Florida Gets $34 Million Oil Spill Grant for Conservation

Florida has received $34.3 million in conservation grants from a settlement over the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

(From wusf news / by Steve Newborn) — The National Fish and Wildlife Federation on Monday said the money will fund nine projects that were decided upon in consultation with state and federal environmental agencies.

Gov. Rick Scott applauded the funding, many of which will benefit the Panhandle, and said the work will protect natural resources for future generations.

The money is the second disbursement from the NFWF’s Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund, created by a settlement between the U.S. government, BP and Transocean to resolve criminal charges related to the spill.

Among the funded projects are a $3-million plan to continue studying the recovery of fisheries and $4.5 million for studying the west Florida reefs potentially damaged by the spill. That grant has been awarded to  the University of South Florida’s College of Marine Science.

The money will be used to provide high-resolution bottom mapping and fish density estimates for west Florida reefs potentially damaged by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.  The project will be conducted with the Florida Wildlife Research Institute and the Florida Institute of Oceanography.

The award comes just days after the University of South Florida’s College of Marine Science announced it has been awarded a $20.2 million grant by the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative. The money will be used to continue the school’s studies of the ongoing effects of the 2010 BP oil spill.

Here’s some more details on the latest award from USF:

The grant will support studies to identify essential habitats for reef fish populations, including snappers, groupers, amberjacks and other species critical to the region’s fisheries.  Much of the region off the west coast of Florida remains unmapped and this effort will support managers at the state and federal level as they seek to rebuild populations affected by the spill and to recover damaged habitats.

Funding from NFWF comes from a 2013 settlement of criminal cases involving BP and Transocean with respect to the Deepwater Horizon disaster.  Plea agreements resulted in a total of $2.5 billion being directed to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) to fund projects benefitting the natural resources of the Gulf Coast that were impacted by the spill. USF’s grant is part of nearly $100 million for new restoration projects on the Gulf Coast announced on Monday, including $34 million for Florida projects.

The three-year project will produce bottom topography maps of areas along the west Florida coast including carbonate reefs, kedges and slopes known to harbor reef fish populations.  Using the research vessels Weatherbird II and Bellows, from the Florida Institute of Oceanography, scientists will deploy sonars to image the bottom topography and produce maps.  Additionally, the project will deploy a towed camera system called C-BASS (Camera-Based Survey Assessment System).  Developed at the USF Center for Marine Technology, C-BASS will be deployed to determine the density, species composition and size structure of fishes using the various habitats.

“This set of studies will use state-of-the-art ocean imaging technologies to better understand and protect habitats off the west coast of Florida,” said College of Marine Science Dean Jackie Dixon. “

The mapping project is led by Steven Murawski, Downtown Partnership-Peter Betzer Endowed Chair of Biological Oceanography at USF, mechanical engineer, Chad Lembke, of USF’s Center for Ocean Technology, and underwater acoustics expert Stanley Locker, also of USF.  Collaborators in the project include William Hogarth, Director of the Florida Institute of Oceanography, and Luiz Barbieri, Director of Marine Fisheries Research at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute.

More information on C-BASS can be found at: http://www.marine.usf.edu/cbass/?page_id=2

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