rOBERT TURPIN WAS THE FIRST PERSON to spot oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil rig drifting into the beaches of his native Escambia County, Florida, where he’s the manager of marine resources. It came ashore at night, he remembers, and he just happened to be there, looking. “My great-grandfather homesteaded on the beaches of northwest Florida at the turn of the last century,” he
explains. “My family, my career, my whole way of life is inextricably tied to these
beaches and waterways. It was a very troubling summer in 2010.”
At the end of 2011, operations in the Gulf Coast hit a milestone, with a bureaucratic transition from “response” to “restoration.” The beaches have been cleaned, or reached a state
where further cleaning poses a greater risk to delicate ecosystems than simply leaving them as
they are. If not the end of the oil-spill cleanup, the transition at least signifies the beginning
of the end, and the myriad state, local, and federal agencies involved are setting their sights
on returning to normal.
“What it means is we’re going back to the normal way of handling coastline issues,”
explains BP spokesman Ray Melick. While the response operation was going on, if oil was
found on a Gulf Coast beach, BP was responsible for cleaning it up. Now, if oil runs up where
it shouldn’t, an investigation will take place, led by the Coast Guard, to find the responsible
party. BP is no longer automatically on the hook.
“We’re not going anywhere,” Melick continues. “We still have crews out there surveying
the shorelines and responding to whatever they find that needs to be cleaned up, and we’re
moving into the Natural Resources Damage Assessment phase.” Beaches need to be individually certified clean by state and federal officials. Melick says that fewer than eight miles of
shoreline still needed to be certified, out of 635 miles that required active cleanup. For the
future, he points to two ongoing efforts:
1. The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative was created shortly after the spill and funded
by a $500 million, 10-year grant from BP to study the Gulf. With a research board headed by
former National Science Foundation Director Rita Colwell, the initiative has already funded
studies finding, among other things, that fish in the Gulf may have suffered long-term damage similar to that found after the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska. Other grants have gone to the
study of new types of oil dispersant, and other environmental effects.
2. Government and private parties are collaborating on the Natural Resource Damage
Assessment (NRDA), a process to figure out what, exactly, needs to be fixed as a result of
the Deepwater spill. It’s a process that can take years, but NRDA trustees who oversee the
operation announced the first projects slated
for early restoration in December. The proposals, which will undergo months of public
comment, include two projects from each
of the states bordering the Gulf (excluding
Texas, which plans to put its bids in for the
next round of funding).
In Louisiana, funds will go toward
marshes creation and oyster hatcheries; in
Mississippi, oysters and artificial reefs; in
Alabama, Mobile County will protect and
create salt marsh, and Baldwin County will
restore sand-dune habitat; and in Florida,
the money will go toward sand-dune restoration, and the building of four boat-ramp facilities in Robert Turpin’s Escambia
CATCHING UP WITH OLD FRIENDS
BACK IN 2010, Chris Edmonston of the BoatU.S. Foundation spoke to people involved in recreational boating along the Gulf Coast to see how things were going. His story appeared in our December
2010 issue. We checked back with some of these folks in 2012 to see
what’s happened to them since. Here’s what they told us.
Billy Nicholas, right, says the fish have returned in droves.
Billy NicholaS, owNer
VeNice FiShiNg lodge
THE FISH CAME BACK TO LOUISIANA RIGHT AWAY, Nicholas says, but he’s
still waiting on the fishermen. Business was down about 60 percent from
pre-spill levels in 2011, but it’s a perception he’s fighting against — the fishing is just fine. Redfish have rebounded in greater numbers than before the
spill, and after a slow start to the 2011 trout season (due, Nicholas thinks, to a
higher-than-normal river), numbers there were also back up in the fall.
“By October of 2010, fishing was back to normal,” Nicholas says, “but
people just weren’t coming down. There was a lot of misinformation during the
spill. Everybody was under the impression, across the United States, that the
fishery was destroyed, that there wasn’t any fish in there. That was far from
the truth. It was as good as it was before the spill and the only thing missing
was the anglers. A lot of our customers didn’t return. People would call up and