Blogging for a Healthy Gulf

Monday, October 8, 2007 - 6:42pm

There is a saying in the nutritional world: “Eat to live, don’t live to eat”. I am a native of Louisiana so this statement makes zero sense to me. Food is a huge part of our culture, from acquiring food through fishing to competitive cook-offs and guarding family recipes. Even though I am someone who lives to eat, I still worry about the environmental impact of my choices.

There are many good reasons to avoid cows, chickens, and pigs. The environmental impact of mass producing meat is far-reaching and the process is gross. It is also questionable on moral grounds; people are starving in the world. The calories in the grain used to feed farm animals could feed many more people than the meat does.

Furthermore, eating beef contributes to global warming. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization reported in 2006 that livestock is responsible for approximately 18% of global warming pollution. We have all heard the jokes but would it surprise you to know that most of the methane gas from cows is from their belches? Also contributing to the climate problem is the destruction of carbon sinks, e.g. forests, which are required for grazing.

But what about Fish? Eating fish is good for you, omega 3’s, healthy protein, and all that. But it has its drawbacks, of course. Carnivorous fish farming requires large amounts of wild fish for feed. Other farmed fish can have much higher levels of contamination than wild caught fish because of the contaminants that are added during the processing of the fish food. Many animals get caught up in fishing nets and must be tossed out, known as bycatch. It is estimated that 25% of the commercial seafood harvest is wasted bycatch.

Making the right choices can be tricky. Luckily, I recently visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium and noticed little pocket-sized cards that read “Seafood WATCH”. Since seafood was already on my mind, I picked one up and was delighted to find a gem’s worth of information to help me diet more sustainably.

The Aquarium’s guide recommends that you ask 3 questions when eating out or shopping:

1. Where is the seafood from?

2. Is it farmed or wild-caught?

3. How was it caught?

Choose seafood caught more locally to you. The US has better regulations on bycatch, habitat protection, and farming practices. Furthermore, the more local the seafood was caught the fresher it is likely to be. You are also doing your part to limit global warming by buying local and cutting transportation time for your food.

Wild caught fish are generally better than farmed as farming fish can be harmful to the local environment and the contamination in the fish tends to be higher. If you choose farmed fish, omnivorous fish (tilapia) are better than carnivorous fish and seafood (tuna, and salmon).

Dredging, gillnetting, and trawling are bad because they damage important habitat and increase the risk of bycatch. Harpooning, trolling, and hook and lining are environmentally responsible ways to fish. Check the Seafood Watch website for a specific list of “Best Choices” and “Good Alternatives” in the “Southeast Seafood Guide 2007”.

To help get you started on a sustainable seafood diet here is my family’s rabidly guarded seafood gumbo recipe. Enjoy!

The Roux: Equal parts peanut oil and flour (1 cup each), flat edged wooden spatula, cast iron skillet. Add oil and keep heat at slightly higher than medium heat. Sprinkle flour in slowly while stirring continuously. Be sure to scrape the bottom so the flour does not burn. Get the roux a very dark chocolate brown but not black! This can take up to 45 minutes. When the roux is the darkest possible add the green onions (1 cup chopped into ½ inch pieces), remove from heat, and stir vigorously adding a little green bell pepper (1/2 cup) and celery (1/4 cup) and as much yellow onion as will fit in your skillet. Roux will sizzle and it smells really good. Meanwhile, have a pot of water or fish stock at medium heat (a gallon) standing by. When the sizzling stops add roux and veggies to water and stir until dissolved. Add the rest of your vegetables (1/2 cup bells, yellow onion (2 cups), celery (1 cup). Add cayenne pepper, gumbo file, garlic, thyme, rosemary, oregano, and salt to taste. If this is your first time, use a pinch of each. You can always add more later if you want more spice. Bring to a boil. Turn down heat to a simmer and leave for about 45 minutes. Cook the rice. When the soup tastes right, bring back to a boil. Add the shrimp (1 lbLouisiana caught) wait 2-3 minutes. Add 1 lb cleaned Louisiana crawfish tails wait 2-3 minutes. Add 1 lb sustainable tilapia white fish wait 2-3 minutes. Add lastly add 1 lb gulf coast oysters cook and cook another 2 minutes. Make sure your seafood is properly cooked! Take off heat. Put a little bit of rice in a bowl and spoon out some gumbo on top. cleaned and peeled wild


 

Casey Roberts is the GRN's Special Projects Coordinator

Friday, October 5, 2007 - 2:46pm

I had a lawyer friend once who lived by the motto “sue early, sue often.” I’m not sure if that is what I want on my tombstone, but I admired the dedication. Usually in the course of human events it is better to resolve something without litigation and the courts. With that said sometimes something is so egregious that its time to head on down to the courthouse and seek some justice.

