Blogging for a Healthy Gulf


With 100 miles of dark, slick oil covering its surface, the Mississippi River winds its way towards the Gulf of Mexico, leaving citizens across the nation once again reminded of the many reasons why we must move beyond our dependence on oil. As a 600 ft. tanker crashed into a barge spilling almost a half million gallons of diesel fuel oil into the river on Wednesday, Hurricane Dolly approaches Texas and prevents Senator John McCain from visiting a “clean” oil rig off the coast of New Orleans. All too familiar with the costs of natural and human disasters along the Gulf Coast, such snapshot events speak loudly to the offshore drilling debate.

Cynthia Sarthou, Executive Director of the Gulf Restoration Network (GRN), explains, “The costs of opening up new areas for drilling along the Gulf vastly outweigh the benefits. Gas prices will be virtually unaffected, but future spills, wetlands destruction and increased pollution are guaranteed.”

Ultimately, increased drilling means more oil spills. The Mineral Management service predicts one spill of at least 42,000 gallons a year in the Gulf with at least 420,000 gallons expected to be spilled every four years. While the oil industry is justifiably proud of increased safety in drilling procedures, there is still great risk in transporting that oil from sea to land. These incidences not only create economic crises for small businesses and cause property damage, but they also make humans and wildlife more vulnerable to toxic fumes, contaminated drinking water, and serious illness in the short and long-term.

A recent report from the Journal of the Human Environment explained that the storm protection value of America’s coastal wetlands are $23.2 billion annually—Louisiana is currently losing a football field of this valuable protection every 45 minutes due to coastal erosion caused in part by the oil & gas industry. By committing to expanded oil and gas development these ‘horizontal levees’ are jeopardized in the short run by pipelines and offshore oil field support infrastructure, and in the long term by the global warming fueled sea level rise a continued reliance on oil will cause.

“The supply of oil off the coast is peanuts compared to world demand for oil, and any benefit at the pump pales in comparison to the costs of drilling, such as decreasing tourism and Hurricane protection, and the loss of the natural beauty of Florida beaches. In addition, new drilling means new pipelines, oil barges, storage facilities, refineries, and the pollution and public health threat they inevitably bring,” said Joseph Murphy, the Florida Program Coordinator for GRN.


Tell McCain & Obama: Debate in New Orleans

Outrageous cartoons, foreign policy differences, oil drilling flip-flops, the fight for

the White House is really underway. With Louisiana's Governor Bobby Jindal in the running for the McCain veepstakes the Republican contender seems to spend a lot of time in Louisiana, but it is time that we put the issue of the Gulf Coast environment and recovery front and center in this race.

In the almost three years since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the Gulf Coast we've seen significant steps from federal leaders towards a more sustainable coast and safer communities, but these efforts will need substantial resources, funding, and time to succeed.

Now is the time to make sure that the future president of the United States commits to the Gulf States. Help us ask the candidates to commit to: tackling the Dead Zone, a hurricane recovery that includes safe and sustainable communities and rebuilt coastal lines of defense, and spotlighting their plans for recovery at the Google/YouTube debate in New Orleans.

Head here to sound the call for the coast and send that message to the candidates:


The Google/YouTube event should be a fantastic opportunity to see our coastal issues put on display - but we need the two candidates to commit to the event now. Thanks for helping make that happen.


For our coast and communities,


Aaron Viles
Campaign Director



Summer along the Nature Coast of Florida is defined by movement and change. Manatees leave the spring fed rivers that provide them warmth in the winter and wander up and down the coast. Swallowtail Kites are here for the summer nesting and they swoop and soar over the landscape. If we get the rains we need the black water rivers swell and rise, and flow strongly out into the coastal marshes that separate the land from the sea. In this landscape defined by the pronounced lack of white sand beaches it is not the summer of tanning and beach postcards so common in the rest of Florida, it is a summer of nature at its most grand and most intimate.

