After the Deepwater Horizon explored in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, triggering a massive oil spill, scientist Kevin Reynolds ’94 of the federal Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service was put in charge of measuring the unthinkable — the injury to the natural resources managed by his department. It took years, but in 2016, BP and other defendants reached a record $20.8 billion settlement with the federal government and five states, with $8.8 billion earmarked for restoration. Reynolds leads the Interior Department’s Gulf restoration work.
What it is like to work on such a long-term effort?
Here’s what I love about my job — it’s the progress. When we talk about the $1.033 billion spent so far — which, by the way, incorporates 97 individual projects that we’re implementing — you name it, we’re doing everything from as small as putting up osprey nest platforms on the coast to something as large as sinking an entire container ship and forming an artificial reef off the coast in Texas. And [there’s] a $72 million project where we’re enhancing a barrier island; we’re building land for pelican restoration.
It sounds like your job has lots of components.
I love the variety when it comes to what we’re doing. For example, the northern gannet was the third most frequent bird killed by the spill because it summers in the Gulf. Do you know where northern gannets nest? They nest in Nova Scotia. It’s an amazing bird; they dive straight down to get their fish. [To boost their numbers], we will, in theory, go to their breeding and nesting ground to really get the most bang for our buck for the public’s restoration dollars.
And I love the fact that [our work] is novel, it’s not cookie-cutter. The position I’m in right now was created because of the Deepwater Horizon spill. It’s unique. I have a great team of passionate individuals who really want to get progress on the ground.
How long is it going to take to fix?
Current Job: Assistant Regional Director for Gulf Restoration, Federal Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service
M.S., Clemson University
Ph.D., Texas Tech University
Hamilton Major: Psychobiology
Hometown: Honeoye Falls, N.Y.
BP has 15 years of payments scheduled. They did not want or could not, depending on your point of view, pay $20.8 billion in one lump sum. So there’s a schedule of payments by BP every April for the next 13 years. We’ve received two payments so far. Beyond that we know we’ll still be doing the work. We’ll be monitoring and evaluating our progress.
It takes some species of sea turtles 20 years to reach breeding age, right? So how many nesting sea turtles were killed by the oil? And how do we know what that will do to the sea turtle population 50 years from now? There are a lot of unknowns.
So it’s long-term work with no set end?
It’s a work in progress, and we’re going to learn as we go — another reason I wanted this job.