It is hard to figure out the Army Corps in Florida these days. Are they the champions of Everglades restoration? Or are they the “Dredge and Fill” Corp? The Corps has promised changes and a new way in Florida, but from where I sit the permit approvals to destroy wetlands still flow out of the Corp office in Jacksonville like money flows to a corrupt politician.

On Monday Oct. 1st, 2007 the Sierra Club, Clean Water Action and Gulf Restoration Network filed a federal lawsuit in Washington, D.C. against the Army Corp and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for violations of federal environmental laws by issuing a section 404 permit to the developers on the Cypress Creek Town Center project (Case No. 07-CV-01756). We are suing to require that impacts to the endangered species, wetlands and our waters be avoided and minimized. We are suing because federal agencies, both the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, fundamentally failed the people of Tampa Bay, and the wetlands and wildlife of Tampa Bay. We are suing because nature only made one Cypress Creek and it is a beautiful place.

When we filed suit Denise Layne of the Sierra Club noted that “350 acres of concrete on a 550 acre site containing huge wetlands, creek and recharge areas is a crying shame. The ecosystem on this property has been the home to all kinds of threatened and endangered species which need the wetlands and a healthy creek system to survive. And, speaking of water…the land clearing has already polluted the creek, an Outstanding Florida Water. We have no faith in this permit protecting this exquisite piece of property as required by federal laws.”

GRN was drawn to this case because of the impact this project will have and has had on threatened and endangered species, and the wetlands systems they depend on. The Army Corps of Engineers has fundamentally failed to protect threatened and endangered species, failed to protect wetlands and Cypress Creek, and failed to protect water quality for regional residents. Citizens in the Tampa Bay region expect and deserve better from the government agencies charged with protecting our environment. We’re in court and working on the ground to make sure that this happens.

Joe Murphy is the Florida Program Coordinator for GRN.

Thursday, September 27, 2007 - 8:04pm


This past weekend, we had an awesome kick-off to our work with this semester’s interns at our GRN training weekend. It started on Friday with an invite to our local and regional interns to participate in Tree Hugger Happy Hour. After plenty of socializing, the regional interns headed over to GRN’s headquarters to get a tasty po-boy and a thorough introduction to the organization from Cyn Sarthou, GRN’s executive director. From there, the regional interns left to crash on the couches of local interns, past and present.

Bright and early the next morning, everyone came together at Tulane’s UniversityCenter for breakfast and the beginning of an intense day of training. With a mix of local intern and regional interns, there was lots of great energy from all over the Gulf. First off, Dan elaborated on the knowledge they already had by giving a presentation on the Save Our Cypress Campaign, effective campaign strategies, and the campaigns relevance to wetland restoration and environmental change. Next up, I went over the grassroots organizing tool of petitioning and what its context is within our campaign through the use of postcards. I discussed how we utilize postcards to show Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, and Home Depot that there is public support against their sale of cypress mulch. Anat put her canvassing skills to good use by helping me out with a demonstration of the postcarding rap. Once we went over the keys to successful postcarding and practiced a few times, everyone was ready to jump right in. We went out for an extremely productive hour where we surpassed our goal of 135 postcards signed by getting over 200! And this was on a sleepy Saturday morning on campus. Lorraine did an especially stellar job postcarding by collecting a grand total of 32. Kyle and Heather, regional interns from Lafayette, reflected on how much they enjoyed getting out there and talking to people. This got all the interns started on their individual goals of collecting 400 postcards over the semester.

After postcarding, we relaxed for a while to eat a well-deserved lunch. As soon as lunch was done, Aaron Viles, GRN’s campaign director, stopped in to talk about the state of Louisiana’s wetlands and the Flood Washington e-action campaign that he created to bring attention to them. He illustrated how interns can also bring attention to them by organizing screenings of the movie, Washing Away: Losing Louisiana, on their campuses. His intern, Stephanie, is helping him work on sustainable fisheries. When he took off, Dan and I helped the interns brainstorm how to plan their own movie screening events. There are now three movie screening events under preparation across the Gulf in Lafayette, New Orleans, and Tampa, FL.