Stretching from just north of TampaBayto ApalacheeBay in the Big Bend region, the NatureCoast is one of the longest, wildest coastlines left in America. It is the embodiment of nature at the landscape scale, a powerful reminder of what once was along the gulf coast and what still could be if we summon the grace and wisdom to keep it as it is. This is the Florida that John Muir walked through in 1867. This is the Florida of William Bartram. This is the Florida of my childhood, and I hope and pray it will be the Florida of my grandchildren. The Gulf Restoration Network, working with our allies and partners in the region and across Florida, is working hard to ensure that this happens.

This is has been an exciting and challenging summer thus far for the Nature Coast of Florida. The environment has seen victory and loss, and the challenges remain great.

The GRN was proud to have been one of the groups that spearheaded a successful campaign to convince Florida Governor Charlie Crist to veto a bill passed by the Florida Legislature that would have weakened protections for seagrass beds in Florida. This successful call for a veto was a major victory to protect the coastlines, fisheries, and marine species of the gulf coast of Florida. Stretching the length of the NatureCoast is the Big Bend Seagrasses Aquatic Preserve. These world class seagrass beds are essential to the life cycle of hundred of gulf species. Governor Crist, in vetoing this bill, ensured that protections for Florida’s seagrass beds and for the NatureCoast would not move in the wrong direction. In the 2009 session of the Florida Legislature a coalition of conservation groups is committed to passing strong legislation would protect Florida’s seagrass beds.

While we had a victory in our work to protect seagrass beds in Florida, efforts to protect the NatureCoast suffered a setback when the Suwannee River Water Management District approved some of the early permits for the Reserve at Sweetwater Estuary in the northern NatureCoast. We have been fighting this massive development project since it was Magnolia Bay. We continue to believe that a development of this size, that would involve the loss of coastal wetlands and would set a dangerous precedent for the NatureCoast, is the wrong project in the wrong place. And while the first permits were granted, we believe progress has been made. This project still needs local, state, and federal permits and GRN is continuing to organize a coalition of groups to stop this project (over 40 Florida conservation groups called for these permits to be denied). We won some of the early rounds, and we’ll win the next ones as well. Stay tuned to keep up with the latest developments with this and other FloridaNatureCoast issues.

Summer along the NatureCoast continues as it has for thousands of years. Tides come and go, the sun and moon rise and set, and the next generation of life bursts forth in the woods, wetlands, and wilderness of the special place. Florida Black Bears seek solace from the heat, and powerful thunderstorms form daily in dazzling testament to the power of nature. It is an amazing time to be out and about along the NatureCoast, and it is an amazing place. GRN is committed to ensuring that all that is wild and free along the NatureCoast stays that way.

Joe Murphy, Florida Program Coordinator


Scientists now believe this year’s Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico may be the largest on record due to the high water levels of the Mississippi River. Yet, the Dead Zone Task Force continues to avoid taking firm steps to pressure upriver states to reduce their fertilizer runoff – the leading cause of the Dead Zone.

The Dead Zone forms as high levels of nitrogen and phosphorous pollution pour into the Gulf and create a massive algal bloom that consumes the water’s oxygen. Sea life is forced to swim away or suffocate.

Check out this video and interview with Cyn Sarthou, GRN Executive Director for t
he full story.


The Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee featured not only one of the most eclectic line-ups you were likely to find this summer (Sigur Ros! Kanye West! Metallica!), but it was also home to a veritable wonderland of non-profits and green resources aimed at heightening the global consciousness of concert goers. Among those groups was the GRN.

With Stephanie Powell as our intrepid leader, seven interns and volunteers packed into a cramped mini-van with cardboard crabs and a life-size poster of Mark Twain, making the granola-filled 8-hour journey to the Fest. Over 1,750 people stopped by the GRN booth to fill out a postcard asking the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set numeric limits to Dead Zone-causing pollutants nitrogen and phosphorous.

As politicians make attempts to relax animal waste discharge standards and the corn-based ethanol boom poised to unleash record amounts of nitrogen pollution; it’s important now more than ever to secure a commitment to protect the waters of the United States.

New Orleans favorite radio station WWOZ was also out in full force at Bonnaroo to record and broadcast from the “Something Else New Orleans” stage. In addition to memorializing the live performances of artists like the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and the Morning 40 Federation, WWOZ broadcasted a call to text for the coast! Have a cell phone handy? Take a second and text COAST to 77007 to urge the Presidential candidates to make restoring and protecting the GulfCoast a priority.

