Today marks six months since BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 workers, injuring 17 others and causing the largest offshore oil spill in the industry's history.

Scientists are still working to understand the full ecological impact of the unprecedented disaster. This week the Associated Press released the results of an informal survey of researchers who study the Gulf, finding they rate its health lower now than before the spill, when it was already significantly impaired by farm runoff from the Mississippi River, overfishing, and oil from smaller spills and natural seepage.

Today residents of the region plan to gather in front of the Hale Boggs Federal Building in New Orleans calling on Congress to back reforms needed to prevent future disasters and to provide Gulf communities with the support they need to recover.

"This thing turned into a disaster that was more political than scientific," says Clint Guidry of the Louisiana Shrimp Association.

Earlier this month, almost 100 people from 46 environmental, social justice and fisher groups met in Weeks Bay, Ala. to draft a set of principles to guide the recovery and restoration of the Gulf region. The document that they developed, the Weeks Bay Principles for Gulf Recovery, called on the federal government to:

* make coastal communities whole again,
* commit to cleaning up and restoring the Gulf,
* hold BP accountable,
* ensure local participation in decision-making,
* conduct short- and long-term monitoring, and
* invest in economic opportunities to support a locally driven recovery that restores and enhances the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Gulf advocates are also calling on the federal government to create an independent Regional Citizens' Advisory Council with guaranteed funding to provide voting representation for communities of color and low-income communities in order to ensure their voices are heard in the recovery process.

In late September, U.S. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus released "America's Gulf Coast: A Long Term Recovery Plan after the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill." Like the set of principles drawn up by Gulf residents in Weeks Bay, the Mabus plans also seeks to make Gulf Coast communities whole again. But many of the key components of the Mabus plan -- including the creation of a Gulf Coast Recovery Council and a Gulf Coast Recovery Fund supported by BP fines -- require Congressional action that has not been taken yet.

"We have to make ourselves heard with one voice,"  says Cynthia Sarthou, executive director of Gulf Restoration Network (GRN), the group that prepared the Weeks Bay document. "The oil is still here, and so are we."

Meanwhile, the urgency of improving oversight of the offshore oil industry was underscored by yesterday's discovery of yet another oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico off the Louisiana coast. During a flyover of the area to assess impacts from the BP disaster, GRN's Jonathan Henderson spotted a purple and blue oil sheen stretching two miles, apparently from a leaking pipeline station.

It's the second offshore oil spill Henderson has discovered since April 20.