NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R) works to protect and restore ocean and coastal resources from the impacts of threats such as marine debris, oil spills, hazardous materials, and disasters, thus benefiting the environment, public, and economy.
In 2022 and 2023, the NOAA Marine Debris Program provided approximately $67 million in federal funds to 13 transformational marine debris removal projects. Funding for this opportunity was provided through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and leveraged funds from the Inflation Reduction Act. These high-impact projects will increase resilience and restore habitat by removing the largest and most damaging debris and preventing its reaccumulation in the environment. All projects will support the principles of diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility, and justice when performing their work, including working with tribal, environmental justice, and fishing communities that traditionally have been underserved.
The NOAA Marine Debris Program is also supporting marine debris removal in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument with a five-year, $5.8-million award through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. This work is allowing the subgrantee, the Papahānaumokuākea Marine Debris Project, to continue and scale up NOAA’s legacy of marine debris removal in the monument and build capacity. During their first mission in 2023, Papahānaumokuākea Marine Debris Project removed over 86,000 pounds of marine debris from shallow coral reefs and shorelines of the islands and atolls within the monument.
This year, the Office of Response and Restoration and our partners recovered $92.8 million through pollution settlements for restoration — including for three oil spills and four hazardous waste, or Superfund settlements, often in communities disproportionately affected by pollution.
$81 million to assess and restore injured natural resources and recreational losses from hazardous waste to benefit disadvantaged communities in the Lower Passaic River and Newark Bay, New Jersey.
$5.3 million for restoration of injured natural resources and associated lost recreational opportunities from hazardous waste in Gloucester, Massachusetts.
$2.78 million for restoration of natural resources injured by an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana.
$2.06 million for restoration of habitat to benefit salmon and wildlife injured by hazardous waste in the Lower Duwamish River.
$0.99 million for restoration of Pacific herring spawning habitat and shellfish monitoring for seafood safety for local indigenous communities to compensate for an oil spill near Sitka, Alaska.
$0.81 million to compensate for injuries to fish and other natural resources at the Dupont Hay Road hazardous waste site.
$0.17 million for restoration from a diesel spill into the Buskin River, Alaska.
These actions add to over 30 years of pollution settlements recovering $10.6 billion for restoration of fisheries, wildlife, and coastal economies across the country. This work is undertaken through NOAA’s Damage Assessment, Remediation, and Restoration Program and conducted in partnership with federal, state, and tribal partners.
When a disaster is imminent or strikes unexpectedly, OR&R is prepared to provide a broad range of scientific, technical, and policy experts to support the response and inform recovery. This year, OR&R received mission assignments, or MAs, funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA. MAs are FEMA-issued work orders that fund assistance by other federal agencies and that request completion of a specified task. While the National Ocean Service has received MAs in the past, this marks the second year that OR&R’s Emergency Response Division, or ERD, has directly received MAs and FEMA support, which totaled almost $440,000 in reimbursable funding.
During 2023, FEMA issued MAs directly to ERD for the delivery of NOAA expertise and services for incidents such as Hurricane Ian, a Category 4 hurricane that produced catastrophic storm surge, damaging winds, and historic freshwater flooding across Florida in October 2022; the devastating wildfires that broke out on the Hawaiian island of Maui in early August 2023; and Hurricane Idalia, a powerful Category 4 hurricane that caused significant damage across parts of the southeastern U.S. — especially in northern Florida — in late August 2023.
The Office of Response and Restoration partnered with NOAA Sea Grant for the second year in a row to improve disaster preparedness within coastal communities. This year, four projects in the states of North Carolina, South Carolina, New Jersey, and Oregon were selected.
The four Sea Grant-based projects focus on several aspects of the shared goals of the two partnering programs. A total of $634,936 was awarded to fund projects that will help teach kids flood resilience in South Carolina, improve health equity through communications for low-English proficiency audiences in North Carolina, develop ensemble flood forecast products to improve preparedness in New Jersey, and use innovation and education to advance disaster preparation in Oregon. Read more about the projects here.
OR&R’s Disaster Preparedness Program has a longstanding and strong partnership with the National Sea Grant Office. In 2022, OR&R awarded its first preparedness grants. In the first year, three competitively selected projects were selected that advance coastal and disaster preparedness. The projects led by Hawaii Sea Grant, MIT Sea Grant, and Wisconsin Sea Grant are ongoing.
In FY23, OR&R partnered with the U.S. Coast Guard, or USCG, Great Lakes Center of Expertise, or GLCOE, to advance science and operational capabilities for freshwater spill responses and assessments. Scientists from OR&R, USCG, the Coastal Response Research Center, and partners developed and tested operational capabilities for using uncrewed aircraft systems, or UAS, with various sensors to characterize oil on water and in ice environments in the Great Lakes. In order to characterize ice and oil-in-ice without introducing oil into the environment, the teams conducted shore-based controlled testing with oil and ice in totes at the GLCOE facility along the icy shores of the St. Mary’s River in daylight and darkness.
The teams also advanced UAS operational capabilities in freshwater and marine environments. Field trials were conducted during ice-breaking in the Lake Superior Harbor aboard the USCG Cutter SPAR and again aboard the USCG Cutter Blackfin in natural oil seeps offshore Santa Barbara, California. Teams from NOAA and USCG operated from response vessels to train and transition newly developed tools for oil and ice detection and mapping into operations. The teams tested methods for flying aerial drones for optimal data collection for mapping on-water conditions with oil and with ice, and for data upload and delivery via NOAA’s Emergency Management and Response Application (ERMA®). These studies bolster resilience to oil spills and advance NOAA’s oil spill response and assessment capabilities, including in freshwater and ice environments. Currently, NOAA is conducting eight projects focusing on spill planning, detection, modeling, and mapping with funding from the GLCOE to enhance support for Great Lakes spills.