While Louisiana currently loses coastal wetlands at a rate of a football field every 45 minutes, record temperatures are warming the Gulf of Mexico, ready to fuel an already active hurricane season. Your text will tell the Presidential candidates to prioritize coastal defenses. Thanks to our friends at WWOZ and their live-streaming broadcast to the internet for making our message global!

Be sure to check out our Flickr site and let us know your name if you are featured in our Stop the Dead Zone photo campaign! If you were lucky enough to chat with one of the kind folk from GRN, we’d all like to extend a hearty thank you for both helping stop the Dead Zone and making our experience at Bonnaroo truly a wonderful time. Thanks, ya’ll!

Also, a big thanks to the Planet Roo folks for giving us the opportunity to be at Bonnaroo!

Megan Milliken
Natural Storm Defenses Intern


Check out the latest video from the GRN video team. This documentary short gives an update to Washing Away, the documentary shown at last year's Katrinaversary parties, on the issue of wetland loss in coastal Louisiana and the need to halt this coastal crisis. Features Kerry St. Pe of the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program, the late Shea Penland of the University of New Orleans, and Carlton Dufrecheau of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation. This short was created by GRN intern Lorraine Anton and Gino Kalkanoglu of NOLA Image Works using footage shot by Gino and Peter White. Produced by Aaron Viles. Dedicated to the memory and legacy of Shea Penland. Go check it out, rate it and share it with your friends and family to spread the word.

While you're at YouTube, just released a new PSA calling for the congress to investigate the hurricane protection system failures during Katrina - we agree, so go watch it.


This Summer, the Gulf Restoration Network crew has been expanding -- kind of like the Dead Zone, except focused on a HEALTHIER Gulf of Mexico. We've set up an outreach office in the University area of New Orleans, and hired dozens of college students from LSU, Tulane and other campuses to fan out through the Baton Rouge, New Orleans and North Shore area, and alert the general public to the critical state of our coastal wetlands and build support for GRN and our Defend Our Coast, Defend Ourselves campaign. But if you're in one of the other Gulf states, don't worry, we're working to get to you too. We just sent a crew to Pensacola, Florida, and plan on sending folks to Houston/Galveston, Mobile/Fairhope, Mississippi's Gulf Coast, and maybe even Tampa.

So, if you get a knock on your door and open it to find a slightly sweaty young adult on your porch in a "United for a Healthy Gulf" t-shirt, take a second and listen to what they have to say. By spending a few minutes of your evening with GRN you'll get an update on our coast, and be presented with a couple of opportunities to help out. Whether you respond by joining GRN as a monthly, sustaining member, or writing a letter to the Governor and your member of Congress, urging them to act quickly for the coast, it will be time well spent, I promise.

In addition, we're still hiring for the outreach office. If you, or someone you know is interested in helping create the groundswell of support we need for immediate action on the coast and needs a full-time job this summer, ask them to give us a call. We are really excited to offer this opportunity to college students and others. Personally, I got my start as an environmental campaign organizer on a similar outreach effort many summers ago. The experience was invaluable and taught me how grass-roots organizing can really deliver results and win concrete victories for the environment. This summer's effort will give students a life-changing experience while making significant gains towards a sustainable coast.

If you're lucky enough to get that knock on the door, go out and have a great conversation about what we need to do to save our coast and communities. And offer the canvasser a glass of water, it's hot out there!

United for a Healthy Gulf,

Aaron Viles
Campaign Director

p.s. While we're excited to sign up members at the door, there's always a chance you won't be home the night we stop by. To make sure you don't miss your opportunity, sign up today!


It was the most successful environmental lobby day in Louisiana history! Over fifty citizen activists were in attendance for the release of the Environmental Briefing Book ( which each activist was to deliver to their Legislator. The book was prepared by “a coalition of groups and individuals who are passionate about providing good air to breathe, protecting our rights to clean sweet water to drink, and advocating for the rights of all of us to live in healthy sustainable communities.”

