural substances and nutrients results in the overgrowth of algae and marine organisms on the surface of the water. At the end of their life cycle, they sink to the bottom and are decomposed by bacteria, a process that depletes the oxygen supply from the water, making the existence of life nearly impossible. Every type of marine life is affected, from Gulf fish to tiny marine organisms, which are all essential parts of an interdependent ecosystem necessary for maintaining the balance of life in the Gulf of Mexico.

In scientific terms, the low oxygen is known as hypoxia and has severe effects on the future health and growth of ecosystems. TIME Magazine recently reported that the Gulf of Mexico may soon become an “aquatic desert” and attributes the problems to recent weather conditions in the Midwest: heavy rainfall and flooding increases the levels of nutrients and pollutants in the river. All of these compounding problems will contribute to the 2013 possibly record-setting dead zone.

Scientists state that the dead zone would be less severe if a tropical storm were to enter the area, which would mix up the Gulf’s waters and facilitate oxygenation. The irony of this fact is that it leaves Louisiana residents in a less-than-ideal situation.

To read more about the causes and effects of dead zones, check out NOAA’s State of the Coast website:

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What is Our Coast Worth (In Dollars)?

January 24, 2013 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, Economics, Science and Engineering Special Team (SEST), Seafood

This story was originally posted on the Coalition the Restore Coastal Louisiana's Coastal Currents blog.

By Scott Madere, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana

Our coastal wetlands have immeasurable worth to Louisiana in terms of culture. Our history, art, celebrations, recreational opportunities and so much more are tied to the muddy waters and vast green expanse of our swamps, forests and coastal marsh. Our love for our land defines us as a people, and we often cite it to those who are not from here as the main reason why Louisiana’s coast is worth saving. It seems natural for us to talk about the coast this way, but to those outside of Louisiana it may be a little hard to understand. That’s why it’s also valuable to be able to talk about Louisiana’s worth in another way: raw dollars, the sheer economic value that the Mississippi River Delta provides to the nation.

Understanding the massive dollar value of what Louisiana provides to the country helps us make the case to our fellow Americans that Louisiana is worth the resources sent here to restore our wetlands. In a political environment where budgets are tight and decisions are made based on investment return, this could potentially be Louisiana’s best angle toward building more national support for restoration.

So let’s explore it. The Mississippi River Delta Science and Engineering Special Team (SEST), made up of 22 of our nation’s best coastal scientists and engineers, published a report in 2012: “Answering 10 Fundamental Questions About the Mississippi River Delta.” Within the report, SEST compiled some convincing data about the economic value of Louisiana’s coast from a number of sources. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Mississippi River Delta ecosystems provide economically valuable services to the people of our state such as storm protection, fresh water, food, habitat, waste treatment and other benefits. These annual benefits alone are worth up to $47 billion per year to our citizens. With these annual benefits taken into consideration, the present value of the Delta’s ecosystem services could range as high as $1.3 trillion.
  • Between 80 and 90 percent of Louisiana’s economy, seafood production and quality of life is linked to coastal ecosystem goods and services.
  • Commercial fisheries have a yearly impact of $2.85 billion.
  • Recreational fishing generates $1.7 billion annually.
  • Economic activity linked to wildlife (hunting, wildlife watching, trapping, etc.) exceeds $1.6 billion each year.
  • Tourism generates as much as $10 billion every year for Louisiana.
  • The deepwater ports along the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge to New Orleans collectively form the largest tonnage port in the Western Hemisphere. Waterborne commerce in this corridor generates $35 billion annually and as many as 300,000 jobs.

And we haven’t even mentioned oil and gas yet.

According to the Louisiana Oil & Gas Association:

  • Our state is the nation’s number one producer of crude oil and the number two producer of natural gas among the 50 states.
  • Approximately 80 percent of the nation’s offshore oil and gas resources come from or through Louisiana. That equates to 30 percent of the nation’s energy consumption.
  • The Louisiana oil and gas industry exceeds $70 billion of economic impact annually.

After reviewing this very short list of economic benefit provided to us by the coast, it is easy to see two undeniable facts.

First, Louisiana’s coast is an economic engine that needs to be protected. In a time when so much national focus is set on employment numbers, Louisiana contributes positively by providing hundreds of thousands of jobs related to the coast. Even more jobs can be provided by the coastal restoration process itself.

Secondly, placing a national priority on Louisiana coastal restoration is a wise move. The 2012 Louisiana Coastal Master Plan sets a cost of $50 billion to fund its 50-year coordinated coastal restoration strategy. When compared to the potential economic output of Louisiana for the next 50 years, that $50 billion price tag actually seems small.

In the years ahead, Louisiana’s citizens will have to continue to make the case, both on Capitol Hill and in Baton Rouge, that coastal restoration is a top national priority. The numbers do add up when it comes to supporting that claim, and our leaders and citizens should feel confident in taking that position when seeking support from others around the country.

