The Nature Conservancy logo. Protecting nature. Preserving life.Mark Tercek is president and CEO of The Nature Conservancy.

As the slick from last week’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill reaches shore, it’s difficult to fathom the tragedy facing both people who live along the U.S. Gulf Coast and the nature upon which they rely.

The 11 lives lost in the oil well explosion were priceless, and thousands may lose their livelihoods as the oil damages shellfish industries along the coast. And the nature and ecology we work so hard to protect may suffer severe and irreparable damages — we do not know yet the extent of those impacts, but we will use our science to assess and learn.

The Nature Conservancy has had a longstanding presence in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and other Gulf states. We continue to have staff members who live along the Gulf and work every day on conservation there.

We also have tremendous conservation science expertise in the region. Each of our Gulf state programs has spent many years protecting critical lands around the Gulf as habitat for fish and wildlife. Most of our recent efforts in the region center on the restoration of oyster reefs, coastal wetlands and barrier islands as well as in assessing the biological importance of coastal waters. Many if not all of these efforts are gravely threatened today.

Now is not the time for ranting. The Conservancy is acting to help those on the front lines of response. We have placed our shellfish restoration team at the disposal of the U.S. Department of Interior and other federal agencies — to help prevent impacts where we can, assess damage where it’s occurring and figure out how to restore these natural areas to the extent possible.

We’re also assessing where and how we can put our staff, volunteers, brainpower, data and equipment to good use, particularly in defending shellfish restoration projects from the worst effects of the disaster.

This afternoon, I also sent a letter to Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, saying that I support the Obama administration’s decision to halt leasing of sites for new oil and gas exploration and drilling until a thorough evaluation of this incident has been completed.

The Conservancy is also weighing in with similar comments on a particular new drilling project off the coast of Virginia. This disaster has shaken many people’s assumptions about oil drilling, bringing to light new risks that must be taken into account in evaluating the future of oil exploration and impact on natural systems.

We’ll keep you posted on our progress and let our members know where and how they can be part of the effort. Like you, I’ll be tracking this closely, hoping that the worst impacts can still be avoided, and working hard to ensure the Conservancy is doing everything it can to contribute to an effective response.

— Text by Mark TercekCool Green Science Blog