The NOAA RESTORE Act Science Program, administered by National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS), continued its commitment to transform penalty funds from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill into timely, high-quality scientific findings and products to support the management and sustainability of the Gulf of Mexico. In 2017, NCCOS competitively awarded $16.7 million to 15 teams of researchers and resource managers to increase understanding of how living coastal and marine resources, including fish, birds, marine mammals, shellfish, and deep-water corals use the Gulf of Mexico, and to provide information and tools to inform their management. Additionally, researchers finished compilation of the spatial and temporal distribution of spawning aggregations for 28 species of reef fish to help fisheries managers identify which species would benefit most from management of their spawning aggregations. The researchers also worked with managers and fishers to develop recommendations for a community-based approach to monitor and research these aggregations.
Recreational razor clam harvesters in Long Beach, Washington, set a record for one-day digger trips (17,800 diggers) on April 30, 2017. The record number of trips was triggered by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (WDFW) decision to increase the bag limit on razor clams for the first time. One factor WDFW considered in making the decision was information from a new harmful algal bloom (HAB) forecast developed by the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science and its partners, which warned that a future spike in algal toxins could necessitate closing the fishery for the remainder of the season. The decision generated $7M in local revenue and 77,800 digger trips in 11 days, as locals and tourists flocked to the beach to take advantage of the shorter season. The new forecast is part of a NOAA ecological forecasting initiative that aims to deliver accurate, relevant, timely, and reliable ecological forecasts directly to coastal resource managers and the public. NOAA and its partners also provide HAB forecasts for Lake Erie, the Gulf of Maine, and the Gulf of Mexico; and hypoxia forecasts for the Gulf of Mexico, Chesapeake Bay, and Lake Erie.
National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) scientists served on an expert panel that published recommendations on specific oyster aquaculture practices that remove excess nitrogen and phosphorus from Chesapeake Bay. The recommendations are expected to become best management practices to meet pollution limits established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to ensure clean water in the bay. The recommendations will also help inform Maryland’s Nutrient Trading Program, where nitrogen and phosphorus credits are bought and sold in support of bay restoration goals. Also in 2017, NCCOS published an assessment of the impacts that marine aquaculture gear and infrastructure may have on protected species. The findings show that, as coastal aquaculture expands, proper siting, consistent monitoring, and best management practices can reduce risks to protected species. The publication is available on NCCOS’s new Coastal Aquaculture Planning Portal - a web-based toolbox of coastal planning tools designed to assist managers, planners, and industry with sustainable aquaculture development.
In 2017, National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science researchers completed an evaluation of the economic effects to the shipping industry of five potential measures to reduce the impact of shipping traffic on whales in the Channel Islands region off the California coast. The methods used in the analysis included estimating vessel inventory carrying costs and vessel transportation costs. A key finding of the evaluation was that these combined costs are predicted to increase under management measures that call for seasonal vessel speed reductions only, but decrease under measures with vessel rerouting components. Study results will help managers at the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary assess the feasibility of proposed management measures to reduce impacts on whales. Additionally, the study provides a detailed basis for conducting similar analyses in other regions in the future.
Coastal habitats, such as marshes and wetlands, can attenuate storm surge and mitigate property damage due to flooding from severe storms. An economic analysis of these habitats can help coastal zone managers better communicate the value of natural infrastructure to coastal communities. In 2017, National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science social science researchers completed an economic assessment of coastal habitats in and around New Jersey’s Jacques Cousteau National Estuarine Research Reserve. The team combined spatial wetland data, outputs from storm models, and property information to determine the maximum flood depth at the parcel level for three storm scenarios: A Post-tropical Cyclone Sandy-like event, a 50-year storm event, and a 25-year storm event. The team then applied mathematical depth-damage functions developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to estimate the damages from these storms. The researchers found that natural infrastructure reduced property damages in each storm scenario. Following the success of this analysis, the researchers will attempt to replicate the approach in another location.