Weekly News: February 2006
Last week, the NOAA Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R) responded to an oil spill in New York Harbor. The spill of at least 31,000 gallons of crude oil occurred on February 13, while a barge was in the process of offloading at the Chevron facility in Sewaren, New Jersey. It is yet to be determined how much of the oil entered the Arthur Kill, the shipping channel between New Jersey and New York's Staten Island. Most of the oil has been contained, and/or collected, but the oil-saturated soils at the spill site continue to create sheens in the area directly adjacent to the Chevron dock. While most of the oiled shoreline consists of manmade structures, some vegetated shoreline was also oiled. Some birds have been oiled and a dead juvenile harbor porpoise covered in oil is being autopsied. OR&R is providing the U.S. Coast Guard with scientific support for the response and cleanup of the spill and is working with the other federal and state trustees to determine the appropriate type and amount of restoration for any injured trust resources. OR&R is also responding to Congressional inquiries into the potential long-term impacts of the incident. For more information, contact Tom.Brosnan@noaa.gov.
New nautical charts and updated Coast Pilot information now exist for the U.S. Territory of Guam in the western Pacific. The new information, which includes updated channel descriptions, anchorages, currents, tides, and bridge clearances, makes safer navigation possible for an island dependent on commercial and recreational shipping. This work is a combined effort of the NOAA Pacific Services Center and Office of Coast Survey to complete upgrades to NOAA nautical charting products for U.S flag Pacific islands. Ninety percent of the island data have now been updated. For more information, contact Gerry.Wheaton@noaa.gov or Darcee.Killpack@noaa.gov.
The results of a plankton survey and toxin measurements in shellfish conducted by scientists from Russia, Canada's Institute of Marine Sciences, and the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science in the Kandalaksha Gulf region of the White Sea will serve as the foundation for establishing a harmful algal bloom (HAB) monitoring program for shellfish areas in the Gulf. The scientists discovered toxic shellfish in the region for the first timeafter a July, 2002bloom of two species of harmful algae (the dinoflagellates Dinophysis acuminata and D. norvegica). Toxin measurements made of mussel tissues from the bloom area showed they contained three distinct marine toxins known to produce diarrheic shellfish poisoning in humans. Once established, a HAB monitoring program can be used by coastal managers and health officials to make management decisions to safeguard human health. For more information, contact Steve.Morton@noaa.gov.
Federal and state officials, along with local volunteers, teamed up to free a humpback whale from a life-threatening entanglement which was located off the north side of the Island of Lana’i. Staff from NOAA’s Fisheries Service and Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, and the community-based Whale Disentanglement Network unraveled lines dragging 25 feet from the whale's mouth and freed the humpback whale. Two large red buoys and a smaller bullet buoy were part of the gear dragging from the whale, threatening the health of the animal. The whale was first spotted February 9, off the Island of Hawai’i by the Hawaiian Marine Mammal Consortium, a whale research organization and a member of the Whale Disentanglement Network. This is the first successful disentanglement in Hawai’i this whale season and the first disentanglement that involved using a small VHF radio tracking buoy. The buoy, which was attached to the animal, allowed rescuers to track the whale until it was safe enough to attempt a rescue effort. For more information, contact Naomi.McIntosh@noaa.gov.
Scientists from the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science recently demonstrated that genetic information on viruses infecting bacteria could be used to link viruses found in surface waters to specific pollution sources. It appears that the high mutation rate of these viruses results in unique differences in their nucleic acid sequences (DNA) that can be used to help track sources of contamination. Approaches such as this will provide coastal managers with alternative tools to target contamination sources and evaluate the effectiveness of remediation strategies. For more information, contact Jill.Stewart@noaa.gov, Mike.Fulton@noaa.gov, or Geoff.Scott@noaa.gov.
In an ongoing effort to provide the Gulf Region with navigation support following a devastating hurricane season, the NOAA Office of Coast Survey has been working with the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to continue coordination of obstruction identification and removal. Last week in Vermilion Bay (Louisiana), a hazard to navigation was located west of the mouth of the Avery Canal. NOAA facilitated the coordination of the removal of this large obstruction. The Office of Coast Survey plays a key role in helping to ensure that waterways are safe for navigation and efficient maritime commerce. Surveying to verify clear waters or locate obstructions after a natural or man-made disaster is critical to reopening ports and waterways. A port closure can impact the economy as ships and cargo are stalled or re-routed, and military deployments are delayed. For more information, contact Tim.Osborn@noaa.gov.
