Blogging for a Healthy Gulf


Listen | Snippet of distinguished individuals speaking at the recent 3 day symposium titled “Mississippi Freshwater Diversion Summit” which was designed to be a serious discourse on rebuilding Louisiana’s coast using Diversions.

But, what is a Diversion? Well, it is when you take water from the Mississippi River and spill it (or divert it) over land to build the land up. Otherwise, you lose that land to the Gulf of Mexico. The Mississippi used to do this naturally but levees prevent this from happening now. Choosing where to divert the water, how much water to divert, and when to divert it have all been insurmountable problems going back decades and has paralyzed the process. There are many stakeholders and each one seems to have veto power over the process.

The Army Corps of Engineers hosted the symposium bringing together for the first time all the competing interests from the state, federal agencies, the environmental community, landowner representatives, navigation and port authorities, levee boards, scientists, engineers, lawyers, fishermen, you name it. They were there. It was standing room only.

We all sat through many presentations on Diversions and I gathered that pretty much everyone agrees that Diversions are a great idea. So, why aren't they happening? To find out, listen to these amazing speakers talk about how to solve the gridlock from their unique perspectives.

Listen | New Orleans City Council President Jackie Clarkson speaking to the group and I was lucky to catch up with her just after her presentation for a quick interview.

Listen | Len Bahr, the brains behind, a blog he started after retiring from his position with the State as resident expert on all things coastal. Here him talk about his surprise to be so positive about the summit and the importance of addressing nutrient pollution in the river.

Listen | Matt Rota, Director of Water Resources for the Gulf Restoration Network asks for some changes to come out of this meeting and recommends making a timeline.

Listen | Dr. Denise Reed, professor at University of New Orleans, and I talk about what she thinks about the summit and the best solution to fix our coastal problems.

Listen | Pam Dasheil with the Lower 9th ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development and I talked about how the rebuilding efforts in the 9 were progressing and her thoughts on river diversions.

Listen | Carlton Dufrochou, Executive Director of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation is in rare form here as he makes a plea for South Louisiana.

Listen | Earl Melancon, professor of Biology at Nicholls State University, talks about how to pronounce his name and assures us that oysters and river diversions can co-exist.

Listen | John Barry from the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority eloquently explains the politics behind the decision making process.

Listen | Mike Benge, with Delacroix Corporation was at the Summit to talk about the impacts that the Caernarvon Diversion has had on large landowners.

Listen | John Day, LSU Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences

As for me, I just hope we can start moving some dirt. Hurricane season is fast approaching!

Casey DeMoss Roberts is the Special Projects Coordinator for the Gulf Restoration Network and the co-host of Community Gumbo on WTUL New Orleans. This segment aired on March 28, 2009.


Gulf Restoration Network is once again gearing up for our Summer Outreach Campaign, and you can become part of building the movement to defend the Gulf Coast! From mid-May through August, we’ll be hiring passionate Gulf defenders to get out into neighborhoods to engage and activate concerned citizens on our Defend the Gulf Coast, Defend Ourselves Campaign.

Call today to apply! -- 504-525-1528 ext 203 --

In Louisiana, we are losing a football field of wetlands every 45 minutes due to coastal erosion. In Florida, the Nature Coast, the last pristine stretch of coastline in the state, is threatened by reckless development.

From offices in New Orleans, LA and Tampa, FL you can help create the groundswell of public support and outcry that will be necessary to address these issues and defend the Gulf Coast. You will also recruit members for the Gulf Restoration Network to ensure we have the resources and unified voice to fight for the coast everyday into the future.

You can earn between $4,500 and $8,000 for the summer, learn valuable activism and organizing skills, and gain in-depth knowledge of environmental issues and politics. Most importantly, you will have a real impact on protecting the health of the Gulf of Mexico.

Call today to apply – 504-525-1528 ext 203!

Dan Favre is GRN's Campaign Organizer.



Groups: Government Must Focus Resources on High Priority Areas


WASHINGTON, April 1, 2009 – For the first time, the U.S. Geological Survey has identified the top 150 polluting watersheds in the Mississippi River Basin that cause the annual 8,000 square-mile “Dead Zone” in the Gulf of Mexico. Based on the USGS report released today, members of the Mississippi River Water Quality Collaborative urge the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and state policy makers to use the report to solve water quality problems both within the states and downstream in the Gulf.

