For the vast majority of coastal Alabama residents, our lives changed on April 20, 2010. For some it changed their lives for the short term, others were impacted forever. Mobile Baykeeper changed forever. We now work differently, we grew significantly to address the larger scope of problems and we shifted the types of work we do. We also learned several entirely new issues, including oil and gas development, restoration and the vital need for planning.

Through the first year, we constantly stated: “We cannot let the lessons be lost.”

Six years later, these are six important things we have learned:

• The impacts were real. Dolphins, turtles and recently jellyfish have been found in decline through the latest studies directly linked to the oil disaster and the dispersants used to drop the oil out of sight.

• The rules have finally changed. While still not as comprehensive as most in the environmental community would like, the kind of failures that happened with this rig should be ruled out as we move forward.

• The oil is still there. According to the majority of scientists and agency officials, somewhere around 60 percent of the oil was siphoned, burned or degraded, but that still leaves an ocean floor coated with as much as 80 million gallons of oil still in the Gulf system.

• The settlement has been finalized. We know exactly how much money can be spent on restoration, so now we have to plan carefully to spend that money wisely. Planning is crucial. States or communities with a comprehensive plan for restoration have a much simpler time determining where and how to focus the funds coming in as a result of the settlement.

• We need our environment. The environment is the key to our economic vitality throughout coastal Alabama.

These are just a handful among the long list of what we learned as a result of the BP oil disaster. Our task now is to not forget those significant issues, and we must stay focused on solutions.

We need to keep funding studies and research that will tell us more about potential future impacts, as well as generate a more comprehensive baseline of data for the off chance anything like this ever happens again. We need to know if the oil on the bottom of the Gulf is going to come back to negatively impact us.

We also need to focus intently on planning — and we’re doing that. The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is working with the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program and myriad supporting partners to create watershed management plans that will define where and what types of projects we need in order to ensure we are resilient to the next natural or manmade disaster.

Lastly — and this is where we must focus our efforts — our economy is dependent upon a healthy, thriving environment. We need wetlands to ensure clean water for swimming and a high quality of life, but as importantly for a vibrant seafood industry. We need living shorelines to ensure we protect our beachfront properties against the next wave or hurricane. We need stormwater retrofits to reduce flooding and the amount of sewage flowing through our streets after every storm. As we decide on how we spend the limited restoration dollars, we must remember these important lessons and stay actively engaged in finding solutions so we can better prepare for what could impact us in the future.

Casi Callaway
Executive Director, Mobile Baykeeper