Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force gets citizen input in Sarasota

04/19/11 Lenka Davis
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The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force is gathering input about how the Gulf of Mexico should be restored after last year’s oil disaster. Last night in Sarasota, the task force organized a listening session to hear concerns and recommendations from citizens.

More than 44 million people live in states along the Gulf of Mexico and many of them depend on the Gulf for their income. Even before the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the coastal marsh in the Gulf region was disappearing at an alarming rate. The spill has only added to the damage and one year later, the restoration of the Gulf is still far from complete. Task force manager Buck Sutter explains what the main concerns of the citizens are.

"There's a couple things that really stand out. Impact of water quality, getting the wetlands and to keep the estuaries clean. So those things kind of go together. Other things that we've heard a lot about is making the citizens are involved in decision making. You know, what ever process that we come up with and suggest to the President that there has to be a citizen's advisory component. Those are some of the biggest ones that we've heard right up front."

Other concerns dealt with the danger of future oil spills caused by off-shore drilling, which was denounced as a risky practice. Some citizens mentioned the necessity to evaluate Gulf water quality and rising sea levels. Others asked about how to make people pay attention to the state of the Gulf. One of the citizen suggestions, from Alison Rowell, was to make the information understandable.

"I think people forget that what resonates with regular people is the beauty and the water. I see these scientists and I didn't understand a lot they talked about, but I trust that they can fix the problems because that's their expertise but they seem to have difficulty communicating what they're doing and the value of what they're doing. I actually thought if they talked to more people and listened to regular people, we'll be there for them."

The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force was created in October 2010. Its role is to develop the Gulf Coast restoration strategy together with the Gulf communities, non-profit organizations, stakeholders, local governments and tribes. Later this year, the task force will create the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Strategy report and propose it to President Barack Obama. Melissa Cain Nell from the Manatee County Natural Resources Department suggests so-called “ecophobia” might be holding many people back from helping to clean up the Gulf.

"'Ecophobia is a term that a lot of environmental educators and scientists use to sort of describe the fear that settles in and just that kind of horrible depression of not being able to do anything. And it happens a lot when you're faced with some of these major environmental disasters. I know as someone who really cared a lot about the oil spill when it happened I got saddled with trying to direct all of the volunteers from Manatee County and I was getting literally hundreds of phone calls from people that really wanted to help. And that was in the first couple of weeks. And it very quickly died off, it was so overwhelming. So what we try to encourage folks to do is to think locally and realize that, especially with the oil spill, no, we couldn't put them out cleaning birds but they could do little things in their own area that would really help out. Things like, as silly as it sounds, but picking up trash, removing exotic plants. There's a lot of different organizations that are looking for volunteers to help with that and they can really help out and make a huge difference."

You can email your suggestions to help restore the ecosystem to

If you were directly or indirectly affected by the oil spill, you have only one day left to file a claim against BP. All claims filed after April 20, the anniversary of the spill, will not be recognized.

Previous WMNF news stories on the Gulf oil disaster

volunteer for Manatee County Natural Resources Department

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