Protecting Coastal Communities

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The narrow fringe of our Nation's coast covers less than 20 percent of our land area yet is home to more than half of all Americans. As more people move to live in this finite coastal space, coastal communities become more vulnerable to threats such as coastal storms and climate change.

During fiscal year 2008, the diverse expertise, products, and services that are the hallmark of the National Ocean Service helped keep Americans along the coast safer. Highlights from the year include:

  • Responding to nearly 180 hazardous spill incidents, including the M/V Cosco Busan spill in San Francisco Bay, California; the release of an estimated 419,000 gallons of fuel oil on the Mississippi River near New Orleans, Louisiana; and hundreds of reported spills that occurred as a result of Hurricanes Ike and Gustav. In addition to maximizing recovery efforts and minimizing environmental damage after these spills, NOS assessed injured resources and began the restoration process.
  • Installing NOAA "Sentinels of the Coast" at four locations in the Gulf of Mexico. These water-level observing stations are built to withstand Category 4 hurricanes and deliver real-time storm-tide data during severe coastal weather events. NOAA water-level and meteorological data are key components of coastal decision making before, during, and after major storms.
  • Releasing a 20-year study that shows that environmental laws have had a positive effect on reducing overall contaminant levels in U.S. coastal waters. The report, which presents findings in a quick-reference format, nevertheless points to continuing concerns with elevated levels of metals and organic contaminants found near urban and industrial areas of the coasts.
  • Making land-cover change maps and information available for nearly all developed areas of the Nation's coasts. These data show how much of a region is covered by forests, wetlands, impervious surfaces, and other land and water types and can be used to document trends and changes over time. Land-use information is important for understanding and managing coastal change.
  • Finding and reporting navigation hazards throughout the Nation's waterways. From charting and notifying mariners about a 600-pound World War II-era torpedo in the Gulf of Mexico to locating for removal 600 tons of rock hazards from the entrance to Port Fourchon, Louisiana, NOS was hard at work responding to survey requests near some of the Nation's busiest ports.
  • Providing Federal leadership in support of the Gulf of Mexico Alliance and its regional priorities. Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas initiated the Gulf Alliance in 2004 with the goal of increasing regional collaboration to enhance the environmental and economic health of the Gulf of Mexico. NOAA played a key role in implementing many actions identified in the Governors' Action Plan for Healthy and Resilient Coasts and supported efforts to develop actions centered on coastal community resilience.
  • Releasing draft management plans for the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in Hawaii and Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of Massachusetts. The plans lay the foundation for protecting these marine areas and recommend actions to better manage each area and its resources.
  • Beginning, in cooperation with coastal states, to track habitat conservation performance measures to better communicate the National Coastal Zone Management Program's role in conserving coastal habitat. Habitat conservation is increasingly important as populations in the Nation's coastal zone continue to grow.