Although postcarding is huge, Dan talked next about how to keep the public pressure on Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, and Home Depot going through direct actions. The interns contributed some really great ideas for direct action. My personal favorite was going up to the cashier with several bags of mulch in your cart, questioning them about it, and then asking to speak with the manager. As we finished up, Matt Rota, director of the Water Resources Program, came in to talk to the interns about the dead zone. Even though the interns are working primarily on the cypress campaign, it’s good to know about a variety of the issues facing the Gulf of Mexico. Mike, the intern from Tampa, was interested in how the Dead Zone information applied to red tide issues in Florida. The training day ended with an overview of the art of public speaking. Dan gave the basics for presenting a message to a large group of people and then the interns stood in turn to give their best. Everyone rocked it and Casey definitely nailed the presentation.

This group of talented students left the room having gained the ability to train volunteers to postcard, plan an amazing movie screening event, talk to community and campus groups and classes, and generally organize people to get behind the Save Our Cypress Campaign. Way to go everyone!

The next morning, we rallied the interns back together after a night out on the town to enjoy some of the ecosystem we had been talking about. Originally, the plan was to go on a boat tour with Professor Rob Moreau of SELU, but the weather was not on our side. A tropical storm depression was moving through and Rob was worried about having boats out on the water. Instead, we traveled west of New Orleans to the Jean Lafitte Barataria Preserve. Once there we saw tons of wildlife-tree frogs, massive spiders, and even a couple of alligators! Heather went nuts taking photographs. I've included a photo she took of a tree frog. Afterwards, everyone agreed it was- without a doubt- an amazing place.

Now they’re all back home kicking some corporate butt to save the wetlands.

Amy Medtlie is the Outreach Associate for the Gulf Restoration Network.

Thursday, September 20, 2007 - 10:39pm


According to a new study on sea level rise by Architecture 2030, North America is just as vulnerable to dangerous property and land loss as the developing world because of how we have settled our coastal areas. In a “Nation Under Siege”, report author Dr. Mazria warns us that “. . . with just one meter of sea level rise, our nation will be physically under siege, vulnerable to catastrophic property and infrastructure loss with large population disruptions and economic hardship” because 53% of us in America live in or around a coastal city.

Earth will gradually warm 2-3°C (3.6 – 5.4°F) over the next 100 years. Anthropogenic greenhouse gases are to blame. Currently, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide is 383 ppm. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that it will be very difficult to reverse climatic changes once we reach an atmospheric concentration of 450 ppm. This could trigger “irreversible glacial melt and rapid sea level rise” that will be beyond our ability to control. At the current rate of carbon dioxide emissions, 2ppm per year, we will reach this dangerous level by 2040.

Dr. Mazria raises the red flag about coal in “Nation Under Siege”. He says “the one fossil fuel positioned to push the planet beyond 450 ppm, and trigger dangerous climate change, is coal. If we are to avert this tipping point, we will need to call for an immediate halt to the construction of any new conventional coal-fired power plants and the phasing out of existing and aging coal plants over time. If we fail to take this action, there is no doubt we will soon reach the 450 ppm threshold.”

GRN has joined the call to “Say Yes to Clean Energy” and is actively working alongside our member groups Sierra Club and LEAN to stop new coal in Louisiana. Recently, Entergy asked the Louisiana Public Service Commission to consider approving a proposal to convert the cleaner burning natural gas Little Gypsy power plant to a dirty coal and petroleum coke burning plant. Entergy-Louisiana’s 1,000,000 customers are being asked to foot the bill for this $1.55 billion project, which means that every Louisiana customer will be paying $1,550 to increase their global warming pollution output. This money could be spent more wisely and efficiently.

Click here to ask the Public Service Commission to reject plans to convert the Little Gypsy to burn coal and coke.

*Mark your calendar: We will also be attending the Louisiana Public Service Commission on October 11th to show the Commissioners that we care about our climate!

 

Casey DeMoss Roberts is the Special Projects Coordinator for the Gulf Restoration Network.

Monday, September 17, 2007 - 10:11pm


So the results are pouring in. Over 100 GRN e-activists from all across the country (and Germany) stepped up for the Louisiana coast and our wetlands and opened their homes to friends, family and colleagues in order to drop some knowledge about our land-loss crisis (and maybe serve up some home cooked red beans and rice). Click the flickr screenshot to see the map and photos of some of our reported events). Thanks to all our hosts - who generated some great media and great support for the coastal cause.