In January of 2008, USGS identified commercial fertilizers and animal manure from farmland in 9* states as the cause of over 70 percent of the Dead Zone pollution. Evidence is mounting that the mandated push to increase corn production – one of the most fertilizer intensive crops – for ethanol exacerbates water quality problems within the states and in the Gulf. This year, the USGS identifies and ranks watersheds in the Basin by the amount of pollution that gets to the Gulf.

Currently, federal Farm Bill conservation dollars are not targeted to where the pollution is generated. This new report should help states focus their pollution reduction efforts in the top ranked watersheds and on the most cost-effective practices,” said Michelle Perez, Senior Agriculture Analyst for the Environmental Working Group. “A targeted approach to farm conservation programs will help demonstrate to taxpayers that states are trying to use their resources wisely and get the biggest bang for the buck.”

“This report demonstrates that pollution doesn’t respect state boundaries,” said Matt Rota, Water Resources Program Director for the Gulf Restoration Network. “Many of the top-polluting river and stream basins occupy multiple states. Downstream states like Louisiana and Mississippi are counting on a multi-state effort to address the Dead Zone. This study will hopefully help states and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to increase and target farm conservation funding to help reduce the Dead Zone, which is a major national environmental problem.”

“States that have watersheds listed in this report now have a better sense of where action can be taken to reduce their contribution to the Dead Zone while also reducing pollution to their local waters, ” said Susan Heathcote, Water Program Director for the Iowa Environmental Council. “The Environmental Protection Agency needs to take the lead to focus federal resources to solve both local water quality problems and the national Dead Zone in the Gulf.”

The USGS report, Incorporating Uncertainty into the Ranking of SPARROW Model Nutrient Yields from the Mississippi/Atchafalaya River Basin Watersheds” is available online at

The Mississippi River Water Quality Collaborative is a partnership of environmental organizations and legal centers from states bordering the Mississippi River as well as regional and national groups working on issues affecting the Mississippi River and its tributaries. The Collaborative harnesses the resources and expertise of its diverse organizations to comprehensively reduce pollution entering the Mississippi River as well as the Gulf of Mexico.

*The 9 states contributing over 70 percent of the dead zone-causing nitrogen and phosphorus pollutants are: Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, and Mississippi.


Don Carr, Environmental Working Group, (202) 939-9141

Matt Rota, Gulf Restoration Network (Louisiana and Mississippi), (504) 525-1528 X206

Susan Heathcote, Iowa Environmental Council, (515) 244-1194 ext. 205



First, the “spotter” plane appears soaring above the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Inside the pilot is scanning the water, searching for a characteristic dark, writhing mass: a school of menhaden. Spotting the school, the pilot radios a nearby mothership to relay the news. This large vessel races to the scene and rapidly lowers two smaller boats into the water. They quickly go to work surrounding the menhaden school in a large purse seine net and, after the school is secured, the factory boat vacuums the net clean – transporting thousands of pounds of fish into its hold. This process continues until the entire bay or sound is stripped of the once-teaming schools of menhaden, and the dolphins, pelicans, and other marine wildlife must look elsewhere for their food.

Menhaden, which are also known as pogies, are a small, oily bait fish which schools in huge numbers in the Gulf of Mexico. Few people, with the exception of fishermen, have ever even heard of menhaden, but they are an essential part of the eco-systems of the Atlantic coast and the Gulf. In fact, Princeton professor H. Bruce Franklin went so far as to title his book on menhaden The Most Important Fish in the Sea. These small fish, which are filter-feeders, provide a crucial link between the primary producers of energy – plants – and the upper levels of the food chain including red drum, sharks, dolphins, pelicans, and host of other sea life.

Unfortunately, pogies are also big business with just two companies – Omega Protein and Daybrook Fisheries – harvesting an average of one billion pounds of menhaden from the Gulf of Mexico each year. They don’t put menhaden on ice and sell them at the fish market, instead, they grind them up, and turn them into industrial products that are then turned into things such as dog, cat and fish food. In the process, they accidently capture and kill at least ten million pounds of other sea life, like sharks, red drum and tarpon. In fact, one Louisiana fisheries biologist has suggested that the industry could be killing as many as 850,000 sharks every year.