February 10, 2006
Scientists from the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) identified a neurotoxin transferred via the food web as the probable cause of Avian Vacuolar Myelinopathy (AVM), a disease responsible for the death of bald eagles and other waterfowl in southeastern U.S. lakes. Scientists from the NOAA Marine Biotoxins Program, working with scientists from Clemson University and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, found that ducks fed extracts from a water weed (Hydrilla) developed AVM brain lesions. Aquatic and photosynthetic bacteria, or cyanobacteria, associated with the weed have been proposed as the source of toxicity causing the brain lesions. NCCOS is continuing to evaluate the chemical nature of the suspected neurotoxin to develop a detection method for AVM. For more information, contact Fran.Vandolah@noaa.gov.
On February 2, a large chunk of ice carried by a tidal current struck the double-bottomed, 600-foot T/V Seabulk Pride as it was loading refined product at the Tesoro Refinery in Nikiski, Alaska. The tanker had already loaded nearly five million gallons of residual heavy oil, a third of its capacity, when it was struck by the ice floe. At the same time that the ice struck the tanker, the ship’s mooring lines snapped and the tanker was grounded about 320 feet offshore. Approximately five barrels (210 gallons) of gas oil and unleaded gasoline were released. Three tug boats were summoned to the scene and were able to refloat the tanker. A full U.S. Coast Guard, State, and Tesoro ICS structure was established to respond to the spill. The NOAA Scientific Support Team provided trajectories of possible oil releases, arranged the staging of in-situ burn response equipment, provided downwind smoke plume trajectories for possible burns, assisted in evaluating an ice-free place where the tanker could be taken for a complete diver inspection, and determined of the integrity of the vessel. The Scientific Support Team also made the latest National Weather Service weather and ice forecasts available. Once off the shoal, the tanker was taken to Kachemak Bay, on the southwestern end of the Kenai Peninsula. For more information, contact John.Whitney@noaa.gov.
On February 7, a NOAA Office of Coast Survey Navigation Response Team (NRT1) responded to a request to investigate a potential obstruction in the entrance to Port Fourchon, Louisiana. Port Fourchon is the largest port servicing the offshore oil industry and supports approximately 20 percent of the nation's oil and gas consumed each day. A port closure could impact the economy as ships and cargo are stalled or re-routed and military deployments are delayed. Recently, two vessels have struck an object just outside the entrance channel to Port Fourchon, restricting traffic to the west portion of the channel. NRT1 conducted an echosounder search and located an obstruction, likely to be a hurricane-related wreck. The obstruction, located at a depth of approximately 13 feet in water that is only 24-feet deep, was located just outside of the jetties and entrance channel to Port Fourchon. NOAA recommended a local broadcast to mariners and a marking of the obstruction with a buoy until removal can be arranged. For more information, contact Rick.Fletcher@noaa.gov.
The NOS Office of Response and Restoration is responding and providing scientific support to the U.S. Coast Guard for a leaking asphalt barge on the Ohio River. On January 26, 2006, a runaway "M-53" barge, loaded with 820,000 gallons of asphalt and 15,000 gallons of diesel fuel, became pinned against a railroad bridge on the Ohio River near Louisville, Kentucky. The barge is partially submerged and lying on its side, with the bottom of the barge against the bridge. The barge is divided into eight tanks and at least four of the tanks have leaked. Hardened asphalt has been found over 10 miles downstream of the incident. Salvage and cleanup activities are on-going. For more information, contact John.Tarpley@noaa.gov.
The Wave Exposure Forecast Model, developed by National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) scientists, is now operational and being used by the Maryland Division of Natural Resources to help identify seagrass restoration sites. The model greatly simplifies the wave exposure prediction component of the state’s current method for identifying the restoration sites. NCCOS scientists tested model predictions by comparing model results with actual wave gage measurements provided by University of Maryland scientists. The wave forecasts from the model were consistent nine times out of ten when compared with wave gage measurements taken from protected and exposed sides of sand bars in the Chesapeake Bay. Because wave action can impact the ability of seagrass to survive, using the model will help in planning successful restoration projects around the Chesapeake Bay. For more information, contact Amit.Malhotra@noaa.gov.
The Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R) assisted the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) in sinking a partially submerged fishing vessel off Catalina Island, California. The F/V Chovie Clipper, 67-foot steel purse seiner, capsized on January 23, 2006, and was reported sunk. All crew members were safely rescued. The USCG later found the vessel awash near Long Point on Catalina Island. Since the vessel was unstable and at high risk of sinking in a sensitive nearshore habitat, the USCG convened a Regional Response Team (RRT) and requested permission from NOAA and other trustee agencies to tow the vessel offshore and intentionally sink it. OR&R coordinated with NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service to minimize impacts to fisheries and marine mammals and alerted the Office of Coast Survey of the proposed plan. OR&R also provided trajectories of the fuel remaining onboard and guidance on preparing the vessel for sinking. After removing accessible fuel and other hazards, the vessel was sunk in 2,400 feet of water. For more information, contact John.Tarpley@noaa.gov.
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