Two years and 217 + square miles of coastal marsh ago, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita roared ashore and changed life as we know it here in New Orleans, and throughout much of the Central Gulf Coast. These storms brought many of the issues that the GRN has been tackling for 14 years or so into far sharper relief: the prioritization and effectiveness of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects, water pollution, coastal development and coastal wetlands protection and restoration.

We've endeavored to grab ahold of the teachable moment that the devastating hurricane season of 2005 represents in order to let people know that restoring our coast isn't just about shrimp & redfish, or crawfish & cypress - it's about the very survival of New Orleans and our coastal communities. As the research mounts, demonstrating that every 3.4 miles of intact coastal wetlands a storm travels over knocks down its surge by one foot, it doesn't take overwhelming vision to understand the real, immediate value of these marshes.

Through the home screenings of Louisiana Public Broadcasting and award-winning independent producer Christina Melton's documentary Washing Away: Losing Louisiana, our e-activists helped spread that message.

Here at the GRN, we have a saying: “Protect our wetlands, protect ourselves.” Unfortunately, protecting and restoring these wetlands is a job that’s beyond gutting houses and putting up sheetrock. A few church groups from the Midwest aren’t really going to be able to make a dent in this one. We need to put the Mississippi River, and its fresh water and sediment, to work. We need the river to sustain and rebuild our coast. That’s big engineering. That’s big expense. That’s the federal government and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (gulp).

Louisiana coastal experts and the Corps have developed and are further developing the plans to sustain the coast. But plans are cheap – it’s the actual projects and engineering that run to $50 billion. About $2 billion in projects would be authorized by the current Water Resources Development Act (WRDA, say “WurDuh” if you want to sound like a DC insider). The problem dear reader, is that in a hail Mary to recapture the right, President Bush has threatened to veto WRDA, citing its expense. He says pork, we say future of our region. Of course he also once said he would “do whatever it takes” to make New Orleans and South Louisiana rise again.

We’re faced with a significant political challenge that despite hard work and the best of intentions (let alone federally marked cash in the freezer, a phone number on the DC Madame’s speed dial, and a staggering road home shortfall) Louisiana’s congressional delegation won’t be able to tackle on their own. This is why the home screenings were so critical, and worth the time and effort. We need help from elsewhere. We need your friends and family who think you’re crazy for living here (but clamoring for your guest room during Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest) to clue in their members of Congress and remind the President of his pledge.

Now’s the time to act, as Congress is just getting back from their August recess and we really need them to pass WRDA in the Senate and work to override the President’s veto, or we simply kiss New Orleans and South Louisiana goodbye.

Aaron Viles is the GRN's Campaign Director

 

Tuesday, September 11, 2007 - 6:12pm

As a recent college grad, I know how overwhelming college life can be. You have a part- or full-time job, piles of books to read, papers to write, and exams to study for. Yet when you do take a break, the issues you are studying pop up in everyday life. Maybe you learn in your Ecology class how the environment should be tied into every subject taught because it is inherently connected to everything. Then when an irreplaceable forest of Cypress trees is clear-cut by the logging industry, you know that the economics should account for the loss of the forest and its impacts, not just the profit the logging company makes. According to Darcy Stumbaugh, “Recent literature has estimated monetary annual benefits of Louisiana coastal wetlands forest at $6.7 billion per year, which is more than double the monetary benefits of the harvested timber at $3.3 billion.” You realize that the state government is not considering the loss when it allows this to take place. When Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, and Home Depot sell cypress mulch, they are not thinking of the future impact of wetland loss on their customers’ lives.

Even though you don’t have a lot a free time, you start to wonder what there is that you can do. That amazing discussion you have with your friends about the changes that need to be made in the world ends just as inconclusively as the last one. You often think that if you knew how to take the discussion to the next level, you and your friends would be a powerful enough group to successfully advocate the change you want to see.

How does social change take place? Where does one begin? Many small actions can lead up to big results. Making a couple of phone calls to your local representatives, hanging up issue posters, or sitting at a table to tell people about an important topic can all have an impact. Together, those actions add up to build a movement. A movement that can persuade decision-makers to do what’s right for the environment. For example, if President Bush allows the legislation for the Water Resources Development Act to go through without vetoing it, there will be money to begin the vital restoration of wetlands. To make that happen, there needs to be an outpouring of support from around the country.

