NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R) is tasked with responding to oil spills, chemical accidents, and other emergencies in coastal areas. OR&R’s expertise spans oceanography, biology, chemistry, and geology, allowing the response team to estimate oil and chemical trajectories, analyze chemical hazards, and assess risks to coastal animals, habitats, and important commercial and recreational areas. OR&R teams, led by regional scientific support coordinators, provide scientific support to the U.S. Coast Guard for spills in coastal waters.
In 2021, OR&R worked with partners to recover $131.9 million from polluters at 10 contaminated waterways in six coastal states. This funding will be used to restore marine environments and communities damaged from oil spills and hazardous waste pollution. These efforts will restore robust fisheries, endangered species, coastal habitats, and outdoor recreation. This work will also benefit blue economies, coastal resilience, and affected local communities, including underserved and indigenous localities, which are often impacted by pollution.
Restoration will include: $51.5 million to create habitats for salmon in the Lower Duwamish River in Washington state; $8.8 million to restore salmon and tribal cultural resources at Western Port Angeles Harbor, in Washington state; $20.3 million to restore outdoor recreation and wildlife in California; $25 million to restore freshwater habitats and outdoor recreation in the Kalamazoo River, Michigan; $19.2 million to restore salt marsh and estuarine wildlife on the Calcasieu River in Louisiana; $4.5 million to restore fish and marine mammals in the Gulf of Mexico; $1.7 million to restore Texas’s Galveston Bay; $629,000 to preserve 475 acres (192 hectares) of wilderness in perpetuity in Texas; and $247,333 to restore natural resources at Berry’s Creek, New Jersey.
In Fiscal Year 2021, OR&R hosted a range of preparedness workshops to enhance NOS, NOAA, and partner readiness. The topics covered in these four workshops, hosted by OR&R’s Disaster Preparedness Program (DPP), covered a wide range of coastal hazards. The DPP joined with internal and external partners to co-host a virtual workshop and tabletop exercise on harmful algal bloom preparedness, as well as response capabilities and roles. The event provided the 115 participants a better understanding of agency roles and responsibilities, the science that helps drive decision-making, and the importance of interagency coordination.
Over 140 participants joined the virtual two-day Hurricane Preparedness Summit. The summit explored a wide range of topics, including National Weather Service storm surge modeling and aircraft operation, power and utility loss logistics, as well as incident management. The DPP also hosted the first cross-NOAA recovery workshop to discuss agency roles, responsibilities, and opportunities for enhancing coordination and service delivery in disaster recovery.
OR&R also hosted a workshop focused on defining the next generation of Environmental Sensitivity Index (ESI) maps. With a goal of strategically advancing ESIs and maximizing their capabilities as a critical planning and response tool, this workshop explored resource constraints on updates, stakeholder data and mapping needs, innovations, and partnerships.
Following a highly competitive review process, NOAA’s Marine Debris Program provided approximately $7.3 million in federal funds to 25 grant recipients for marine debris research, removal, and prevention projects. Federal funding is matched by non-federal contributions, bringing the total investment of these marine debris projects to approximately $14.7 million. Marine debris is a pervasive national and global problem that harms wildlife, navigation safety, ecosystem health, and the economy. These projects will improve habitats and other ecological resources, and help build a foundation of knowledge and resources to change behaviors, raise awareness, and promote the long-term prevention of marine debris. The Marine Debris Program is proud to support impactful, community-driven, and cost-effective projects.
OR&R provides scientific support for spill emergencies, including 156 domestic incidents in FY 21. OR&R mobilized its expertise for six significant international marine oil, chemical, and plastic spills during FY 21. Working with our NOAA partners, including NOAA Fisheries and the Office of Protected Resources, OR&R provided response products and guidance to: Sri Lanka, following the fire and sinking of the container ship X-Press Pearl; Trinidad and Tobago, following an oil spill from the tankship Nabarima; Israel, following a mystery offshore oil discharge; Haiti, following a devastating earthquake; the United Nations, regarding a derelict tanker in the Middle East; and Cyprus, after an oil spill off of the Syrian coast.
OR&R provided virtual support during the pandemic, and continues to improve virtual capabilities to ensure maximum effectiveness. For international incidents, OR&R provided oil fate and trajectory analyses, oil and debris cleanup recommendations, advice regarding marine mammal and sea turtle impacts, and satellite imagery. Through the U.S. Department of State’s Assistance for International Oil Spills process, NOAA is a key member of the U.S. National Response Team and provides a wide range of scientific and technical support, resources, and products.
In FY 21, OR&R made significant, publicly available improvements to both DIVER, an electronic warehouse that shares environmental data, and ERMA®, a mapping tool for environmental responders. ERMA integrates both static and real-time data, including Environmental Sensitivity Index maps, ship locations, weather, and ocean currents. When an event occurs or is imminent, NOAA’s Homeland Security Program relies on ERMA dashboards, which contain information on the event, identify personnel in the area of impact, and show who has responded to emergency alerts.
In support of emergency response for hurricanes, oil spills, and Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) field work, ERMA enhancements focused on data collection in the field. Centralizing data aids operational decisions, such as prioritizing cleanup activities for hurricanes and spills, or choosing sampling locations for NRDA cases. In FY 21, these tools expedited more effective and timely responses to spills and hurricanes, enabling faster recovery of natural resources and the economies that depend on them. In addition, marine debris emergency response guides now include direct links to ERMA maps. This allows responders to access a state-specific view, a preloaded set of layers relevant to debris response, and important information for determining jurisdiction boundaries.