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Over the past couple years I’ve talked about the threat of oil spills from historic shipwrecks, including the S/S Edmund Fitzgerald in the Great Lakes and the S/S Montebello off southern California. But we know that these wrecks are just the tip of the iceberg.
The past century of commerce and warfare has dotted our waters with shipwrecks, many of which have never been surveyed. Since 2010, my office, working with the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and the U.S. Coast Guard, has been systematically looking at which of these wrecks might pose a substantial threat of leaking oil still on board. This work is part of NOAA’s Remediation of Underwater Legacy Environmental Threats (RULET) project.
We used a tiered approach to develop an initial priority list of vessels for risk assessment. This process narrowed down the estimated 20,000 vessels in U.S. waters to 573 that met the initial criteria. The ships had to be over 1,000 gross tons (making them about 200 feet or longer), built to carry or use oil as fuel, and made of a durable material such as steel.
Additional research revealed the actual number posing a substantial pollution threat was lower because of the violent nature in which some ships sank (many were lost in World War II). This is because, for example, a ship hit and sunk by torpedoes would be less likely to still have intact tanks of oil. And other vessels were taken off our radar because they have fallen apart or were demolished because they were navigational hazards.
We also used computer models to predict the environmental and economic consequences of oil spills from these vessels. Those results then helped us sort out which wrecks might pose the biggest risks.
On May 20, we released both an overall report describing this work and our recommendations and 87 individual wreck assessments. The individual risk assessments highlight not only concerns about potential ecological and socio-economic impacts, but they also characterize most of the vessels as being historically significant. In addition, many of them are grave sites, both civilian and military.
The national report and the 87 risk assessments are available at http://sanctuaries.noaa.gov/protect/ppw/.
This is a post by the Office of Response and Restoration’s Jessica White.
About five miles from the Texas-Louisiana border sits what was once the Gulf Oil Company’s refinery. It’s now owned by Valero, by way of Chevron. But this century-old refinery in Port Arthur, Texas, has been operating since a year after the famous discovery of oil at Spindletop in 1901, which came in the form of a more than 100-foot-high, nine-day-long oil gusher.
Spindletop is the salt dome oil field that sparked the oil boom in Texas, ushering in the exploration of oil in the region that has persisted to this day. It also paved the way for oil to become a significant energy source.Oil Boom not Necessarily a Boon
With the oil boom came a number of hazardous substances to the former Gulf Oil refinery site and its surrounding areas. Historically, the refinery produced jet fuel, gasoline, petrochemicals, and a variety of other oil and chemical products. But this took a toll on the site’s soil, water, and aquatic habitats. Ecological risk assessment studies led by the state of Texas have revealed the presence of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs, a toxic component of oil), lead, zinc, nickel, cadmium, copper, and more in the water and sediment on the site.
In 2004, NOAA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Texas natural resource trustees, working cooperatively with Chevron, determined that the public was owed ecological restoration for the contaminated surface water, soil, and sediments at the former Gulf Oil refinery [PDF]. Our assessment showed that we could accomplish this by constructing 83 acres of tidal wetland and 30 acres of coastal wet prairie and improving 1,332 acres of coastal wetlands via new water control structures in the Sabine Lake/Neches River basin.
Based on this information, the natural resource trustees negotiated with Chevron (which assumed the legal responsibility of the former Gulf Oil site) a $4.4 million settlement of state and federal natural resource damage claims related to the site. This money would go toward implementing the environmental restoration.
The settlement included three projects meant to restore coastal habitat to compensate the public for natural resources lost or injured by historical contamination from the refinery. Two of the projects involved restoring a natural hydrology to coastal wetlands by installing water flow enhancement structures and berms. The third project aimed to create intertidal estuarine marsh and coastal wet prairie by using nearby dredge material.
These projects were a significant undertaking for Chevron and their contractors. They involved several different restoration techniques, some of which had to be modified in the middle of construction to adapt to changes in the field.Building Marsh out of Mud Pancakes
In 2002, Chevron set up a pilot project to determine the feasibility of constructing marsh habitat by placing local dredge material into open-water habitat. The resulting constructed marsh terrace was able to maintain the necessary elevation for native marsh vegetation to take root.
Based on the successful pilot, the full-scale project for building marsh planned to mix dredge material with water, forming slurry that could then be pumped into open water to form mounds and terraces. Once they reached the suitable elevation, the mounds and terraces would later be planted with native marsh grasses. On the other hand, the coastal wet prairie would be constructed by removing dredged sediment to lower the elevation and make it suitable for supporting vegetation found in that habitat type.
