Navy's Mabus Says Science Key to Gulf Restoration

Hundreds of business owners and residents attend town hall meeting in St. Petersburg.

 

 

By Vickie Chachere

USF.edu News Manager

 

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (Aug. 4, 2010) – U.S. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, appointed by President Obama to lead the restoration of the Gulf of Mexico following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, said recovery efforts must be lead by good science and the people who call the Gulf region home.

 

Mabus, speaking Tuesday evening before a standing-room only crowd of more than 275 at a town hall in St. Petersburg, called for close local involvement as the massive spill transitions from an emergency operation to a recovery effort that likely will last many years. The former Mississippi governor delivered the words USF researchers were eager to hear: recovery efforts should be rooted in science and that universities and marine science institutions based in the Gulf states should be the ones to lead the scientific response.

 

“Any sort of restoration – environmental, economic or health – has got to be based on good science,” Mabus said.

 

Mabus met privately with USF College of Marine Science Dean William Hogarth, researchers Robert Weisberg and Ernst Peebles, graduate student Kara Radabaugh and Fish and Wildlife Research Institute Director Gil McRae before the town hall to learn about USF’s scientist’s involvement in spill research and the unanswered scientific questions that remain.

 

USF researchers will leave Friday on the R/V Weatherbird II for the third voyage to the spill to conduct more experiments on underwater clouds of degraded oil which USF scientists discovered in May. The impact of the underwater oil on the marine food web will also be studied.

 

Peebles said the issue of the research fleet capabilities was raised in the closed-door meeting. The Weatherbird II is the only deep-water vessel of its kind in the eastern Gulf and marine scientists have been scrambling to find space on an available vessel capable of deploying sampling systems and water monitoring equipment in the Gulf’s deep waters, where high seas make it difficult to deploy technology safely.

 

In more than two hours of conversation with town hall attendees, Mabus was peppered with questions about the environmental impact of the spill and chemical dispersants on the marine environment and the economic impact of the spill on Florida’s tourism and fishing industries. Mabus said he also wanted to direct federal attention to the health impacts of the spill, including mental health issues which have arisen from the stress put on families whose livelihoods are tied to the Gulf.

 

The meeting was part of the Secretary’s tour of the Gulf Coast states, including Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. The St. Petersburg gathering at the Steininger Auditorium at the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute was by far the largest gathering in a series of meetings that have been held so far in the Gulf region.

 

Mabus will produce a report for the White House this fall with recommendations on the long-term recovery. In addition to scientific research on the impact of the spill, the Secretary also advocated greater investment in research to create new technologies for spill cleanup and investment in alternative energy sources which would lessen the need for offshore oil drilling – a comment which drew loud applause from the crowd.

 

He assured the crowd that he would advocate for a restoration program that was lead by the Gulf states and the people directly suffering the impact of what has become the nation’s largest environmental disaster.

 

“This is a Gulf Coast issue but it is (also) a national catastrophe,” Mabus said. “The nation needs the Gulf to be healthy.”

 

Vickie Chachere can be reached at 813-974-6351.