A new report released Tuesday by environmental groups calls for long-term monitoring of the Gulf Coast; addressing public health concerns and having residents participate in future coastal restoration efforts in response to the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil leak.

“State of the Gulf: A Status Report from the Save Our Gulf Waterkeepers in the Wake of the BP Oil Disaster,” outlines monitoring, testing and reports the seven waterkeeper groups have done in the 18 months since the oil leak as well as summarizes state and federal government responses.

“I think all the waterkeepers believe that citizens participation is vital,” said Marylee Orr, executive director of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network and a contributor to the report.

Local residents know the coastal areas and they can help tell policy makers about what worked and what didn’t so that the area can be more prepared the next time there is a large oil leak, Orr said.

In addition to the long-term monitoring of fish, wildlife and public health and public input to help the Gulf Coast rebuild sustainable and healthy communities, the report urges recognition of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill as an ongoing disaster and a national disaster.

Also, there is a need to dedicate federal Clean Water Act penalties — which BP will need to pay in the future — for ecosystem restoration and not have the money go toward levees, flood control or other projects, according to the report.

State officials have said that any Clean Water Act penalties the state receives will be used for coastal restoration work.

“It is vital that any money that comes back (from the penalties) go toward environmental restoration,” said Paul Orr, Lower Mississippi River Waterkeeper and a report contributor. “That’s where the citizen involvement is very important to weigh in on what we want to see happen (with restoration).”

The Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper group and others have sent email alerts about their concerns and there’s been a great deal of interest from residents, said Wilma Subra, environmental chemist and a report contributor.

The Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on April 22 in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 workers and leading to what has been called the worst oil leak in U.S. history. The response included burning of oil; placement of hard and soft boom; employing fishermen to scoop up oil on water; and contractors to cleanup tar balls on beaches. In addition, the cleanup included adding oil dispersants at the well head and spraying them over the water.

The “Save Our Gulf” initiative formed in May after the leak and is made up of seven Waterkeeper organizations in the region. The groups are Galveston Baykeeper; Atchafalaya Basinkeeper; Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper; Louisiana Bayoukeeper; Mobile Baykeeper; Emerald Coastkeeper; and the Apalachicola Riverkeeper. These groups are part of the international Waterkeeper Alliance nonprofit environmental group focused on the health of waterways.

Since the leak, waterkeepers along the Gulf Coast have been taking seafood samples and reports from people who have become ill and cite exposure to oil and/or dispersants being used as the cause, Orr said.