The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
Could Artificial Reefs Help Restore the Gulf After Years of Damage From BP Oil Spill?
By Ryan Fikes
Over the past few decades the five Gulf States (Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas) have built artificial reefs both inshore and offshore with the aim of enhancing recreational fishing and diving opportunities. State and local governments on the Gulf Coast have expressed interest in creating additional artificial reefs with some of the money from the federal funds resulting from the BP oil disaster.
Artificial Reef Science: Are We There Yet?
A number of environmental and economic considerations should be considered when planning and designing new artificial reef projects. Water quality, wave interaction, bottom composition, reef profile and materials used for construction are just a few things that can influence the effectiveness of these habitats, or potentially cause harm to adjacent habitats.
For a more comprehensive look at Gulf State artificial reef programs and key considerations in implementation or management, consider National Wildlife Federation's new white paper: Artificial Reefs of the Gulf of Mexico: A Review of Gulf State Programs & Key Considerations.
The bottom line is that scientists are still working to unravel the functionality of artificial reefs. Some experts believe that artificial reefs can function comparably to natural reef communities. Others argue that artificial reefs merely attract existing fish from the adjacent open water habitat, forming more dense fish aggregations. Only time, and additional research, will tell.
Natural Reefs vs. Artificial Reefs
Artificial reef projects are designed to enhance recreational fishing opportunities. Reef restoration projects are designed to restore the ecological functions provided by reef systems. In cases where materials of similar type and size to historical or natural habitats—such as oyster reefs—are placed in nearshore waters in order to help the recovery of related ecological services, the term “artificial reef” is misleading.
Because reef restoration projects can restore or replace “natural resources, habitats or natural resource services” damaged by the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, they may qualify as an appropriate use of Natural Resource Damage Assessment funding, or even other spill-related resources like the RESTORE Act and the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund.
Loss of Human Use?
Artificial reefs develop communities of encrusting organisms and thus attract fish, but studies have shown that the communities that develop on artificial reefs remain quite different from those on natural reefs. Because artificial reef projects don’t serve to replace or restore the harm to natural resources, they have a more limited source of appropriate spill-related funding.
These types of projects could help to restore or replace the loss of human use stemming from the Deepwater Horizon disaster:
- The oil disaster resulted in significant closures of recreational fishing, boating and swimming ground. Scaled appropriately, artificial reefs could help compensate the public for lost access (or “human use”) to the Gulf of Mexico by generating new opportunities for angling, snorkeling and engaging in other recreational activities.
- Artificial reef projects intended to restore or replace existing artificial reefs that were harmed during the oil disaster would be a justifiable use under the Natural Resources Damage Assessment process.
The Gulf of Mexico is an economic powerhouse and a national treasure. Natural and restored reef habitats can help make it whole again in the wake of the disaster. Strategic and appropriate investment of spill-related funding to restore its use, wildlife habitats, water quality and diversity of ecosystems will pay environmental and economic dividends for generations to come.
This article was originally published on National Wildlife Federation’s Wildlife Promise.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Julia Conley
Climate campaigners on Friday expressed hope that policymakers who are stalling on taking decisive climate action would reconsider their stance in light of new warnings from an unlikely source: two economists at J.P. Morgan Chase.
Tensions are continuing to rise in Canada over a controversial pipeline project as protesters enter their 12th day blockading railways, demonstrating on streets and highways, and paralyzing the nation's rail system
Colorado River Has Lost 1.5 Billion Tons of Water to the Climate Crisis, 'Severe Water Shortages' May Follow
California is headed toward drought conditions as February, typically the state's wettest month, passes without a drop of rain. The lack of rainfall could lead to early fire conditions. With no rain predicted for the next week, it looks as if this month will be only the second time in 170 years that San Francisco has not had a drop of rain in February, according to The Weather Channel.
The last time San Francisco did not record a drop of rain in February was in 1864 as the Civil War raged.
"This hasn't happened in 150 years or more," said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability to The Guardian. "There have even been a couple [of] wildfires – which is definitely not something you typically hear about in the middle of winter."
While the Pacific Northwest has flooded from heavy rains, the southern part of the West Coast has seen one storm after another pass by. Last week, the U.S. Drought Monitor said more Californians are in drought conditions than at any time during 2019, as The Weather Channel reported.
The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.
"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.
Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.
Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.
"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.
NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.
As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.
"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.
The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.
"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."
- Is California heading for another drought? - Los Angeles Times ›
- CA wildfire season: Will rain, snow weather forecast end risk? | The ... ›
- California Fires Now Rage All Year as Drought Creates Tinderbox ... ›
- California weather stays dry as rain and snow come up short | The ... ›
- California Emerged From Drought and Is Still Catching Fire - The ... ›