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Assessing Voluntary Vessel Speed Reduction in California Sanctuaries

ONMS staff met this week to discuss the logistics for implementing a voluntary Vessel Speed Reduction (VSR) in three California sanctuaries to reduce ship strikes to whales. ONMS issued a VSR from May – November 2015 for the San Francisco Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS) within Cordell Bank, Greater Farallones, and Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuaries to protect whales listed under the federal Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and the National Marine Sanctuaries Act. ONMS recommended that all vessels 300 gross registered tons or larger should reduce speeds to 10 knots while transiting the TSS to protect endangered whales that annually migrate to the area in summer and fall to feed. During the VSR, NOAA monitored data to assess the industry’s compliance. This year, ONMS is following up with more than 300 companies that transited the sanctuaries during last year’s VSR.


Plan for Chemical Dispersant Use for Oil Spill Response in Alaska

At the Alaska Regional Response Team meeting, held January 27 in Anchorage, Alaska, the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) announced an updated plan on the use of chemical dispersants for oil spill response in the state. Almost all coastal states and territories have dispersant use plans, but such a plan has not existed in Alaska since September 2008. As required by the National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan, the document was signed by the USCG, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, State of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, U.S. Department of Commerce represented by NOAA, and the U.S. Department of the Interior.


Deepwater Horizon Spill Alters GOM Phytoplankton Biodiversity

Sponsored scientists with NCCOS’s Northern Gulf of Mexico (GOM) Ecosystems and Hypoxia Assessment (NGOMEX) used NGOMEX phytoplankton community data collected over 20 years to study the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on phytoplankton biodiversity. Researchers assessed data on phytoplankton communities from 1990 – 2010 during years with environmental conditions similar to 2010, and compared them with samples collected during and after the spill. Post-spill, species shifted from ciliates and phytoflagellates to diatoms and cyanobacteria, and phytoplankton abundance was 85 percent lower in 2010 as compared to previous years. The study is published in the scientific journal Environmental Pollution.


Forum to Strengthen the Surveying Profession’s Future

NGS was one of 18 surveying-related organizations invited to participate in a forum to develop strategies to address future challenges to the surveying profession. The Future of Surveying Forum, sponsored by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying on January 22, assembled representatives of surveying-related organizations to identify ways to improve the profession’s image and increase public awareness. Technology changes and varying definitions of the practice of surveying were discussed in the forum, which will lead to recommendations on how organizations can increase the number of professional surveyors and maintain the future relevance of the surveying profession.


Columbia River Gorge Spill of National Significance Executive Seminar

The Columbia River Gorge Spill of National Significance (SONS) Executive Seminar was held January 13 in Washington, DC. Dr. Holly Bamford represented the U.S. Department of Commerce at the seminar, which was hosted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The seminar brought together senior officials from 14 agencies to discuss policy-level issues and coordination mechanisms based on a hypothetical train derailment scenario with a catastrophic oil spill into the Columbia River between Washington and Oregon. This was the first inland SONS exercise since the actual SONS declaration in response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon incident. The seminar followed recent exercises of the same scenario conducted by the regional response team and the national response team to ensure preparedness across many agencies.


Ecological Conditions in Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary

A new report from NCCOS describes ecological conditions and stressors in sediments and biota in Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary. The study supports an ongoing partnership between NCCOS and the sanctuary to provide periodic environmental assessments and monitor effects of climate change. As highlighted in the report, extensive areas of soft-bottom sediments support highly diverse assemblages of bottom-dwelling organisms. The researchers identified 790 distinct taxa (populations of organisms). Most chemical contaminants in sediments were at consistently low levels or below the limit of detection, and no chemical contaminants in fish or shellfish were found to exceed Food and Drug Administration human health guidelines. However, levels of inorganic arsenic in some black sea bass fell within the range for which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends limiting consumption. The report provides long-term monitoring data (2000, 2005, and 2012/13) that will enhance the understanding and management of the sanctuary.


Washington Outer Coast Seafloor Atlas Now Online

The Washington State Outer Coast Seafloor Atlas is live and available for download, providing agencies, boaters, fishers, and researchers with the opportunity to download seafloor data in many formats at multiple scales. The atlas was developed through a partnership among Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, Washington State Department of Natural Resources, and Oregon State University Active Tectonics and Seafloor Mapping Lab. The sanctuary and the lab used multiple data sources to create the atlas, which combines two previous Washington Outer Coast seafloor maps and covers the northern section of the sanctuary. Among the data sources was NOAA’s Coastal and Marine Ecological Classification Standard, which was used to characterize the seafloor. The sanctuary conducts annual mapping surveys of its seafloor habitats using the NOAA Research Vessel Tatoosh and its field crew.


NERR Teacher Workshop Inspires Environmental Policy at Alabama School

During the summer, teachers from the Gulf of Mexico region gathered at area National Estuarine Research Reserves (NERR) to participate in the Teachers on the Estuary program, a field-based teacher training experience focused on estuary science and stewardship. The workshop hosted at Alabama’s Weeks Bay NERR has made a lasting impact. Teachers at Spanish Fort High School in Mobile Bay, AL, worked with administrators to develop a new policy that prevents balloon releases on the school’s campus because of the environmental implications. The teacher training program directly resulted in the school’s improved environmental awareness and policy change.