A few of the priorities for Lobby day were to educate our representatives about protecting the coast, re-fund the enforcement division of the Department of Environmental Quality, and support the fuel efficiency standards for state vehicles bill. The coalition of Louisiana’s best environmental groups is also asking the Legislature for a Green Caucus. The Legislature needs a Green Caucus that is funded and staffed to handle environmental legislation that will benefit the economy, protect Louisiana’s natural heritage, and safeguard the public health of our citizens from preventable exposure to health risks.

Though the Legislative schedule for our Lobby Day was not ideal, it gave many citizens from across the state an opportunity to see how laws are made. Every citizen activist wore their Environmental Voter pin and got the opportunity to see their government in action. It is important to remember that each citizen has the right to be heard!


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


A disgusting odor has been permeating the city of Hattiesburg, MS lately. For awhile, the city public works department claimed it didn't know the cause, but most everyone who smelled it knew that it smelled a lot like sewage. It turns out that the city's sewage lagoons are to blame.

There is more to the story, though. The lagoons, which are a very basic type of sewage treatment most commonly used by very small towns, are in violation of the Clean Water Act, polluting the nearby Leaf and Bowie Rivers. Sewage lagoons are basically a series of ponds which, under ideal circumstances, treat sewage using bacteria that live in the ponds. The Hattiesburg lagoons are truly massive as you can see from the satellite photo I included (the four polygons make up the south lagoon). In fact, by my estimate, the total size of the lagoon is about 330 acres, or roughly half a square mile.

As I argue in the letter I wrote in the Hattiesburg American, the city has not properly planned for growth and is sticking with its outdated sewage treatment lagoons rather than upgrading them to a modern treatment system. Why is this important? What Hattiesburg puts into the Leaf River, ultimately flows into the Pascagoula River and the Gulf of Mexico. In order to protect the Gulf of Mexico, we have to look upstream.

If you live in Hattiesburg, it is time to let your local leaders know they need to do better and should start by raising the money to replace the smelly lagoons. In the meantime, if you use the Leaf or Bowie Rivers, you may want to think twice about swimming or fishing near where the lagoons empty into the rivers.

Jeff Grimes is Assistant Director of Water Resources.

New Orleans native, and creator of the most famous Play-Doh figure this side of Gumby, Walter Williams is a documentary filmmaker, frequent GRN collaborator, and perhaps best known for Mr. Bill of classic Saturday Night Live fame. Walter and GRN worked together on our "Hear The Music" campaign targeting Shell at Jazzfest. Here's Walter's post from the fest:

The final Sunday of the last weekend of Jazzfest 08, as sunset approached on a beautiful day, our native sons the Neville Brothers returned home to perform for the first time since Katrina.

Suddenly, up in the air…is it a bird? Is it a plane? Yes, actually it is and towing a banner reading “Shell Hear The Music Fix The Coast U Broke.” I heard many exclaim, “I don’t think that’s supposed to be there.” Thanks to the Gulf Restoration Network, who did a similar Shell protest two years ago, for taking my idea seriously and financing it, there it was. And thanks to Tab Benoit and his Voice of the Wetlands organization, it stayed up an additional hour and closed out one of the most beautiful closing days in memory.
The T-shirts were a big hit also. Two girls at the ticket booth wanted them and wore them and you could spot people all around making it feel like the official theme of the Fest.

Once again, before any feels too sorry for Shell, saying they provide jobs and pay taxes. Well, all of the real jobs have moved to Houston and they’ve been using that line for decades and getting away with it. Now people are starting to wake up to the reality that Shell and the other oil companies involved in southern Louisiana have made us vulnerable to total destruction every summer and fall by eating away our natural defense; coastal wetlands.

And besides, before Shell took over it cost about 25 bucks to get into the Jazz Fest...I paid 50 on Sunday. I guess they are passing on the cost of all of those Shell flags to the customer. Please present the idea of the oil industry paying to restore our coast to your representatives and let them know that rebuilding our coast is a national issue.

Thanks to Michael Sustendal for taking the picture of me when we bumped into each other and for Alycia Daumas for taking the close up from her house. I think the whole event was awesome and everyone’s talking about it.

Keep hope alive,



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