Students have incredible power to change the world for the better. You have the skills necessary to rally those around you into making a change. You just might need a little coaching in how to use those skills. Check out our website, www.healthygulf.org. Volunteer with us, apply for an internship, become part of the movement. We can help you develop your skills so that you can get involved in the environmental issues you’re passionate about. Then you can pass them along to your friends.

If you’re a student anywhere in the Gulf states, you can join our Regional Internship Program and work in your town on important environmental issues for the Gulf. To learn more and apply, please visit www.healthygulf.org/staff/jobs.html

Students united for a healthy Gulf!

Amy Medtlie is the Outreach Associate for the Gulf Restoration Network. She recently graduated from University of Minnesota and runs the GRN’s Internship Program.

Monday, September 10, 2007 - 5:09pm

Hopefully, everyone has already heard the good news: Wal-Mart has informed their suppliers that they will no longer accept cypress mulch harvested, bagged, or manufactured in the state of Louisiana. If not, you can read about here, here, here, and here.

Wal-Mart’s move is a great first step for securing the Gulf’s endangered cypress forests, but we’ve still got a hike ahead of us. First of all, Wal-Mart is only one of three major companies who are driving cypress destruction, and even Wal-Mart’s laudable action only covers a portion of the cypress forests that are being destroyed to make mulch. Second, Wal-Mart still can’t really be certain they’re not getting any mulch from Louisiana because their suppliers have proven willing to obfuscate the source of their products in the past. Let me go into more detail on all these points.

No longer selling cypress mulch from Louisiana certainly helps the wetlands in the state, which are facing unique threats, but how can Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and Lowe’s ignore Florida’s wetlands? Or Alabama’s cypress forests, or Georgia, or North Carolina? Carving off an area as an unacceptable source will often just drive production and harvesting to another part of the country, increasing pressure on important and endangered cypress ecosystems elsewhere. In Florida, for instance, the University of Florida IFAS extension has shown that cypress is being cut down faster than it can regenerate, and almost half of that product being produced is mulch. And those numbers are a few years old, before this incredible nation-wide mulch boom.

Lowe’s, Home Depot, and Wal-Mart need to stop selling unsustainable cypress mulch, no matter where the logging occurs.

Wal-Mart’s move comes on the heels of actions by Home Depot and Lowe’s that recognize the concerns regarding cypress sustainability in Louisiana, while failing to implement workable solutions. Home Depot has apparently told their suppliers they don’t want mulch from “coastal Lousiana”. Lowe’s has instated a moratorium on cypress mulch harvested from south of I-10/I-12 in Louisiana, excluding the PearlRiver Basin. The stated purpose of the moratorium is to allow scientists to develop indicators of sustainability and actually map the sustainable and unsustainable cypress swamps of southern Louisiana. This is a laudable goal, but there are a few hang ups—First of all, the boundary they’ve drawn is fairly arbitrary and doesn’t match the coastal zone that was outlined by scientists in the Governor’s Science Working Group on Coastal Wetland Forest Conservation and Use.

The biggest issue with these efforts by the retailers to limit logging activity in coastal Louisiana is the lack of any sort of verification method to show that the moratorium is actually being upheld. When we asked the representative from Lowe’s how they planned to ensure no mulch was coming from the defined area, the answer was “Trust me”. That’s a non-starter because they’ve already told us that.

Before we began a public campaign on this issue, the Save Our Cypress Coalition presented evidence of the problems with cypress mulch to all three companies. Last September (2006), Home Depot and Lowe’s told us that they had assurances from their suppliers that no cypress mulch was coming from coastal Louisiana. This was not true. Dean Wilson from the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper and Barry Kohl of the Louisiana Audubon Council, among others, gathered extensive evidence showing that cypress mulch being sold at Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Wal-Mart was indeed coming from suppliers who were incredibly active in coastal Louisiana. Many of the brands of mulch coming out of the Louisiana swamps were even labeled with addresses in Arkansas, Texas, and Florida.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. The Save Our Cypress Coalition has seen what “trust us” really means. If any of these companies want to continue selling cypress mulch, it needs to be verified as sustainable by an independent, third-party certification system that enforces standards of sustainability that are based on sound science and forest management techniques.

Very much to their credit, Wal-Mart recognized the difficulty in verifying the true source of their products because there is no independent, third-party certification program, and they specifically referenced this fact when explaining their decision to discontinue mulch from the whole state. Granted, Wal-Mart will still have trouble being completely sure they’re not getting anything from Louisianaas many of the state’s cypress forests are near borders to other states.

