Fall 2008 Gulf Currents Newsletter

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Inside this issue: Gulf Dead Zone Grows; MRGO Must Go Campaign; GRN’s Florida Program; Dolphins, Porpoises, and Whales – Oh My!



Fall 2008
GRN’s Florida Program Page 3 Creature Feature Page 2 MRGO Must Go Campaign Page 3

This year brought us yet another almost record-setting Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico. As our readers know from earlier articles, the Dead Zone is an area of water in the Gulf where oxygen levels are too low for marine life to live, and is caused by nitrogen and phosphorus pollution flowing from the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers. Researchers announced in July that the Dead Zone is tied for the second largest since measurements started in 1985. Amazingly, these researchers think that it would have been even bigger if Hurricane Dolly hadn’t been in the Gulf churning up the waters, thus restoring oxygen to some of the edges of the Zone. In response to this year’s massive Dead Zone, GRN, along with conservation groups bordering the Mississippi River, petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set and enforce standards to limit nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in the Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi River basin, and to develop cleanup plans for those water bodies. This petition has been a long time coming, given the fact that EPA called on states back in 1998 to adopt specific limits on nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, threatening to enact its own limits if states had not complied by 2003. Needless to say, it is 2008 and there are no such limits anywhere in the Gulf States. Without the EPA utilizing its responsibility under the Clean Water Act to limit pollution in the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico, the Dead Zone has the potential to continue to grow in the coming years and decades. The Dead Zone is a national problem and deserves national attention and action. Not only does the Dead Zone threaten the $2.8 billion Gulf fishing industry, nitrogen and phosphorus pollution cause environmental problems throughout the entire Mississippi River Basin such as toxic algae blooms resulting in the death of livestock and pets, fish kills, and damages to drinking water supplies. In fact, the National Academy of Sciences published a report earlier this year that stated that it falls to the EPA to make sure that this national ecological catastrophe is adequately addressed. Continued on Page 7 ...

For many, the natural resources associated with the Gulf are wetlands, beaches, and recreationally or commercially caught fish. Even people who navigate the waters of the Gulf often know very little about the true diversity of species that exists below the surface. Take for example, the marine mammals of the Gulf. People know that dolphins and manatees populate these waters but most are unaware that 31 species of mammals call the Gulf home. These include 28 species of dolphins, porpoises, whales, one species of seal (a second one went extinct), and one species of manatee.
BOARD OF DIRECTORS Robert Hastings Montgomery, AL Robert Wiygul Ocean Springs, MS Juan Parras Houston, TX Page Williams Houston, TX Bob Schaeffer Sanibel, FL Louis Skrmetta Gulfport, MS Susan Spicer New Orleans, LA Jose Miranda New Orleans, LA Nancy Adams New Orleans, LA

Sperm Whale (Physeter macrocephalus) Photo: NMFS Northeast Fisheries Science Center

The Gulf’s dolphin species include not only the most well known– the Bottlenose Dolphin – but also the Rough-Toothed Dolphin, Risso’s Dolphin, Pantropical Spotted Dolphin, Atlantic Spotted Dolphin, Spinner Dolphin, Clymene Dolphin, Striped Dolphin, Short-Beaked Common Dolphin, Long-Beaked Common Dolphin, Fraser’s Dolphin, and the Killer Whale (which is not really a whale at all but the largest member of the dolphin family). Even more surprising is the fact that many species of whales either live in or frequent the Gulf. The sperm whale is the most common whale found in the Gulf and in fact, was once hunted in Gulf waters. Although sperm whales are known to be migratory in other parts of the world, female groups appear to be year-round residents in the Gulf. Some estimates are that there are as many as 300-400 in the northwestern area. Most sightings of these whales are concentrated at a depth of 1,000 meters (3080 feet) south of the Mississippi River Delta and at similar depths roughly 186 miles east of the Texas-Mexico border. It is unknown if other concentrations of sperm whales occur in other areas of the Gulf. Other Gulf whales include the Bryde’s Whale, the Short-Finned Pilot Whale, the False Killer Whale, the Pygmy Killer Whale, and the Melon-Headed Whale. Furthermore, several migratory whales are known to visit the Gulf, including the Blue Whale, Fin Whale, Sei Whale, Minke Whale, the Humpback and the Northern Right Whale. It is not surprising that Gulf residents know so little about the area’s species of whales, porpoises, and dolphins. Until recently, they were by far the least studied and most poorly known of the Gulf species because they are difficult to access and research. Twenty-seven of these species swim Pantropical Spotted Dolphin primarily in deep waters. Much of the information (Stenella attenuata) gathered is from sightings and strandings. Photo: Howard Goldstein, NMFS
Southwest Fisheries Science Center

