Gulf Restoration Network’s storefront. Photo courtesy of Google Maps.
In December of 1994, representatives from various conservation organizations met with the hope of forming a unified organization to pursue environmental issues. Six months later, they reconvened in St. Petersburg, Florida to establish seven priority issues. These included:
1. Stopping pollutant discharges
2. Reducing polluted runoff
3. Reducing Corps of Engineers’ permitting any projects destructive of the environment
4. Requiring sustainable management of Gulf fisheries
5. Limiting coastal development, beach armoring, and resulting habitat destruction
6. Protection of threatened and endangered species
7. Limiting development of offshore mineral resources.
The Gulf Restoration Network (GRN) gained recognition on August 29, 1995 following press events in New Orleans and Tampa. The organization originally operated as a project of the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, from which it received financial and staff assistance. Their network originally operated under one staff member, Campaign Director Cynthia Sarthou, tying together many member organizations. Since 1998, however, the GRN has grown significantly. The main office is currently located in New Orleans, Louisiana, and another satellite office operates in St. Petersburg, Florida.
The Gulf Restoration Network’s mission statement reads as follows:
“The Gulf Restoration Network is committed to uniting and empowering people to protect and restore the natural resources of the Gulf Region.”
And their vision statement:
“The Gulf of Mexico will continue to be a natural, economic, and recreational resource that is central to the culture and heritage of five states and several nations. The people of the region will be stewards of this vital but imperiled treasure, and assume the responsibility of returning the Gulf to its previous splendor.”
The GRN advocates environmental issues that work towards improving the Gulf Coast region. The organization forms coalitions with various environmental groups, such as the Save Our Cypress Coalition. Another example includes the uniting of several environmental organizations to pursue the harmful effects of dispersants. In August of 2012, Bruce Alpert of the Times-Picayune published a report on the collaborative suit against the EPA. In this article he states, “The lawsuit was filed by Earth Justice on behalf of the Gulf Restoration Network, Louisiana Environmental Action Network, the Sierra Club, Waterkeeper Alliance, the Louisiana Shrimp Association and environmental groups in Alaska and Florida.” The lawsuit attempts to force the EPA to change its standards on using dispersants, chemicals used after the BP oil spill, that have reportedly disrupted marine life in the Gulf. Such collaborative efforts are the standard for the Gulf Restoration Network’s activities.
One program run directly by the Gulf Restoration Network is the Healthy Gulf Krewe. The Krewe is open to any individual interested in protecting the environment and its natural resources. Members are called upon to raise awareness on behalf of the GRN by making presentations, hosting a “Mardi Gras Party with Mission,” or organizing movie screenings, among other things.
The GRN is an integral part of the culture and heritage of the Gulf region as it remains a natural, economic, and recreational resource. The organization empowers people to pursue a sustainable environment by providing support to grassroots groups, connecting member organizations, and coordinating member activities when necessary.
First, one of the organization’s predominant issues is the health of the Gulf of Mexico. This marine habitat provides jobs, food, and recreation to millions of people. The GRN works towards preserving such a precious resource and protecting it from mismanagement, bycatch, habitat loss, and depletion.
In the continental United States, the Gulf Coast harvests 1/3 of the total commercial fish and shellfish. The Gulf also claims hold to 30% of domestic crude oil and 34% of the natural gas produced or transported in the United States. The Gulf Restoration Network works to protect and preserve these natural resources and bolster its economic potential.
Second, the Gulf is largely impacted by climate change and names it “the most important environmental issue of our time.” In 2008, the GRN partnered with the 1Sky campaign to advocate for the reduction of pollution levels. They campaigned specifically for the implementation of clean energy, green jobs, and a moratorium on coal-fired power plants. The impact of their efforts is still being measured, yet the possibility of these goals coming to fruition would mean the creation of millions of new jobs and a foundation for a sustainable environment.
Executive Director Cynthia Sarthou states that the Gulf Restoration Network greatly impacts the culture of New Orleans. Through the organization’s advocating on behalf of the Gulf, they aim to reduce localized flooding for the continuing adaptation and resilience of the residents of New Orleans and the preservation of its unique culture (Sarthou, Cyn. “Gulf Restoration Network.” Telephone interview by author. November 1, 2012).
According to Bruce Alpert, the Restore Act, signed by President Obama in 2012, sends 80% of the BP oil spill fines to the Gulf States. This is regarded as a huge victory for the Gulf by Executive Director Sarthou. The Gulf Restoration Network worked with the government in trying to pass this legislation. This will lead to the advancement of Gulf restoration efforts and will directly impact the Gulf Coast’s economy.
“The Louisiana Audubon Council (LAC) gives chapters throughout the state a chance to share news, ideas, concerns and strategies. Organized in 1989, the LAC has been involved in protecting bottomland hardwoods, wetlands habitat, and endangered species. The Council has taken a primary role in alerting the public to the existence of mercury-contaminated fish which, when consumed, can adversely affect human health and wildlife.”
According to the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, “Before LEAN was founded in 1986, polluters ran roughshod over Louisiana’s unique environment and way of life. By providing clear information about pollution and organizing groups into a statewide network, LEAN changed the balance of power. Lean stopped polluting facilities from being built and helped pass new policies protecting Louisianians’ health and way of life. Now, as one of Louisiana’s most recognized environmental advocacy organizations, local governments and industries routinely consult LEAN at the start of applications for permits. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the BP Oil Spill, LEAN has coordinated emergency relief, disseminated accurate information about pollution and its impacts, and worked toward restoration of the region’s habitats and cultures.”
According to the Gulf Future Campaign, the organization was “created shortly after the BP oil disaster of 2010 with a mission of providing the long-term support needed to protect the environment and the distinct culture of the Gulf Coast for future generations.”