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From the Pen of Carter P. Smith

It has been five years since the mother of all spills hit the Gulf of Mexico. Not surprisingly, the debate rages on about the scale, persistence and magnitude of impacts to the Gulf and its aquatic resources from the infamous Deepwater Horizon incident.

For some, the residual effects are akin to a sentiment of “out of sight, out of mind and out of trouble.” For others, what can’t be easily seen matters a whole lot more than what can be, and the effects emanating from the spill will be measured and evaluated in the Gulf for years, if not for decades, to come.

Suffice it to say, the state of the Gulf post-spill is far from being settled.

In Texas, we have approached the response to the spill, as well as the Gulf’s recovery, with three principal tenets in mind. First, while the Texas coast was the least visibly affected of all the Gulf states, we were certainly not without impacts. Second, the Gulf is a complex and highly interconnected ecological system that transcends any one political or geographical boundary. And third, because of the large extent of our contributing coastline and coastal waters, as well as our capacity for expediting recovery of various species and habitats, Texas must play a large role in the Gulf’s restoration.

Irrespective of the spill, the latter two points are, and will always be, germane to how we approach conservation in the Gulf, which is an inextricable part of our state’s economic and ecological health. Quite simply, what happens in the Gulf matters to Texas, and vice versa. But clearly we can’t do it alone. No one entity, state or country can serve as its sole and singular steward. It is simply too vast and too varied for conservation to occur in a vacuum.

For an insightful look at the Gulf’s overall interconnectedness, I hope you’ll read Melissa Gaskill’s article in this magazine titled “Three Nations, One Gulf.” In it, Melissa quantifies the vast reaches of the Gulf across five U.S. states and three countries, including Mexico and Cuba. She does a masterful job of highlighting how species from whale sharks to sea turtles utilize a wide range of Gulf environs during the course of their normal life cycles. She also speaks to the essential role of scientists and conservationists at places like the Harte Institute working, communicating and collaborating at sufficient scales, and across multiple political boundaries, to address the Gulf’s intricacies. 

Rest assured, we are doing just that and have done so for years. No doubt one of the best examples relates to our longstanding conservation investments in the primary nesting beaches for the imperiled Kemp’s ridley sea turtles on the Mexico coast at Rancho Nuevo. There, we have facilitated funding for our partners through the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, who have done an exceptional job working with the Mexican government, shrimpers, nonprofit organizations, governmental agencies and local citizens to protect the beaches and nesting and hatchling turtles from poachers, predators and other threats.

We haven’t forgotten about our coastal habitats in our own backyard. Every day, our fisheries and wildlife biologists, along with their many public and private partners, are out rebuilding oyster reefs, conserving seagrass meadows, enhancing dune systems, restoring flow regimes, controlling invasive species, protecting unique coastal lands, monitoring the populations and health of coastal wildlife and fisheries, and educating the public about their importance.

Thankfully, Texans care about such things and expect us to steward our Gulf wisely and responsibly. In a survey conducted last year by America’s Wetland Foundation, 86 percent of Texans agreed with the statement that “a strong Texas economy depends on a healthy coastal environment.” And, 95 percent agreed that “perceived conflicts between energy production and environmental protection have become too politically divisive; greater cooperation is needed.”

The bottom line is abundantly clear. Texans want and expect solutions to taking care of their Gulf. Your team at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is up to the task.

Thanks for caring about our wild things and wild places. They need you now more than ever.

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