STAFF Cynthia Sarthou, Executive Director Aaron Viles, Campaign Director Briana Kerstein, Director of Organizational Development Matt Rota, Water Resources Program Director Jeff Grimes, Water Resources Assistant Director Dan Favre, Campaign Organizer Lynn Middleton, Office Manager Joe Murphy, Florida Program Coordinator Jessica Netto, Development Coordinator Casey DeMoss-Roberts, Special Projects Coordinator Raleigh Hoke, Campaign Associate

Volume 12, Issue 3

June 1st, 2008 marked the one year anniversary of the Gulf Restoration Network’s expansion of our Florida Program that includes an office and a full time staff person. We are very pleased with what we have been able to accomplish over the last year with the help of our funders, member groups, and partners. GRN’s Florida priority is preserving the Nature Coast. Stretching from just north of Tampa Bay to the Big Bend region, this stretch of coastline is a mix of marshes, spring fed rivers, seagrass beds, and some of the best and most productive habitat left anywhere in the Gulf. We work with a growing and diverse coalition of groups including fishing and recreation groups, and conservationists who want to see this slice of old Florida protected. GRN had a major victory in June when we successfully spearheaded a statewide effort to pressure Governor Charlie Crist to veto legislation that would have threatened Florida’s seagrass beds. Seagrass beds are essential to a healthy gulf and productive estuaries. GRN coordinated this effort by signing allied organizations on to letters to the Governor and generating media stories and editorials calling on the Governor to issue the veto. This victory sent a strong and clear signal to those who would exploit our coastlines in Florida that GRN and our allies are committed to protecting our seagrass beds. For the remainder of 2008, we’re opposing three projects that would forever alter the Nature Coast and set in motion changes that strike at the wild heart of the region. The first is the Magnolia Bay/Reserve at Sweetwater Estuary development. We oppose this project as it would set a horrible precedent for development projects along the Nature Coast, and would lead to a loss of coastal wetlands that is unacceptable. Contined on Page 7 ...
Fall 2008


photo credit: Nathalie Snyder, CRLL

On June 17th, over a dozen GRN outreach staff joined hundreds of Louisianans at a rally outside the St. Bernard Parish Government Complex in Chalmette to kick off the MRGO Must Go Campaign. This new campaign aims to ensure the infamous Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO, commonly called “Mister Go”) is closed and the wetlands damaged by it are restored as Congress directed. St. Bernard Parish President, Craig Taffaro joined volunteers at the event to hand out free yard signs, bumper stickers, and decals to the public to raise awareness about the need to restore the damage caused by the "hurricane superhighway." Organizers say the event will help raise awareness about the extensive work that lies ahead. MRGO is a channel built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1965 as a shipping shortcut from the Gulf of Mexico to the New Orleans inner harbor. The Corps created the channel by slicing through the natural land bridge and barrier islands that separated New Orleans from the Gulf, which allowed millions of gallons of saltwater to flow into the area's bayous and lakes. The salt water killed tens of thousands of acres of cypress forest that had served as a natural hurricane barrier. The design of MRGO also allowed it to act like a funnel, accelerating the rate at which hurricane-churned wind and water headed toward the New Orleans area. The loss of natural hurricane barriers and the increased storm surge from the MRGO "funnel" allowed Hurricanes Katrina and Rita to slam into the coast at full force, putting unprecedented strain on manmade levees some of which failed. Continued on page 6 ...

TO GET UP-TO-DATE NEWS ON ACTION ALERTS, EVENTS, LEGISLATION, AND THE HEALTH OF THE GULF OF MEXICO THAT CAN’T WAIT FOR THE QUARTERLY NEWSLETTER. SUBSCRIBE Sign up at www.healthygulf.org lf 10-12 Gulf Alliance Meeting Chorpus Christi, TX For more information contact [email protected] or 361.825.2000 30 Final drawing for Voodoo Tickets and grand prize drawing of VIP passes to Voodoo. Become a monthly donor today! www.healthygulf.org