We hope that Home Depot and Lowe’s follow Wal-Mart’s lead, or better yet, we’d like to see them one-up their competitor. The bar will truly be set at the right place when one of the retailers decides to drop the product completely until the third-party certification system is established.

The Save Our Cypress Coalition will continue to pressure Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and Lowe’s to stop selling unsustainable cypress mulch, no matter where it is logged.

All this being said, Wal-Mart’s decision to no longer sell cypress mulch from Louisiana is a huge victory for the cypress forests and wetlands in the state, and The Save Our Cypress Coalition thanks the company for this substantial action.

The Gulf Restoration Network would like to thank many others who made this happen. First of all, thanks to all the scientists who participated in the Governor’s Science Working Group Report, especially Gary Shaffer, Jim Chambers, and Paul Kemp for getting it all together. We also appreciate the hours of intense negotiation and frustration by those advocating conservation on the Advisory Panel to the Governor on Coastal Wetland Forest Conservation and Use, namely Carleton Dufrechou of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, Doug Daigle, Mark Ford from the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, and our very own Cyn Sarthou, Executive Director of the GRN.

Thanks to Councilwoman Shelly Midura for pushing a resolution in New Orleans, St. Tammany, Plaquemines, just to name a few). that ended the city’s use of cypress mulch and asked the major retailers to do the same. Also to all the Parish Council members, Mayors and Town Councils who did the same (Livingston,

The Waterkeeper Alliance placed two full-page ads in major national newspapers (NYTimes and USAToday), and Bobby Kennedy held a great press conference on the issue in New Orleans. These efforts have been invaluable to catapulting the campaign to the national level.

Thanks to all of the organizations and businesses (scroll down on this page to see the list) who have joined the Save Our Cypress Coalition, changed their landscaping habits, and have helped spread the word.

Experienced corporate campaigners at ForestEthics, Rainforest Action Network, and Dogwood Alliance have provided support and advice. Our work is built upon the foundation these groups have created. For example, Lowe's and Home Depot's corporate polices on wood sourcing and sustainability are very much thanks to them. Thanks for everything y'all do for the forests.

Our friends at Rock the Earth have been informing concert-goers all over the country about the dangers of cypress mulch, and they’ve gotten hundreds of postcards signed. What a great way to spread the word!

Thanks to Kristen, Tara, Paul, Janelle, and Chad from Wal-Mart for coming down to visit the Louisiana wetlands and everyone in the corporation who was involved with this decision. Look forward to working with you on expanding your protection of cypress forests!

John and Andy at Agit-Pop Communications made the amazing Corporate Low-Down Depot Mart cartoon that was wonderfully narrated by the one and only Harry Shearer. Now, we’re working on making a TV-friendly version to get on the air, which is going to be amazing. Thanks guys! If you’d like to help run the ad (it’s going to cost about $5,000), please contribute here.

None of this could be possible without the hard work of Barry Kohl of the Louisiana Audubon Council and Dean Wilson of the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper who have been tireless in documenting the devastating effects of cypress mulch on our treasured wetlands.

Finally, thank you. Thanks to all of you who stopped using cypress mulch, sent emails to Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Lowe’s, made calls to the CEO’s, joined in protests, delivered letters, distributed the Corporate Low-Down Depot Mart cartoon, donated money to these efforts, and care about the future of the Gulf.

Mark a win for the cypress.

Dan Favre is the Campaign Organizer for the Gulf Restoration Network.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007 - 8:24pm

Look at this sign on the right. Does it look scary to you? I am not particularly fazed by it and yet it is an extremely important warning sign. It is telling me that there is a dangerously high level of bacteria in the water, enough to make me sick. But if I am looking forward to a day at the beach, that sign does not exactly stand out.

Of course, I could always check the website for beach advisories. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hosts a website, Beach Watch, an online directory of information about water quality at national beaches. But, there are 2 problems with this high-tech solution.

First, according to their own website, “States and local governments decide whether to open or close a beach. They report that information to EPA, but because they vary in how quickly they send it to us, we don't always have real-time reports.” How does that help me exactly?

