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Protecting the nation's coastal ocean

Twenty five years of response and restoration

Workers clean oil from the rocks following a spill in Port Arthur, Texas in January 2010

Workers clean oil from the rocks following a spill in Port Arthur, Texas in January 2010.

In 1976, the tanker Argo Merchant grounded near Nantucket Shoals in Massachusetts. When the ship broke apart — ultimately spilling nearly eight million gallons of oil — the U.S. Coast Guard turned to a NOAA research team to provide scientific expertise in support of operational decisions. That team evolved and grew into NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration, which marks 25 years of service in 2024.

The mission of the Office of Response and Restoration, or OR&R for short, is to protect and restore ocean and coastal resources from the impacts of threats such as oil, chemicals, marine debris, and disasters to benefit the environment, public, and economy. Today, OR&R experts play a key role ensuring that our coastal communities are resilient and protected for future generations.

While several moments in history honed the roles and responsibilities of this office, none was more pivotal than the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster. This major oil spill in Alaska fortified OR&R’s role in two key aspects: expanding OR&R’s emergency decision support role, including expertise on marine debris and disasters; and providing OR&R the clear authority to assess injury in support of restoration of injured coastal environments and communities following oil and chemical spills.

Over the decades since Exxon Valdez, OR&R continued to adapt to meet new threats that affect coastal communities. Today, OR&R is made up of five divisions – Assessment and Restoration Division, Business Operations Division, Disaster Preparedness Program, Emergency Response Division, and Marine Debris Program – that work collaboratively to address environmental threats. Staff capacity expanded to deliver tools, services, and expertise to address coastal environmental threats ranging from oil and chemical spills, to hazardous waste releases, disasters, and marine debris.

Here is a snapshot of the Office of Response and Restoration:

  • To respond to oil and chemical spills, OR&R provides critical scientific support such as on-scene decision support, tools, and models to protect our coastal communities following natural disasters and other incidents that result in marine pollution. OR&R responds to over 150 pollution incidents in U.S. waters each year, providing support to mitigate or recover millions of gallons of spilled oil and chemicals annually.

  • To assess and restore natural resources damaged from marine pollution, OR&R analyzes the impacts to coastal and estuarine habitats impacted by environmental threats to make a case for restoration. In more than 30 years, $10.7 billion has been recovered from polluters for restoration of public resources.

  • To address the global issue of marine debris, the NOAA Marine Debris Program within OR&R works to research, prevent, and reduce the impacts of marine debris on the coastal environment, navigation safety, and the economy. Over the last two years, this program has provided more than $70 million in funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and leveraged funding from the Inflation Reduction Act, to projects that: remove large marine debris, install infrastructure to capture debris before it gets into the environment, and remove derelict fishing gear and other marine debris from the shorelines and reefs of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.

  • OR&R works to provide the tools, training, and expertise to help the National Ocean Service and partners plan for and respond to natural and man-made disasters so that commerce, communities, and natural resources can recover as quickly as possible.

  • OR&R aims to train more than 2,000 emergency responders each year to be better prepared before a disaster.

  • Most recently, OR&R provided over $1.17 million federal dollars for innovative all-hazard preparedness, response, and recovery initiatives in coastal communities.

These accomplishments are a few of many that demonstrate OR&R’s commitment to protect and restore ocean and coastal resources from the impacts of environmental threats now and into the next 25 years to come. To learn more about OR&R’s work, check out OR&R’s 2023 Accomplishments Report.

NOS Assistant Administrator Nicole LeBoeuf

A video message from NOS Assistant Administrator Nicole LeBoeuf about OR&R's 25th anniversary.

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Author: NOAA

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