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Glossary of Terms


  • Pollution: Contamination of water, land, or the air by substances that can adversely impact the environment and human health.

Oil Spills

  • Fossil Fuel: Materials formed over millions of years from the remains of ancient plants and animals. Oil, natural gas, and coal are fossil fuels.

  • Refineries: A building and equipment for processing something (e.g., crude oil).

  • Storm Surge: The abnormal rise in seawater level during a storm, measured as the height of the water above the normal predicted astronomical tide.

  • The Marine Mammal Protection Act: Congress passed the Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1972 to protect all marine mammal species.

  • The Marine Protection, Research And Sanctuaries Act: The Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act (also known as the Ocean Dumping Act) regulates the disposal of materials into the ocean and creates a system of national marine sanctuaries modeled after the national parks.

  • The Endangered Species Act: Congress passed the Endangered Species Act in 1973 to conserve endangered and threatened species and their ecosystems.

  • Tanker: A cargo ship fitted with tanks for carrying liquid.

  • Oil Drilling Rig: A structure above an oil well that has special equipment attached to it for drilling and removing oil from the ground.

  • NOAA's Emergency Response Division: The Emergency Response Division (ERD) of NOAA's Office of Response and Restoration provides scientific expertise to support response to oil spills and other incidents.

  • Vessel Of Opportunity: Local commercial or recreational vessels identified to assist in responding to oil spills.

  • Responder: Someone whose job is to be one of the first people to arrive to deal with an emergency.

  • Fouling Or Oiling: When oil physically harms a plant or animal, often by coating its skin or surface.

  • Oil Toxicity: When oil chemically harms a plant or animal, often by inhaling oil vapors or ingesting oil.

  • Rehabilitation: The treatment and care of a sick or injured wild animal so that it can be released back to its habitat.

  • Subsistence: Fishing and other harvesting practices for cultural or survival rather than commercial or recreational purposes.

  • Recreational Activities: Activities that people choose to do to refresh their bodies and minds and make their leisure time more interesting and enjoyable, including hiking, swimming, boating, fishing, and more.

  • Harvesters: People who catch fish, shellfish, or other commercial resources in an area, like shrimpers or fishers. Fishers is an inclusive term used in place of “fishermen.”

  • Trustees: Government officials who act on behalf of the public when there is injury to, destruction of, loss of, or threat to natural resources (for which they have management responsibility) as a result of the release of a contaminant.

  • U.S. Bureau Of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM): BOEM is an agency within the U.S. Department of the Interior, which oversees offshore energy resources like oil.

  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): EPA is an independent agency of the U.S. Federal Government that protects human health and the environment.

  • U.S. Coast Guard: The United States Coast Guard is the maritime security, search and rescue, and law enforcement service branch of the United States Armed Forces.

  • Weathering: Changes in physical or chemical characteristics caused by the environment over time.

  • Booms: Floating, physical barriers to oil, made of plastic, metal, or other materials, which slow the spread of oil and keep it contained.

  • Skimmers: Boats and other devices that can remove oil from the sea surface before it reaches sensitive areas along a coastline.

  • Dispersants: Chemicals that remove oil from the water’s surface by breaking the oil into small droplets.

  • Restoration: To return a site to the same condition as before an injury like an oil spill.

Marine Debris

  • Marine Debris: Any persistent solid material that is manufactured or processed and directly or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally, disposed of or abandoned into the marine environment or the Great Lakes.

  • Stormwater: Rainwater produced by a storm.

  • Aquaculture: The cultivation of aquatic organisms (such as fish or shellfish) especially for food.

  • Land-Based Debris: Debris items that enter the ocean or marine environment from land.

  • Ocean-Based Debris: Debris items that come from human activities that take place at sea.

  • Disaster Debris: Debris items that come from disasters or other extreme events.

  • Degradation Rate: How long it takes an item to break down in the environment.

  • Polymers: A chemical compound or mixture of compounds consisting of repeating structural units.

  • Microplastic: Plastic particles that are smaller than 5mm in size.

  • Synthetic: Made from chemicals or artificial substances rather than from natural ones.

  • Gyres: Rotating ocean currents in which marine debris collects.

  • Zooplankton: Very tiny aquatic animals (krill, sea snails, pelagic worms, etc.) - often the young of larger invertebrates and fish, that cannot swim against, and are often carried along by ocean currents.

  • Ingestion: When animals accidentally swallow non-food material, including marine debris items or oil.

  • Invasive Species: Organisms that are introduced to new environments and upset the balance of the ecosystem.

  • Ghost Fishing: When lost or discarded fishing equipment continues to catch fish and other animals.

Harmful Algal Blooms

  • Toxic: Containing or being poisonous material especially when capable of causing death or serious debilitation.

  • Phytoplankton: Microscopic plants, including algae.

  • Runoff: Water that flows over land, often collecting contaminants like chemical fertilizers, litter, or oil.

  • Coastal Development: Buildings and other enhancements made along coastlines for human uses, including lodging or dining businesses.

  • Nutrient Pollution: The process where too many nutrients, mainly nitrogen and phosphorus, are added to bodies of water and can act like fertilizer, causing excessive growth of algae.

  • Dead Zone: A more common term for hypoxia, which refers to a reduced level of oxygen in the water.

  • Eutrophication: When the environment becomes enriched with nutrients, increasing the amount of plant and algae growth to estuaries and coastal waters.

  • Harmful Algal Bloom Monitoring System: The Harmful Algal Bloom Monitoring system is a collection of forecasting tools that NOAA uses to alert coastal managers to algal blooms before they cause serious damage.

  • Permeable Surface: Solid surfaces that allow water to pass through into the ground, like grass or dirt.