Secondly, I have a computer with an internet connection at home but does everyone? In a 2006 study, Park Associates, a Dallas-based technology market research firm, found that “29 percent of U.S. households, or 31 million homes, do not have Internet access and do not intend to subscribe to an Internet service over the next 12 months.” Compiling information from the CIA’s world fact book, Neilson/NetRatings, and Computer Industry Almanac, ClickZ states “home web use continues to skew toward more affluent, younger and educated demographics. Both computer ownership and web use are lower in households comprised of seniors, among blacks and Hispanics and among households comprised of people with less than a high school education. Conversely, nearly all households earning over $100,000 -- 95 percent -- own at least one computer, and 92 percent are online. In homes earning under $40,000, the online figure plummets to 41 percent. Homes in the West are the most wired at 67 percent, closely followed by the Northeast and Midwest. Southern households had the lowest percentage of online computers at 52 percent.”

Recap: Those of us who belong to a minority group, make less money, did not go to college, and live in the south are less likely to have access to the Beach Advisory website.

The EPA requires states, tribes, and local governments to “post a sign or functional equivalent when a water quality standard is exceeded”. But, does the sign above and a website warning really qualify as a public notification of danger?

Casey DeMoss Roberts is the Special Projects Coordinator for the Gulf Restoration Network

Friday, August 24, 2007 - 11:00am

I had a harrowing day at the beach once. When I was 5 years old my family took me to Galveston . The movie Jaws had just opened and everyone was a little on edge. It was toward the end of the day though when all hell broke loose. Out of the quiet hypnotic wave sounds burst a blood-curdling scream. “Shark! AHHhhhhh!!” I looked up from my crooked sand castle and saw my father practically running on top of the water. When he got to shore, it became apparent that the shark was in fact a jellyfish and not a very big one. My uncle’s gave him the most hilarious ribbing for the rest of the evening. This was the worst it ever got on the beach for me. Nowadays though, the thing that gets you is hard to see.

Just ask the Holmes’. Ten weeks after they spent a day at Galveston beach, their 9 year old daughter Megan came down with post-infectious gastroparesis. Now Megan will have memories of her gall-bladder surgery, emergency room visits, and living with a feeding tube. She is not alone though. Many American children have been exposed to harmful life-threatening chemicals and biological pathogens at the beach.

According to the new NRDC* report, “Testing the Waters: A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches,” the number of no-swim days caused by stormwater more than doubled from the year before. This led to “sewage spills and overflows causing 1,301 beach closings and advisory days in 2006, an increase of 402 days from 2005.” What does this statistic really say? Beaches had to be closed because there was feces on the beach.

The blame lies in our aging sewage systems and poorly designed storm run-off structures. Combine that with unrestrained development of wetlands, irresponsible sprawl on the coasts, and climate changes and you have got a formula for disease. Who suffers? Those who are already at increased risk for infection: children, the elderly, and the immune- compromised (cancer patients, people with organ transplants, HIV+, and others). Risks include gastroenteritis, dysentery, hepatitis**, respiratory ailments among other health problems.

“Families can’t use the beaches in their own communities because they are polluted. Kids are getting sick – all because of sewage and contaminated runoff from outdated, under-funded treatment systems,” said Nancy Stoner, director of NRDC’s water program. It begs the question: Are we budget cutting ourselves to death?

Before swearing off beaches forever, you should know that all is not lost. The Beach Protection Act of 2007 (H.R. 2537/S. 1506) introduced in May will reauthorize the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act (BEACH Act) of 2000. This bill will mandate rapid testing methods that can detect beach water contamination in just two hours or less as well as increase funding levels for source tracking and pollution prevention.

NRDC is offering beachgoers an opportunity to discuss their personal Beach Bums (bad bad beach!) and Beach Buddies (yeah, good beach!). To post a comment, visit NRDC's new Your Oceans website, where you can find fun summer tips for being safe and healthy while at the beach.

*NRDC is a member organization of the Gulf Restoration Network!

**Hepatitis C is not considered a risk factor as it is only transmitted through direct contact with infected blood.

 

Casey DeMoss Roberts is the Special Projects Coordinator for the Gulf Restoration Network

Friday, June 8, 2007 - 6:00am

Since it's World Oceans Day today, what better occasion to celebrate a significant step towards sustainable fisheries management here in the Gulf - Our fisheries consultant Marianne Cufone weighs in on red snapper and the Gulf Council.

I’ve been watching and participating in fisheries management for well over 10 years, 8 of which have been right here in the Gulf of Mexico. Today, I’m thinking about what went on during this week at the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council meeting in New Orleans, LA. Yesterday, at long last, the Council, an advisory body to the National Marine Fisheries Service (the agency tasked with managing fish for the U.S.) finally recommended some REAL management for red snapper. The new rules include: reducing the total annual catch from 9.12 million pounds to 5.0, lowering the commercial size limit from 15 inches to 13, lowering the recreational bag limit from 4 fish per person to 2, setting a recreational fishing season, eliminating captains and crew members from taking the daily recreational bag limit of fish on for-hire boats (charter and head boats), and requiring the use of circle hooks, venting and de-hooking tools to reduce bycatch. Maybe this sounds like no big deal, but in actuality it was a historical occasion.

