2011 Annual Report

Gulf of Mexico

Since the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf in 2010, NFWF has invested nearly $23 million to bolster populations of affected wildlife — particularly sea turtles, marine fish, shorebirds, water birds and migratory waterfowl. That response, built on NFWF’s 20-year history of conservation in the Gulf and a science-based strategy, is paying remarkable dividends.

Sea turtles, long a NFWF focus, made significant gains in 2011. After lights were retrofitted to restore darkness along more than eleven miles of prime beach­front nesting habitat, an estimated 12,000 hatchlings made it safely to the water without disorientation. Other projects to limit disturbances of sea turtle nests helped to save an additional 150,000 hatchlings that would otherwise have been lost to animal predators. In addition, a program that supplied 183 Gulf fishermen with TEDs (devices that allow turtles to escape from fishing nets) prevented further mortality of turtles at sea.

Offshore, NFWF support helped fishermen comply with recent regulations designed to protect bluefin tuna, a species under pressure from commercial fishing in the Gulf. Fishermen now are required to use “weak” hooks designed to straighten out under a heavy load, allowing the massive adult tuna that produce the most eggs to slip back into the sea alive. To assist with compliance, NFWF offered vessel captains vouchers to acquire 1,000 weak hooks — a solution adopted by more than 87 percent of the fleet in the critical year after the Gulf oil spill.

“We do go to great lengths to protect the resource and our way of living,” explained Captain Mike Carden, a participant in the program. “Using the weak hook is just part of the big picture.” Looking forward, NFWF has developed a five-year strategy designed to support greater sustainability of Gulf fisheries.

NFWF and its partners also enhanced habitat and food sources for migratory waterfowl along the Gulf coast and in critical flyways, establishing more than 500,000 acres of alternative wetland habitat for dozens of species. Researchers have documented dramatic increases in the use of these agricultural lands by migrating and overwintering waterfowl, water birds and shorebirds.  Even more significant is the observation that survival may be higher for ducks using these habitats, compared to ducks that forage elsewhere. Ongoing active management of the wetlands, amplified by additional grants in 2011, is providing much-needed habitat as the Gulf’s fragile shores succumb to erosion.