NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A panel on Wednesday approved using $134 million provided by energy giant BP PLC on 10 projects to help the Gulf of Mexico recover from a catastrophic 2010 oil spill.
The approval came from a trustee council made up of Gulf coast states and federal officials overseeing ecological restoration from the offshore spill. About $126 million will go to projects to help sea turtles, fish, vegetation and birds and $8 million on enhancing recreational uses.
In 2011, BP offered to spend $1 billion to spur the recovery of the Gulf, anticipating future restoration costs meted out through the courts. BP is expected to spend billions of dollars more on restoration.
An April 2010 blowout at a well BP and its contractors were drilling touched off the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history. The explosion and fire aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig killed 11 workers and crews took nearly three months to cap the leak, which some experts estimated at more than 130 million gallons of oil.
So far with the new projects included, about $832 million of the $1 billion has been awarded. The projects were announced previously in April.
The largest amount of money — more than $45 million — will go to measures to protect sea turtles, which are considered threatened and endangered throughout U.S. waters. The April 2010 spill hit turtles hard, in particular a species of small turtles known as the Kemp's ridley turtle.
The new money will be spent over 10 years on finding Kemp's ridley turtle nests in Texas and Mexico, helping nesting turtles or rescuing turtles in distress and getting shrimp fishermen to avoid catching sea turtles in their nets.
The next largest amount of money — $30 million — is for projects along the Mississippi coast. That money will be used to build about 272 acres of reefs and 4 miles of breakwaters. Scientists expect that these spots will over time become fertile marine grounds and enhance the growth of oysters, shrimp, crabs and other species. Scientists also say the breakwaters will reduce shoreline erosion and marsh loss. Alabama is to receive about $10 million for similar projects.
Meanwhile, about $20.6 million will be spent on bird nesting areas in Texas. This project will restore and protect three islands in Galveston Bay and one in East Matagorda Bay to provide more nesting habitat for brown pelicans, gulls, great blue herons, roseate spoonbills and other birds.
Another $20 million will pay fishermen to set aside long lines during the six-month bluefin tuna spawning season and use other gear. The program is expected to last between five and 10 years.
Longline boats use up to 40 miles of baited hooks to fish for yellowfin tuna and swordfish, but also haul up sharks, bluefin tuna and marlin. Bluefin tuna, which can weigh a quarter-ton and sell for thousands of dollars, have been severely overfished, particularly to feed a worldwide market for sushi.
Experts are praising restoration efforts so far.
"A lot of it is focused on coastal areas, and that's where a lot of the damage occurred," said Ian MacDonald, an oceanographer at Florida State University. But he said deep-sea areas shouldn't be neglected, noting much oil ended up on the ocean floor where it damaged corals and deep-sea marine life.
Larry McKinney, executive director of the Harte Research Institute at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, said restoring deep-sea areas won't be easy. "No one really has the magic beam to hit it with," he said. "When you're talking about a half mile down, a mile down, there's no easy answer."
For more information about the projects go here: