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An aerial photograph of a river cutting through a marsh emptying into a the Gulf of Mexico.
Information icon A View South over Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Grand Bay, MS. Photo by USFWS.

Gulf of Mexico Restoration Benefits Wetlands and Recreation

As we transition from American Wetlands Month through National Great Outdoors Month, it is the perfect time to showcase the restoration progress we continue to make in the Gulf of Mexico region. The Deepwater Horizon explosion occurred 10 years ago this spring and we’ve read many stories about the explosion and the sad impact the spill has had on wildlife and habitat. Oil fouled more than 1,300 miles of shoreline from Texas to Florida. But, much like John Krasinski, we have some good news to share as well.

May was American Wetlands Month, June was National Great Outdoors Month, and here we offer good news stories about the intersection of wetlands restoration and outdoor recreation.

Coastal wetlands and nearshore ecosystems provide myriad ecosystem services including many recreational opportunities such as birding and hunting. They also help improve water quality for swimming, boating, and other water dependent activities.

“Hunters, anglers, and people who love water-based recreation know how crucial wetlands are to the Gulf ecosystem. The habitat and water filtration that wetlands provide are vital to the Gulf and serve as a foundational component to many varied pursuits that make the Gulf a prime recreational destination,” said Dianne Ingram, Restoration Biologist, Gulf Restoration Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

A man casts a net standing ankle-deep in the water
A man casts a net at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by USFWS.

Since the spill, $1.74 billion (that’s billion with a “B”!) has been allocated towards restoring wetlands, coastal and nearshore habitat. This includes funding from RESTORE Act; Gulf of Mexico Environmental Benefit Fund (GEBF); North American Wetlands Conservation Act; and, the Deepwater Horizon settlement through the Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA). The NRDA Trustees have developed numerous project proposals and the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service implements many of those projects once they are approved. The Service has also consulted on several other projects, particularly those considered for GEBF funding.

“There are so many terrific stories coming from the Gulf Restoration activities. Since the beginning of the spill 10 years ago, the collaboration of the federal and state partners has enabled the successful planning and execution of an incredible number of projects,” said Ben Frater, Chief of Restoration Planning and Compliance, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Gulf Restoration Office. “The focused effort on wetland, coastal and nearshore habitat is revitalizing these ecologically sensitive areas, providing tremendous benefits across the region.”

Wetland, coastal, and nearshore habitat projects range from land acquisition to living shoreline construction to hydrologic restoration. The Bahia Grande hydrologic restoration project in Texas and the Grand Bay land acquisition and habitat management project in Mississippi are two shining examples of this “restoration type” that are benefiting threatened, endangered and at-risk species, as well as the people that use the area for recreation.

The Bahia Grande project restores and conserves the wetland complex in the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in Texas near the Mexico border. Using $5.05 million in Deepwater Horizon NRDA funding, the project increases tidal flow, which will closely mimic the system’s natural tidal exchange, creating habitat for a variety of fish and waterfowl.

A palm tree and a number of cacti dot a coastal landscape
Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by USFWS.

“Through the Bahia Grande restoration, Laguna Atascosa and its partners were able to protect and reconnect tidal wetlands. Through restoring tidal flows, the islands in the Bahia Grande system are surrounded with water once again,” said, Boyd Blihovde, Refuge Manager, Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. “Colonial nesting birds, including gull-billed terns and black skimmers, are nesting in great numbers here which was impossible before the restoration started with hydrologic connectivity in 2005.”

A bird with a black head, gray wing feathers and a bright orange beak wading in shallow water
An oyster catcher at Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Grand Bay, MS. Photo by USFWS.

Restoration in Grand Bay Mississippi focuses on protecting important lands and waters. The land acquisition and habitat management work to more effectively and efficiently restore and manage target habitats for the benefit of coastal resources within the boundaries of the Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR), and Grand Bay Savanna Coastal Preserve in Jackson County, Mississippi.

“Grand Bay is a special place. It includes some of the last remaining wet pine savannas on the Gulf coast,” said Jereme Phillips, Refuge Manager, Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge. “The expansive salt marshes provide nursery habitat for fish, crabs, shellfish, and other marine life. Pine flatwoods and freshwater wetlands support nesting and foraging habitat for birds. Deepwater Horizon NRDA and GEBF restoration projects are truly transforming the area thanks to our strong partnership with Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve and the tremendous support of our state and federal co-trustees and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Great things are happening at Grand Bay right now and it’s so exciting for us to be a part of it.”

There’s good news flowing out of the myriad Gulf restoration efforts every day. Through partnership and collaboration, the Gulf will continue to be revitalized. You can learn more about these and other projects focused on wetland, coastal and nearshore habitat at the Trustee’s Gulf Spill Restoration site.

Brown marsh grass with pine trees in the background
Salt marsh at Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by USFWS.

Contact

Taylor Pool, Public Affairs Specialist
taylor_pool@fws.gov, (404) 679-4096

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information on our work and the people who can make it happen, visit fws.gov. Connect with the Service on Facebook, follow our tweets, watch the YouTube Channel and download photos from Flickr.

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