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BP Oil Spill: 1,000 Days Later

January 14, 2013 | Posted by Chandler Clay in Birds, BP Oil Disaster, Clean Water Act, Congress, Economics, Federal Policy, Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, Hurricane Isaac, Latest News, Restoration Projects, Seafood

It's been exactly 1,000 days since the BP-operated oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded, gushing millions of barrels of crude oil into a body of water that supports countless ecosystems and economies.

Below is a timeline of major events that have occurred in the last 1,000 days.

Tell BP to stop stalling, take responsibility, and pay the maximum Clean Water Act fines for which they are liable — now!


–, "First oiled bird is recovered."
–, "NOAA Expands Fishing Closed Area in Gulf of Mexico."
The New York Times, "Effects of Spill Spread as Tar Balls Are Found."
TIME, "100 Days of the BP Spill: A Timeline."
– The White House, "Executive Order 13554–Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force."
Bloomberg, "BP Oil Still Ashore One Year After End of Gulf Spill."
– PNAS, "Impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on a deep-water coral community in the Gulf of Mexico."
– University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, "Study confirms oil from Deepwater Horizon disaster entered food chain in the Gulf of Mexico."
The Times-Picayune, "About 565,000 pounds of oiled material from Deepwater Horizon stirred up by Hurricane Isaac."
The New York Times, "BP Will Plead Guilty and Pay Over $4 Billion."
– Georgia Tech Biology, "Gulf of Mexico Clean-Up Makes 2010 Spill 52-Times More Toxic."
– University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science, "UMiami scientists partner with NOAA, Stanford and U of N Texas to study post spill fish toxicology."
– NOAA Fisheries Service, "2010-2013 Cetacean Unusual Mortality Event in Northern Gulf of Mexico."
The Times-Picayune, "Transocean to pay $1.4 billion to settle pollution, safety violations in Gulf oil spill."


The RESTORE Act: Past, present and future

August 14, 2012 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in BP Oil Disaster, Clean Water Act, Congress, Diversions, Job Creation, Restoration Projects, RESTORE Act, Seafood, Senator Mary Landrieu

By Whit Remer, Policy Analyst, Environmental Defense Fund

It’s been an exciting year for Louisiana and the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign.

In July 2011, nine gulf senators banded together and introduced the RESTORE Act – legislation that would ensure penalties paid by BP and others responsible for the gulf oil spill would be used to restore the gulf region’s environment and economy. In September, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved the bill and in October, Representative Steve Scalise (R-LA) and 20 other gulf representatives introduced the House version of the bill. Supporters worked hard and waited patiently as the RESTORE Act continued winding its way through congressional hearings and historic votes until finally, on June 29, 2012, the RESTORE Act was included as part of the final transportation bill and days later signed into law by the President. It was an amazing journey from start to finish, and we want to take a moment to reflect on the past year and begin looking forward to how the RESTORE Act will unfold to become the single largest environmental restoration investment ever made by Congress.

Sen. Mary Landrieu introduces Rep. Steve Scalise, who led the RESTORE Act effort in the House, during a Capitol Hill event marking its passage. Photo courtesy of Sen. Landrieu.

The idea of spending penalty money from the oil spill on environmental and economic restoration in the gulf region is only fair. Diverse groups, including conservation organizations, the Secretary of the Navy, chambers of commerce from across the gulf region and even a special commission created by the President in response to the spill, all agreed it was the right thing to do. Heeding this call, Congress came together to design a bill to return the money where it belongs: to the Gulf Coast. In the Senate, the RESTORE Act received 76 votes – a remarkable display of bipartisanship which highlights the broad support had by the bill. Of course, it could not have happened without our campaign’s supporters, who used social media, letters to the editor and appeals to their congressional representatives to make the bill a top priority.

Looking forward, we are excited that the RESTORE Act has the potential to make the environment and economies of the Gulf Coast healthy again. The RESTORE Act includes a list of various eligible activities that states may use funds for, ranging from coastal restoration and shoreline protection to seafood and tourism promotion. All of these activities will provide new job opportunities for residents along the Gulf Coast and across the nation. As a recent Duke University report shows, the RESTORE Act is a win for the entire country.

The RESTORE Act also sets up a Restoration Council comprised of various federal agencies and states affected by the spill to create an environmental restoration plan for the Mississippi River Delta and Gulf Coast. The plan has the potential to address major, and very expensive, challenges in the Mississippi River Delta. A top funding priority in the plan for Louisiana will be designing and constructing large-scale sediment diversions along the lower Mississippi River. Sediment diversions provide wetlands with essential supplies of fresh water and new silt which help rebuild land and protect the coast.

Over the next few months, the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign will update readers on important RESTORE Act developments. We hope to provide you with useful information as the Restoration Council forms and begins the important process of creating a restoration plan for America’s Gulf Coast.

Stay tuned.

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How much is a Louisiana oyster worth?

