In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, much has been learned about the biological, ecological, physical, and chemical conditions of the Gulf of Mexico. In parallel, the research community has also gained insight about the social and organizational structures and processes necessary for oil spill response and subsequent marine and coastal restoration. However, even with these lessons from both the Deepwater Horizon and previous spills, including 1989’s Exxon Valdez and the Ixtoc 1 in 1979, our understanding of how to avoid future crises has not advanced at the same pace as offshore oil and gas development. We argue that this progress deficit indicates a continued devaluing of marine and coastal resources. We believe that we must, instead, advance a proactive conservation ethic based on the precautionary principle and an appropriately placed burden of proof—strategies that will help reduce our reliance on costly restoration and protect marine and coastal ecosystems.

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