The menhaden industry was originally based along the Atlantic coast of the United States. However, as the menhaden populations range shrunk and fishermen began pointing to problems with the health of other marine wildlife which rely on menhaden, many of the Atlantic states stepped in to better regulate the industry. Now, the Gulf of Mexico is ground zero for the menhaden boats and without improved management of the fishery, the entire Gulf coast economy and ecosystem could be affected.

In fact, the menhaden reduction industry operates in Mississippi and Louisiana without any catch limits and few controls on the amount and kind of other species they capture. To help combat this threat, a group of conservationist, recreational fishermen and concerned business leaders have joined together to form the Save the Bait Coalition of Mississippi. They’ve been working aggressively to convince the Mississippi Commission on Marine Resources, the regulatory body that oversees the fishery, to support commonsense regulations for the menhaden industry. You can take action now by visiting this page, or read a little more about the issue and check out a video about the pogie industry here.

Raleigh Hoke is the Mississippi Organizer with the Gulf Restoration Network.


As every reader of this blog knows, Louisiana's coastal wetlands are disappearing at the rate of a football field every 45 minutes, destroying New Orleans natural storm defenses. This film features artists from Fishbone, Galactic, and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band discussing Louisiana's coastal crisis.

The Gulf Restoration Network has partnered with the Voodoo Experience to educate musicians about the role Louisiana's wetlands loss plays in the recovery of New Orleans, and building support to restore Louisiana's coastal lines of defense.

The video was created by NOLA Image Works, and funded by a grant from the John Merck Fund. GRN wants to thank Clint Maedgen, Stanton Moore, Angelo Moore, the Voodoo Experience, Neutral Ground Films, Thunder Voltz, and our partners on the Louisiana Coastal Lines of Defense campaign, the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation for helping make this project happen.

For our coast and our communities,


Aaron Viles is GRN's Campaign Director.


I can't say I'm surprised by this news: Shell is dropping the vast majority of their renewable energy portfolio. After meeting their Chief Executive, Jeroen van der Veer a few years back at their annual general meeting, I certainly didn't get the sense that their commitment to the environment was anything other than a public relations effort.

While I'm sure that many of Shell's employees care deeply about the environment, our coast, and the future of the climate, I think this story demonstrates that their corporate leadership really isn't motivated by anything other than the short term bottom line. But hey, why should they care about rising sea levels? They own the tallest building in Louisiana.

Aaron Viles is GRN's campaign director


Turtles Contaminated With Mercury and Other Toxins Sold as Food

The Center for Biological Diversity and two dozen other conservation and health groups today filed emergency petitions with eight Midwestern and southern states, seeking to end unsustainable commercial harvest of freshwater turtles. The coalition submitted administrative petitions to state wildlife and health agencies in Arkansas, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Ohio, South Carolina, and Tennessee, asking for a ban on commercial harvest of freshwater turtles in all public and private waters. The commercial-harvest regulations are needed to prevent further depletions of native turtle populations and to protect public health. Freshwater turtles collected in these states and sold domestically as food or exported to international food markets are often contaminated with mercury, PCBs, and pesticides.

For more information, read the GRN's press release,


According to a new study by Audubon Florida, Governor Charlie Crist is enjoying a huge approval rate for his work on climate change, which includes policies for clean cars, renewable energy, and reduction of global warming pollution. This finding might have something to do with another fact: a majority of Florida voters believe that global warming is real, caused by man, and that Florida is at risk for the impacts.

Eric Draper, policy director for Audubon Florida and author of the study,was quoted as saying "The public is, one; very informed, and two; concerned, and three; they actually support the policies that have been recommended by Charlie Crist to do something about it."

As far as the rest of the Gulf, Governor Crist is the only leader willing to tackle this challenge. I am glad Audubon Florida did this research but I would like to point out that Governor Crist began the process of dealing with the climate crisis two years ago, well before he had political coverage via voter research. I hope this study and Governor Crist's leadership will inspire other Gulf Governors to take the plunge and follow through on protecting their own states from sea level rise, stronger storms, and the miriad of other problems we are all facing if nothing is done to stop it.

