This program, jointly administered by NOAA and USGS, is the framework for developing a monitoring and assessment feedback system capable of quantitatively assessing the effectiveness of RESTORE Council-funded restoration projects across the Gulf of Mexico. The monitoring and assessment program development will focus on two major areas of interest: water quality and habitat. The basic approach, which will be similar in both areas, will include the development of comprehensive inventories of existing programs and data sets and the evaluation of existing program utility as valid metrics of restoration success. This assessment will be accomplished through the determination of the minimum monitoring program elements required to provide a quantitative basis for evaluating monitoring efficacy and/or targeted restoration benchmarks, and the identification of data gaps. The program will compile existing assessments of baseline water quality and habitat conditions; provide the basis for developing a list of critically needed, but currently non-existent, data sets and the creation of recommendations regarding the standardization of collection, analysis and data management protocols across the region. The end product is envisioned as a searchable database, accessible to the public through an interactive webmap.
This is a collaborative program, leveraging knowledge, personnel, expertise, and/or funds from a variety of sources, including federal, state, and local agencies, non-governmental organizations, academic institutions, and business and industry. This program, in coordination with the Gulf of Mexico Alliance, will engage a Community of Practice, representing many restoration partners across the region. This will ensure that these efforts fully involve stakeholders, share lessons learned, facilitate the standardization of data collection and analysis, and disseminate information across the widest possible spectrum. The program will be managed through a system of inter-related committees, including a Program Advisory Team, a Council Monitoring and Assessment Working Group, and a Monitoring Coordination Committee. The managerial system will be flexible, with informational flow, scientific analysis and decisional processes all subject to multi-directional feedback, including to/from the various working groups and stakeholders, and the Community of Practice.
In 2010 the Deepwater Horizon spill released about 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, directly impacting approximately 68,000 square miles of Gulf waters and shorelines. The spill resulted in widespread economic loss and significant damage to ocean and coastal flora and fauna, through both direct contact and the deleterious effects on habitat and water quality. British Petroleum (BP) and associated plaintiffs were held responsible and ordered to pay damages and fines. Among other payments, $5.3 billion were assigned to the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States (RESTORE) Act. In July 2012, the RESTORE Act led to the establishment of an 11-member Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, consisting of the governors of the five Gulf Coast states and a cabinet-level official from each of six Federal agencies. Thirty percent of the funding under the RESTORE Act ($1.6 billion) will be implemented by the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council in accordance with a Comprehensive Plan developed by the Council with input from stakeholders and the public for the restoration of the region’s ecosystem and economy. In 2015, using the Comprehensive Plan as a guide, the Council created a Council-Selected Restoration Component Funded Priorities List (FPL) of restoration projects and programs selected for the initial funding cycle. The Council Monitoring and Assessment Program was included on this first FPL.
The unprecedented size of the planned restoration effort has created unique challenges, as the large spatial scale, multidisciplinary approach, and the conflicting requirements of the vast number of target species and habitats, insure the presence of extremely large scientific, environmental and economic uncertainties across nearly every aspect of nearly all programs, projects and tasks. Dealing with these uncertainties requires a flexible and adaptive management approach, supported by an especially rigorous monitoring program capable of determining whether the Council goals are, in fact, being met.