Editor's note: Philippe Cousteau Jr. is the grandson of legendary ocean explorer and filmmaker Jacques Yves Cousteau. Philippe heads the nonprofit organization EarthEcho International (www.earthecho.org). Philippe, who has been working in this field for years, is an advocate for the people and the wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico. During the oil crisis, he has visited the area and learned first hand the impact the disaster has had on the ecosystem and on the people who have been affected by the catastrophe. Read more about Philippe's background.
It was 7:00 a.m. and the heat and humidity were already rising in the bayou as marsh grasses raced passed us.
On this trip to southern Louisiana, I was accompanied by a good friend and executive vice president of the Ocean Conservancy, Denny Kelso. I am on the board of the Ocean Conservancy and proud of the work we have done as the oldest nationally focused ocean conservation organization in the country.
Getting the chance to work with Denny is always a privilege because, aside from being a longtime leader in the conservation field, he was also commissioner for the environment of the state of Alaska during the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and he has a wealth of knowledge like no other.
As we entered the 85th day of the oil spill Denny’s familiar refrain was wringing true… “We have to start thinking about restoration now…we can’t wait.”
We had come with CNN International to film oil encroaching into the fragile marsh, dive through the oil and talk about the need for restoration now.
We slowed the boat as we reached our destination. Black oil coated the shoreline of these fragile marshes and already the grass was dying. As we gear up for the fall bird migration, this was a worrisome sight to say the least.
This oiled marsh was a perfect example of just how serious this oil spill is as it moves into a new stage, and it reminds us of how vigilant we have to be in our response and how critical it is to get it right the first time.
As nurseries for fish and shrimp, these marshes are critical to the health of the Gulf ecosystem.
Forty percent of all the wetlands in the lower 48 states exist along the coast of Louisiana, and the feeble technology of booms and skimming is doing little to keep them safe.
As Denny put it, “We need to focus on the three Rs: Relief, restoration, and reform.”
The RELIEF is for the communities that exist along the coast; primarily in the form of immediate financial assistance to help the people who rely on these resources. Thankfully, that is happening and communities are getting some limited support, though more is needed because of the laborious process of applying for BP compensation. Thanks in part to the work of the Ocean Conservancy, the appropriations measure to provide millions of dollars in financial assistance to local communities to help them meet their short-term commitments is moving through Congress.
The goals of RESTORATION are simple: Assess the damage, develop alternative options that can then be narrowed down into a single plan and then implement it.
Already, Ocean Conservancy is working with key federal agencies like NOAA and the Department of Interior to make recommendations on how damage assessments should be conducted in the most comprehensive way possible to create a healthy future for the Gulf.
As I wrote in one of my earlier blogs, REFORM of the policies that govern oil and gas is another critical part of preventing something like this from happening again. We must reform the way the planning and leasing process happens so that the appropriate environmental analyses are done, ensure that we have both the baseline scientific knowledge as well as the technology to clean up a spill, and then ensure that revenue generated by activities that put our oceans at risk — like drilling for oil and gas — are reinvested in protecting, maintaining and restoring ocean health.
The latest news is that a new containment cap test has stopped the flow oil into the Gulf for the first time in months, bringing a reason for optimism and a welcome short-term solution. So as we move into the next phase of this catastrophe, the three Rs are the next critical step to dealing with this disaster effectively, responsibly and ethically. Anything less would only make what has already been a devastating catastrophe exponentially worse.