For more information about the study visit

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


Please join us for Gulf Gathering May 8-9, 2009: A Gulf-wide conference for coastal advocates and organizers concerned about the Gulf of Mexico.

If you're interested in wetlands and cypress swamp conservation, healthy waters, sustainable fisheries and climate change or would like to meet other folks from across the five Gulf states who want to protect the Gulf - this is the environmental conference for you. You will also get the chance to sharpen your skills and become a better activist for the Gulf.

We will focus on the health of the Gulf and what you can do to protect it! This conference seeks to be the most comprehensive gathering of environmental leaders in the Gulf. We hope you will join us to share your knowledge and commitment to a healthy Gulf. Click here for more information and to register today!

Located just 30 miles south of Mobile, Alabama, Camp Beckwith provides an ideal setting on Weeks Bay to activate, energize and rejuvinate. You will get the chance to learn about current and emerging threats to the Gulf while enjoying the beautiful scenery and waterways it has to offer.

Conservation Through Aviation: Get a Bird's Eye View of Cypress Forests

SouthWings will be hosting flights on Friday , May 8th at 9:00 a.m. If your organization would be interested in exploring how the aerial perspective can support your work, please join us to look at a local cypress ecosystem. We have room for 18 people to join us! Sign up when you register to get a chance to check out threatened cypress forests in coastal Alabama from the air. Then, join your fellow flight participants during the conference to learn more about the cypress mulch industry and ways to protect our cypress forests along the Gulf.

Help GRN celebrate our 15th Anniversary! In honor of 15 years successfully fighting for a healthier Gulf, we'll be hosting a celebration on Friday, May 8th at the conference. Join us for good food, drinks, music along the Gulf's edge and honor those who have helped us succeed!

Click here for more information and to register today! We look forward to seeing you this May.

United for a Healthy Gulf,

Briana Kerstein
Special Projects Coordinator, Gulf Restoration Network


Last week, Aaron and I both attended the “Diversions Summit” called by the Corps of Engineers to discuss reintroducing the Mississippi River into the wetlands of southeastern Louisiana. While there was some great research and some great ideas proposed, I left the conference wondering “what next?” When I spoke at the conference, I emphasized the need for action and a time line to begin the enormous task of building Mississippi River reintroductions, with the end goal of a sustainable coast. Check what Amy Wold at the Baton Rouge Advocate wrote on March 13:

Matt Rota, Water Resources Program director with the Gulf Restoration Network, spoke publicly about what many people at the conference were talking about privately.

“I’ve been to this meeting before,” Rota said. All the presentations have been given before and although the information is good, he said, he wanted to know what should be the next step.

“I want to know who in this room has the ability to make these hard decisions,” Rota said.

The state, federal and other partners have been at this work for a number of years, he said.

“The public is getting frustrated that nothing is happening,” Rota said. And if there are things happening, that needs to get out to the public so people know what is going on, he said.


Carlton Dufrechou, executive director of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, agreed.

“We’re talking about restoration. We’re talking about it, but we’re not doing it,” he said. “We have not committed to do anything bold about it.”

We need strong leadership within the Corps and Louisiana to make hard decisions. Everybody is not going to be happy with any decision that is made that might impact land use, navigation, wildlife, fisheries, and myriad other things. Up to this point that leadership has not stepped up to put aside politics and do what is necessary to save our coast. One thing that I can say is the Brigadier General Michael Walsh was there for the entire meeting, actively listening to the scientific presentations and the presentations from the public. Unfortunately I cannot say the same for the State. Garret Graves, Director of the Louisiana Governor's Office of Coastal Activities was conspicuous by his absence for a large percentage of the two day public session. The state must show that they are an active participant in the process, and that includes making it a priority to hear what the public has to say. After all, it is the public that needs to be protected by restoring our coastal lines of defense. While there are still many scientific questions to be answered, it is clear that that consensus has been reached, at regarding the fact that large scale coastal restoration has to start now. So what do we need? We need strong leadership that will engage and listen to the stakeholders and then make the tough decisions to protect their the citizens of the Lousiana. Vital time that could be spent on physically restoring our wetlands is slipping away.

The bottom line is that our leaders must work together, use the best available science, and take bold actions to ensure the sustainability of southeastern Louisiana.

Matt Rota is the Water Resources Program Director at GRN


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