Policy ForumEcology

Better Science Needed for Restoration in the Gulf of Mexico

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Science  04 Feb 2011:
Vol. 331, Issue 6017, pp. 537-538
DOI: 10.1126/science.1199935

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The 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico (GoM) has damaged marine ecosystems and jeopardized endangered and commercial species under U.S. jurisdiction (see the figure). Agencies that manage protected species—including the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service—are tasked with recovering these populations. But many populations have not been adequately assessed, so recovery cannot be measured. Achieving mandated recovery goals depends on understanding both population trends and the demographic processes that drive those trends. After the 1989 Exxon Valdez Alaskan oil spill, evaluations of effects on wildlife were ambiguous, in part because limited data on abundance and demography precluded detection of change (1). Sadly, the situation in the GoM is similar more than 20 years later. As concluded in the National Commission report on the BP spill (2) released 11 January, “Scientists simply do not yet know how to predict the ecological consequences and effects on key species that might result from oil exposure…” We argue that scientists know how to make these assessments, but lack critical data to achieve this goal.