Tulane VISTA Blog

Fighting Poverty with Passion

Field Report: Gulf Restoration Network

I have just worked for the Gulf Restoration Network, a whooping 8 weeks, yet I cannot beleive how much I have learned about this incredible organization already. The Gulf Restoration Network is a 17 year old environmental advocacy non-profit organization. They use all their resources and extremely dedicated and hard working staff to educate and empower Gulf Citizens to protect and speak for their ecosystems and are tirelessly pushing industries and government to restore the natural resources of the Gulf Region for future generations.

GRN works on many different campaigns throughout the Gulf Region. From our Save the Cypress Campaign here, that urges Walmart, Lowe’s and Home-Depot to stop selling Cypress mulch to our Gulf wide campaign to urge Public action in all states to ask our Representatives to follow the Oil Spill Commission Reports recommendations. Here is a quick overview on some of the campaigns the Gulf Restoration Network is devoted to.  I am very proud to work with such a dedicated team and feel a part of an organization I can honestly say cares and has a reputation to prove it. Here is a few of GRN’s campaigns and why they are so important. Learn more at healthygulf.org!

Gulf Fish Forever

Gulf Fish Forever The Gulf of Mexico provides jobs, food, and recreation to millions of people. As a marine habitat, it is a national treasure that we should all want to preserve. Commercial fishing is a key economic driver around the Gulf. Recreational fishing is an important element in every part of the economy; from tourism to boat sales, fuel, and tackle. But we have a problem – it is called overfishing. Both commercial and recreational fishermen are now so efficient that we catch fish faster than nature can replace them. Without robust fish populations, every one of us will suffer – not just the fish.

Global Warming

The Gulf of Mexico is ground zero for the impacts of climate change. Rising sea-levels, more powerful hurricanes, and invasive species are all serious threats to the natural resources of the Gulf, our homes, and our communities. Coastal erosion and the myriad of problems the Gulf of Mexico is faced with are inextricably connected to climate change. The GRN has taken a stand against inaction on this issue, perhaps the most important environmental issue of our time.

Healthy Waters

The Gulf Restoration Network works to protect and restore waters throughout the Gulf of Mexico that are critical to recreation, fisheries, wildlife habitat, and drinking water.

Despite much progress made under the Clean Water Act, many waters flowing into the Gulf remain polluted with fertilizers, pesticides, sewage, and other contaminants. Every summer, nitrogen pollution from the Mississippi River forms a “dead zone,” an area where aquatic life cannot survive, off the coast of Louisiana and Texas that is roughly the size of the state of Massachusetts. In addition, high levels of bacteria from municipal sewage treatment plants and urban runoff force the closure of beaches throughout the Gulf. The GRN is working to end these water pollution problems through a multi-faceted approach that includes public education, empowerment of citizen groups, technical review of government policies, and legal action when necessary.

Natural Defenses

The Hurricane Season of 2005 has shown how vulnerable Gulf coastal communities are to the devastating impacts of ever-stronger storms. We have seen how the continued destruction of our natural barriers, such as coastal wetlands and barrier islands, takes away nature’s ability to reduce the strength and impact of hurricanes.

Our barrier islands, coastal wetlands and marshes must be protected and enhanced.

As impacted areas rebuild, decision-makers and planners must protect and enhance the natural barriers that help protect our communities. It is estimated that for every 3-4 miles of healthy coastal wetlands a storm surge must travel over, the surge is diminished by one foot. Coastal cypress swamps are thought to be even more effective in minimizing storm surge. Additionally, levees fronted by wetlands and coastal forests are thought to have held up far better than those fronted by open-water.

Save our Cypress

The Gulf’s endangered cypress swamps are being clear-cut to feed an unsustainable and unnecessary mulch industry. Lowe’s, Home Depot, and Wal-Mart have been leading the destruction of the Gulf’s best natural storm protection by selling cypress mulch all over the country.

In 2008, the campaign saved tens of thousands of acres of cypress swamps when Lowe’s and Home Depot stopped selling cypress mulch from coastal Louisana, and Wal-Mart no longer sells cypress mulch from anywhere in Louisiana. The retailers now have an ideal opportunity to live up to their policies of sustainability by expanding that protection and helping to restore balance to the entire Gulf coast. The Save Our Cypress Coalition continues to call on Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and Lowe’s to immediately stop selling cypress mulch in favor of sustainable alternatives.

Species at Risk

Throughout the Gulf of Mexico region, plants, animals, birds, fish and mammals are at risk. Over four hundred plant and animal species found in Gulf states are considered either threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act (134 in Alabama, 112 in Florida, 31 in Louisiana, 42 in Mississippi, and 94 in Texas). These include the Kemps Ridley and green sea turtles, the brown pelican, the Louisiana black bear, sperm whales and the Florida panther. Sadly, the loss of coastal marshes and swamps, over-fishing, and coastal and industrial development threaten the continued health, and even survival, of these species.

Florida’s Nature Coast

Florida has seen tremendous changes in the last century. In many places, the Florida that existed just 50 years ago is long gone. Lost to the bulldozer, the chainsaw, and the cement mixer, much of what was wild Florida is now but dim memories. The music of nature that once filled the air with the calls of red wolves, whooping cranes and ivory billed woodpeckers is too often silent now, replaced by the sounds of urban Florida. Yet, for all that is lost, there is great hope for the places that remain wild and free. Florida’s Nature Coast is such a place.

The Nature Coast is too important to let these challenges and threats go unanswered. GRN is working hard to protect and preserve the region by building a strong and vibrant coalition of groups who can stand up and fight back for this place.

Wetlands

The GRN works to protect wetlands from reckless development, destructive logging practices, and harmful U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects and policies.  The Gulf of Mexico has lost approximately 50% of its historic wetlands, and those remaining are under increasing threat.

Wetlands loss often leads to declining water quality, a loss of habitat for wildlife and commercial fisheries species, and increased vulnerability to hurricanes and floods for coastal communities. By fighting destructive Army Corps of Engineers projects, reviewing permit applications to destroy wetlands, advocating for coastal restoration, and providing technical assistance to citizen groups, the GRN is working hard to protect Gulf wetlands.

– Leanne Sarco, AmeriCorps VISTA. For more information on volunteer opportunities, please visit the Gulf Restoration Network’s website.

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About Tulane VISTA

Notes from the field from the AmeriCorps VISTA team at Tulane University.

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