August 1, 2012 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in Economics, Job Creation, Restoration Projects, Science, Seafood

By Meg Sutton, Environmental Defense Fund

Oyster reefs in coastal estuaries around the globe have been degraded for the past 100-200 years due to a combination of overfishing, harmful dredging practices, decreasing water quality, sedimentation and oyster diseases.1 Many formerly productive reefs are now functionally extinct, and it is estimated that 85 percent of reefs have been lost globally.2 The majority of commercial oysters are currently sourced from only five eco-regions in the world, concentrated on the east coast of North America and the northern Gulf of Mexico.2 In Louisiana, restoration of oyster reefs has been proposed to both mitigate the decline in stocks and to secure a number of co-benefits which oysters provide. Such restoration has an associated cost which has some asking: How much is an oyster worth?

Oyster reef restoration in Alabama. Source: NOAA Fisheries

Restoration of oyster reefs in the gulf would impart several benefits to the region including increases in oyster and fish stocks, improved water quality, erosion control, storm attenuation and economic stimulus for local businesses. Each of these benefits has an associated economic value and should be factored into the decision to bring oyster reef restoration to scale.

The most readily apparent economic benefit of oyster reef restoration is an increase in, or maintenance of, primary oyster productivity. Louisiana is the leading oyster producing state in the U.S., supporting an oyster industry that generates $35 million in dockside value annually.3 Additionally, oyster reefs serve as refuge and feeding ground for many estuarine species including fish, mobile crustaceans and invertebrates. This ecosystem benefit is especially pertinent along the Louisiana coast, where oyster reefs are the primary three-dimensional habitats available. In Louisiana, 23 percent of annual marine fishing occurs over oyster beds, and these areas provide approximately $2 million (2003 dollars) in fisheries value annually for coastal Louisiana.4

Oysters are filter feeders, and this filtration notably reduces the turbidity and nitrogen loading of their surrounding water. Reduction of turbidity — the removal of suspended solids — has been shown to have a significant recreational value for boating and beach swimming. The willingness to pay for reduction in bacteria and oil, as well as improvement in water color for beach goers, was estimated to be $23.39 per person per year.5 In a study of the Choptank River in Maryland, the economic value of the nitrogen removed by an oyster over a ten-year interval was found to be greater than the dockside value of the oyster.6 In a separate analysis, an acre of healthy oyster reef was estimated to yield $3,000 in de-nitrification value annually.7

Oyster ecosystem impacts. Source: NOAA

Additionally, the three-dimensional oyster reef structure attenuates wave energy, which can reduce erosion rates. Oyster reefs are generally understood to dampen wave energy by creating frictional energy between their rough outer surfaces and the wave. The associated economic value of wave attenuation is hard to determine, as it varies based on location. One factor to consider, however, is that the Gulf of Mexico has over 8,000 miles of shoreline that are at risk for erosion.8 Erosion rates and risk of flooding due to storm surge will continue to increase over time with global climate change, environmental degradation and subsidence of the area. If we choose to armor these shorelines, the current option is to install a bulkhead. Bulkheads can cost up to $1 million per mile, while oyster cultch placement — a common method for oyster reef restoration — can be completed for one-third of the cost.8

The industrial and commercial activity that would be generated by large-scale gulf oyster restoration will additionally boost the economy in the Gulf Coast and provide new job opportunities in the gulf and in 17 other states.9 Such restoration efforts would generally benefit small businesses, creating opportunities for local residents to both build new business and contribute to the sustainability of their region.

Restoration of oyster reefs may be necessary to maintain oyster landings in Louisiana, and it would also contribute to the sustainability of the region through ecological co-benefits, shoreline protection and economic stimulus. While these benefits may be difficult to generalize to a per-oyster dollar value, it is clear that the overwhelming co-benefits of oyster reef restoration in Louisiana should be considered in conjunction with the total cost of restoration.

1 Grabowski, J.H. & Peterson, C.H. Restoring oyster reefs to recover ecosystem services. Theoretical Ecology Series 281-298 (Elsevier Academic Press: Burlington, MA, 2007).

2 Beck, M.W. et al. Oyster Reefs at Risk and Recommendations for Conservation, Restoration, and Management. BioScience 61, 107-116 (2011).

3 Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Oyster Stock Assessment Report. (Baton Rouge, LA, 2010).

4 Henderson, J. & O’Neil, J. Economic Values Associated with Construction of Oyster Reefs by the Corps of Engineers. United States Army C (2003).

5 Freeman, A.M.I. The Benefits of Water Quality Improvements for Marine Recreation : A Review of the Empirical Evidence. 10, 385-406 (1995).

6 Newell, R., Fisher, T., Holyoke, R. & Cornwell, J. Influence of Eastern Oysters on Nitrogen and Phosphorus Regeneration in Chesapeake Bay, USA. The comparative roles of Suspension Feeders in Ecosystems 47, 93-120 (2005).

7 Piehler, M.F. & Smyth, A.R. Habitat-specific distinctions in estuarine denitrification affect both ecosystem function and services. Ecosphere 2, (2011).

8 National Fish and Wildlife Federation. Toward a Healthy Gulf of Mexico: A Coordinated Strategy for Oyster Restoration in the Gulf. 1-6 (2012).

9 Duke Center on Globalization, Governance & Competitiveness. Stokes, S., Wunderink, S., Lowe, M. & Gereffi, G. Restoring Gulf Oyster Reefs: Opportunities for Innovation (2012).

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