Why is the recommendation of some fish rules a major accomplishment? A few reasons - First, the Council is dominated by recreational and commercial fish interests, and government folks that often lean toward those interests (since they are from states where fishing is very popular). This means many of those that make money from catching fish are helping to recommend regulations for catching fish. Not surprisingly then, most times the development of regulations are super slow (if they are going to limit catch or access to fishing) and when rules are finally approved, they are often not as strict as the science indicates necessary. Why would people that make money from a resource vote to limit the amount they can take from it? Well, in this instance, because the law says so, - the primary federal law about fish says we have to conserve and manage fish for the benefit of the nation, and that there are certain levels that fish populations can’t fall under. If they do, managers are supposed to take action. Red snapper has been under that level since the late 1980’s… but this was overlooked for years.

Second, red snapper is a super popular seafood item, and thus also a favorite catch for both recreational anglers and commercial fishermen/women. The annual allowed catch is split 49% recreational - 51% commercial. Red snapper therefore, are big money in the form of getting a good price at the dock and also getting people to book charterboat trips to go catch them. Big $$ = big debate over limiting catch…and so there were lengthy arguments, challenges to science and serious manipulation of politicos and information for years and years. Nearly 20 years in fact…red snapper has been known to be severely depleted since about 1988.

Red snapper’s target recovery date (the time by which the population should be back to a healthy level) was originally the year 2000. Seven years ago. Then it got moved back to 2007 (yes, this year), then it was changed to 2019, then 2032, each time to allow continued overfishing of red snapper. Consequently, studies show red snapper down to 3% of its historical population. Yikes. Tofu anyone?

We got to such a depleted population because despite knowing red snapper were doing poorly and that lack of management likely meant red snapper would continue to decline or at least not rebuild, the Council and NMFS bent to political pressures and ignored the advice of scientists, setting catch levels too high and allowing too many fish to be caught and killed as bycatch. We came to a point where really severe management was necessary to avoid a total population collapse. The measures I mentioned above were approved by the Council and now await final NMFS approval to stop overfishing, reduce bycatch and help rebuild red snapper. Yippie – finally.

However, that is sadly not the end to this saga. Old habits die hard, and even as the new red snapper plan was being finalized, the Council added in an assumed 10% reduction in effort to catch red snapper attributed to hurricane impacts, despite a lack of credible science indicating this. This means the rules will assume we are already meeting some of the necessary reduction in catch…we’ll have to wait to see what that does to the final outcome. They also voted to allow an increase in bycatch of red snapper as the population (hopefully) rebuilds under the new plan.

Oh wait, there’s more...right after they voted to send the whole plan to NMFS for final approval, they started discussions about changing it! The Council now wants to look at the concept of regional specific catch limits (for example eastern verses western Gulf) to see if they can squeeze just a bit more out of the total catch limit in certain places, based on local red snapper abundance. So, if there are more red snapper found in the west verses in the east, then the west could get more quota.

Unbelievable...if you haven’t been part of the process for years. If you know this bunch, then its merely typical.

Adding to the hooplah of yesterday were colorful characters from various groups insisting that there were MORE (not less) red snapper out there than ever before…you could walk on red snapper across the Gulf from Texas to Florida practically, and no one can catch anything else (wait…does this mean ALL the other fish are depleted? That’s another issue for another day).

Others claimed that fish kissers (GRN, the Ocean Conservancy and other environmental groups) were weaving a story about red snapper being depleted and that the science indicating a problem with red snapper was simply a result of imagination. Funny, the judge didn’t see it that way in the lawsuit GRN and other groups recently won on the issue, forcing a red snapper management plan that had at least a 50% chance of success (do you believe this is the standard we use???) to be in place by December 31, 2007. It was such a clear case, we actually won on a summary judgment…no trial, no further consideration. Sadly, I think it took the litigation to motivate the final outcome of yesterday…but whatever. After all these years, it seems red snapper will finally be on the road to recovery.

Marianne Cufone is the GRNs Consultant on Fisheries Issues, based in Tampa Florida.

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