Your Membership Makes a Difference!
The Gulf Coast Region provides a rich and diverse habitat that is home to thousands of species. Our natural resources are the life blood of our communities and a fundamental part of the culture. Once lost, they can never be replaced or restored to their original purpose and grandeur. Just as the health of the Gulf’s many ecosystems is tied to the health of the plants, animals, and natural habitats of the region, the effectiveness of the Gulf Restoration Network is tied to your generous support. Individual membership is the most critical component to our success and sustainability. Your membership gives us a unified voice and the resources to fight for the Gulf every day. 11-15 Restore America’s Estuaries Conference THE NATIONAL CONFERENCE ON COASTAL AND ESTUARINE HABITAT RESTORATION Rhode Island Convention Center Providence, RI For more information about the 4th National Conference and its program, please email [email protected] or phone: 703.524.0248 24 - 26 GRN is the official non-profit partner at the Voodoo Experience music festival. New Orleans, LA www.thetenthritual.com 31 Halloween

4 Election Day 6 Wild & Scenic Environmental Film Festival presented by Patagonia and hosted by the Alabama Rivers Alliance and the Alabama Environmental Council. For more information call 877.862.5260 27 Thanksgiving Day
Volume 12, Issue 3

Donate now at www.healthygulf.org

GRN would like to thank everyone who showed their support at the Lousiana United for a Healthy Gulf Benefit on May 15, 2008!

Nancy Adams and Mark Davis

Corbin Evans and Susan Spicer Caroline Helwick and Jose Miranda

Beverly Nicholls, Laura Paul, and Toby Burroughs

Special thanks to Nancy Adams, our host, Mark Davis for his inspiring speech, and Susan Spicer of Bayona and Corbin Evans for the delicious food!

GRN Goes to Bonnaroo
In June, GRN and seven interns and volunteers packed into a cramped mini-van with cardboard crabs, a shrimp boat, and tons of outreach materials and headed to Manchester, Tennessee for the Bonnaroo Music Festival. It was a great opportunity to speak with folks from across the US and the world about the issues facing the Gulf of Mexico. From the Dead Zone to coastal land loss, people were surprised to hear about the issues and were interested in getting involved to help solve the problems. Over 1,750 people stopped by the GRN booth to fill out postcards urging the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set meaningful limits to Dead Zone-causing pollutants nitrogen and phosphorous.

Fall 2008

The websites Google and YouTube have announced a New Orleans Presidential Forum on September 18th. It is expected that the format will be similar to the YouTube forum used in the primaries. Members of the public will submit questions to the candidates via YouTube videos. Despite high-profile support from Louisiana's Governor Bobby Jindal and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, as well as the New Orleans area universities, neither Senator Barack Obama nor Senator John McCain have committed to the event (as Currents goes to print). This forum could provide an important opportunity for the candidates to weigh in on a range or our primary issues which need Federal leadership including: Louisiana Coastal wetlands rebuilding; tackling the Dead Zone; or a sustainable hurricane recovery.GRN is proud to have worked with musician Tab Benoit and his Voice of the Wetlands organization to send a letter to the candidates urging them to support these issues and to present their plans at the Google/YouTube forum. The letter was signed more than 90 musicians and music industry leaders from New Orleans’ own Dr. John, Galactic, and Cowboy Mouth to internationally known acts such as REM, Pearl Jam, and the Indigo Girls. Thanks to our e-activists and our new contacts at the Bonaroo Music and Arts Festival, we have also generated over 1,600 e-mails to the candidates, urging their attention to these issues and a commitment to the forum. We shall see whether this effort is enough to get them to New Orleans. ... MR. GO MUST GO Continued from page 3 In a huge victory for the community and environmental groups, Congress has now officially de-authorized MRGO and the Corps has announced that it expects to plug the channel before the start of the 2009 hurricane season. The MRGO Must Go Campaign applauds the Corp's decision to plug the channel, but is asking the public to take action to ensure the channel is plugged on time. The campaign also asks the public to ensure the White House and Congress keep the Corps focused on restoring the MRGO-damaged wetlands that used to protect New Orleans and St. Bernard. A broad coalition of environmental, social justice, and neighborhood groups joined GRN in hosting the relaunch event, including Environmental Defense Fund, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, National Wildlife Federation, National Audubon Society, the Sierra Club, Levees.org, Lower 9th Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development, Holy Cross Neighborhood Association, Common Ground Relief, American Rivers, Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper, Louisiana Environmental Action Network, and MQVN Community Development Corporation. "Plugging the MRGO is a good start but that's just the beginning,” said Carleton Dufrechou, Executive Director of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation. “Coastal wetlands are critical to the long term protection of metro New Orleans. It's imperative that they be restored." Anyone who wants to get involved can visit the campaign's web site, www.MRGOmustGO.org. The site has more information about MRGO, what needs to be done, and how citizens can take action -- including how to get free campaign materials or send a personalized email to the White House to make sure this critical work gets done.
Volume 12, Issue 3