Study Shows Importance of Controlling Nitrogen and Phosphorus in Freshwaters

Final results from an NCCOS-sponsored research study show the importance of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) in the development of toxic cyanobacteria blooms in the Great Lakes. The study found that the cyanobacteria Microcystis possesses great genetic flexibility to adapt to low levels of inorganic N and P. Using “gene expression,” Microcystis turns on dormant genes to utilize less abundant organic forms of N and P. Even in the absence of P, Microcystis can flourish using low levels of organic N. The fact that the microorganism adapts and flourishes in low P zones by using organic N suggests that management schemes focusing solely on reducing the delivery of P to, for example, western Lake Erie, may actually enhance the growth and dominance of Microcystis.


‘Every Kid in a Park’ Transportation Grants

To help engage the next generation of park visitors, supporters, and advocates, the White House, in partnership with the Federal Land Management agencies, launched the Every Kid in a Park initiative. The immediate goal is to provide an opportunity for 4th grade students to visit federal public lands and waters throughout the 2015-2016 school year. The National Park Foundation’s Every Kid in a Park Transportation Grants joins the Foundation's Open Outdoors for Kids program in helping children learn history, culture, and science while exploring the great outdoors. The following NOAA sites will offer educational programming for students as part of the Every Kid in a Park Transportation Grants: Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary (NMS), Channel Islands NMS, Hawaiian Island Humpback Whale NMS, Thunder Bay NMS, Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR), Grand Bay NERR, Waquoit Bay NERR, and the Northeast Fisheries Science Center.


New Method for Leveling Across Rivers and Other Barriers

NGS recently developed an alternate method for surveyors and geodesists to perform leveling surveys across rivers, valleys, and other barriers, and a new chapter has been added to the NGS geodetic leveling manual to describe the updated techniques. The new method uses commonly available modern electronic theodolites—instruments used for precise astronomical observations—and addresses sources of error, such as atmospheric refraction and Earth’s curvature, that are often encountered during river and valley crossings. The method also addresses instrument and observer errors associated with the use of theodolite instruments. The chapter addresses crossings of up to 1.2 miles [2 km] long.


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A pilot training brought together watershed and Marine Protected Area (MPA) managers for the first time to assess solutions to the impacts of water quality problems and watershed degradation near Batang in Central Java, Indonesia. Participants read topographic maps, analyzed habitat and land uses in aerial photos, built a scale watershed model, and visited nine watershed sites to experience the area’s intensive uses and discuss cumulative impacts. The training also covered stakeholder engagement, best management practices, objectives and actions, implementation, and monitoring. The training, developed by ONMS to support the region’s MPA managers, was funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Regional Development Mission for Asia.


NOAA Sponsors Urban Waterway Restoration Workshop

NOAA's Damage Assessment Remediation and Restoration Program (DARRP) recently sponsored a workshop for restoration practitioners working along Seattle's Duwamish River. Participants shared challenges and successes with the goal of increasing the efficiency of restoration efforts in the urbanized watershed. Being flexible with habitat design, persistence, adaptive management, and coordination across permitting agencies were some of the lessons learned. Highlights included projects by Boeing and the Port of Seattle, a restoration-focused bank by Bluefield Holdings, and cooperative projects for salmon restoration by the City of Tukwila and King County. The Duwamish was once a wide, meandering river with large areas of mudflats and marshes. By the 1940s, channelization and filling had transformed the nine-mile-long estuary into a five-mile-long industrial waterway and had destroyed 97 percent of the river’s original habitat. Hazardous substances have been released since the early 1900s, resulting in injuries to fish, birds, wildlife, and their habitats.


NOAA Introduces ‘NextGenNav’ to Maritime Stakeholders

On December 2, OCS unveiled NOAA’s paradigm shift in navigation services, telling the Pacific Maritime Magazine’s eNavigation Conference about NOAA’s new effort to deliver the next generation of interoperable data and services that enable precision navigation, safe anchoring, and efficient transits. Using the successful Port of Long Beach precision navigation project as a starting point, NOAA offices are examining the possibilities of acquiring more data, extending forecasts, and connecting data streams that will enable real-time decision-making for ship transits and anchorages.


Landmark Carbon Mitigation Protocol Approved for Coastal Wetlands

The first globally applicable greenhouse gas accounting protocol for coastal wetland restoration has been developed and approved by the Verified Carbon Standard, an independent organization that establishes global methods and standards for accounting in greenhouse gas reduction programs. The new methodology will be used to encourage coastal wetlands restoration across the U.S. and globally to help mitigate climate change. Coastal wetlands remove large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis, often called blue carbon, and store it in the ground for centuries. Restore America’s Estuaries research led to the protocol. NOAA project partners included the Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve and the Office of Habitat Conservation, with funding from the National Estuarine Research Reserve System Science Collaborative. Carbon sequestration is an important tool for mitigating climate change.


Ciguatera Fish Poisoning Predicted to Increase with Rising Ocean Temperatures

A new NOAA study, published in the journal Ecological Modeling, anticipates an increase in the incidence of ciguatera fish poisoning (CFP)—the most common form of algae-induced seafood poisoning—in the Gulf of Mexico and along the Southeast Atlantic coast with predicted rising ocean temperatures due to climate change. Stable or slightly lower risks of CFP are forecasted for the Caribbean. Researchers from NCCOS, North Carolina State University, and NOAA Fisheries used NOAA buoy data and global climate models to project water temperatures in the Greater Caribbean through 2099. Forecasted temperature changes were then used to project the effects of ocean warming on the abundance and distribution of two groups of ciguatera-causing algae. The resulting ciguatera risk projections will allow communities to target monitoring, saving resources by focusing only on areas and times when ciguatera is likely to be present. Ciguatera is contracted when people consume fish contaminated with ciguatoxins.