Sixty-thousand conversations about a healthier Gulf! That's how many interactions the GRN summer membership office had in the four months they were out in Gulf communities knocking on doors and ringing doorbells. Spanning all five states, our teams were able to recruit new GRN members in Pensacola, Tallahassee, Mobile, Fairhope, Biloxi, Ocean Springs, Covington, Mandeville, Baton Rouge, Houma, Lafayette, Houston, and of course, New Orleans. The conversations were focused on GRN campaigns to rebuild our coastal lines of defense, protect our cypress swamps, defend Florida's Nature Coast, and protect the Mississippi Sound. Through those interactions, we signed on over 3,500 new dues-paying members (over 600 of whom are making monthly contributions as Gulf Sustainers) and generated over 500 handwritten letters to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal urging immediate action for the Coast. We want to extend our special thanks to the leadership of Campaign Organizer Dan Favre, Assistant Canvass Director Raleigh Hoke, VISTA Student Outreach Coordinator Amy Medtlie, and our stalwart team of Field Managers, Jonathan Henderson, Erin Eagan, Hannah Lenzo, Helen Rose Patterson, Kourtney Wilde, Aaron Feingold, Lizzy Shepard, Lizzie Ruffman, and Kristen Previto. We would also like to thank the Louisiana Whole Foods Markets for their assistance, and Meryl Colton, a Duke Robertson Scholar for her hard work this summer. The new members generated from our summer campaign will give us the united voice and ongoing resources we need to fight effectively for a healthier Gulf of Mexico. ... DEAD ZONE Continued from Front Page

... THE FLORIDA PROGRAM Continued from Page 3 Since 2007, we’ve campaigned to stop this project in Taylor County. We have had some strong victories in this effort, and have built a working coalition of over 40 groups that also oppose this project. While we recently had a setback when the Suwannee River Water Management District issued a permit for the project, our campaign to protect Boggy Bay continues with a lot of opportunities ahead to protect the northern section of the Nature Coast and the Big Bend Seagrasses Aquatic Preserve. We are working hard to protect Florida Black Bear habitat with opposition to the Sunwest Harbourtowne development project in Pasco County as well as campaigning with our member groups to oppose the Tarmac Mine proposal in Levy County. This massive mine would degrade coastal water quality and is another knife poised at the heart of the Nature Coast. GRN is using all of its tools and resources to pressure regulatory agencies, build strong coalitions, and make our case for protecting one of the last wild places in Florida. In the fall of 2008, GRN is strongly opposed to oil drilling into the eastern Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Florida. We are working with our partners the Sierra Club and the Healthy Gulf Coalition to pass and enact strong local ordinances in communities along the Gulf Coast to reduce coastal pollution from fertilizers. We continue to expand our work to ensure that Florida’s gulf coast is healthy, vibrant, and protected.

Throughout the past decade, we have seen the states and federal government draft action plans and push voluntary mechanisms to reduce Dead Zone-causing pollution. Given the sizes of recent dead zones, these “actions” are obviously not working and more has to be done. In fact, some scientists have stated that if the Dead Zone is not reigned in, we might witness an ecological regime shift in the Gulf of Mexico where it forms. We are past the point of waiting and need decisive action if we want to preserve the abundant fisheries off the coasts of Louisiana and Texas. This is why environmental groups from throughout the Mississippi Basin have banded together to demand that the EPA utilize its authority to ensure that everything possible is being done to preserve and protect the Gulf. To see the full petition, visit www.healthygulf.org/images/stories/healthywaters/dead_zone_petition.pdf.
Fall 2008




GRN Wants Your Organization
Joining GRN as a Group Member is simple, and it allows your organization to expand its strategic reach and help to protect and restore the Gulf of Mexico region. Your organizational support is critical for our success. Join us today to help us continue our work to protect and restore the natural resources of the Gulf. Our unique Gulf-wide perspective gives your organization a stronger voice and greater resources to work on the issues that concern all of us–from wetlands protection to healthy waters to smart energy development. Group Members will receive: Reasonable technical assistance upon request at no cost to you. Opportunities to utilize our e-action network of over 26,000 e-activists. Joint campaign opportunities such as report releases, media opportunities, and coordinated sign-on letters. GRN’s quarterly newsletter. Opportunities to post information on local issues and campaigns in our bi-weekly Gulf Waves e-update sent to our Gulf-wide Action Alert Network. Reduced registration fees for all workshops sponsored by GRN. A complimentary copy of all reports and publications published by GRN. Additional copies will be offered at cost. Wondering what Group Membership is all about? You can view more information and download the application on our website at www.healthygulf.org/benefits/group-membership.html or email Briana at [email protected].

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