Full-scale construction for the projects kicked off in 2007. This timeline was pushed back a few years from the pilot project because in 2005 Hurricanes Katrina and Rita increased demand for the heavy equipment used in the marsh environment and also damaged habitat and vegetation at the project site.
Another challenge came after Chevron pumped the dredged sediments into the open water to create marsh mounds. Unlike during the pilot project, when the pumped-in sediment stacked well, the sediment used in the marsh construction spread out and formed pancakes instead of the desired mounds. To prevent the sediment from spreading, the restoration team tried changing the pump’s spout, but spraying the dredge slurry into mounds was still a challenge. The mounds became mudflats.
Changing the construction technique again, they next pumped in dredged sediments and then excavated mounds and terraces. This technique had greater success, but in the end, it was still necessary to pump in additional sediment to some areas to achieve the necessary elevations. Because the team was using so much more dredge material than originally planned, they had to find an alternative sediment source from a nearby canal. If they continued taking sediment from the original source, they would have risked lowering the elevation of the area, which was adjacent to the coastal wet prairie and could affect its hydrology.
Despite a number of setbacks, the restoration projects were finished in 2009 and after a monitoring period, the trustees certified them as successfully completed in February of 2013. These projects will improve the fish and shellfish abundance in this part of southeast Texas, provide habitat for wildlife and fish, increase recreational opportunities for bird watching and fishing, and improve the habitat for waterfowl (a benefit for hunters).
The area is also highly visible for anyone driving south through the Beaumont-Port Arthur area. Just look out your window as you cross the Neches River and you’ll see the marsh mounds, coastal wet prairie, and maybe even a few Snowy Egrets on display.
Jessica White is a Regional Resource Coordinator with the Assessment and Restoration Division of NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration. She has been working with NOAA in the Gulf since 2003 and recently relocated to the Gulf of Mexico Disaster Response Center. Jessica has assessed and restored Superfund sites in Texas and Louisiana and has supported oil spill and marine debris cleanup. She has a B.S. in Biology from Texas Tech University and a M.S. in Environmental Science from the University of North Texas.
This is a post by Sarah Opfer, NOAA Marine Debris Program Great Lakes Regional Coordinator.
The “Great Pacific Garbage Patch“—a purported island of trash twice the size of Texas floating in the Pacific Ocean—receives a lot of media attention. Recent reports suggest that a similar garbage patch may be developing in the Great Lakes as well.
However, based on research we know that the name “garbage patch” is misleading and that there is no island of trash forming in the middle of the ocean. We also know that there is no blanket of marine trash that is visible using current satellite or aerial photography.
Yet, there are places in the ocean where currents bring together lots and lots of floatable materials, such as plastics and other trash. While the types of litter gathering in these areas can vary greatly, from derelict fishing nets to balloons, the kind that is capturing the most attention right now are microplastics. These are small bits of plastic often not immediately evident to the naked eye.
While we know about the so-called “garbage patches” in the Pacific Ocean, could there be a similar phenomenon in other parts of the world, including the Great Lakes? Recent research on the distribution of plastics in the Great Lakes has people now asking that very question.
The Great Lakes are no mere group of puddles. They contain nearly 20% of the world’s surface freshwater and have a coastline longer than the East Coast of the United States. Within the Great Lakes system, water flows from Lake Superior and Lake Michigan, the lakes furthest west and highest in elevation, east into Lake Huron. From there, it travels through Lake St. Clair and the Detroit River into Lake Erie. Then, some 6 million cubic feet of water pass over Niagara Falls each minute and into Lake Ontario before flowing through the St. Lawrence River and into the Atlantic Ocean.
This water flow influences circulation patterns within and between each of the lakes. Currents within the Great Lakes also are powered by wind, waves, energy from the sun, water density differences, the shape of the lakebed, and the shoreline. These circulation currents have the tendency to create aggregations of garbage and debris in certain areas, just like in the oceans. But, just as in the Pacific Ocean, this doesn’t mean the Great Lakes have floating trash islands either.
In an effort to better identify and understand how plastic debris is spread throughout the Great Lakes, researchers at the University of Waterloo in Canada have partnered with COM DEV on an exploratory research project. COM DEV is a designer and manufacturer of space and remote sensing technology. Researchers are working with this industry partner to develop and test the ability of different remote sensors to detect plastics in the Great Lakes.
If they find the task is feasible and the trial runs prove to be effective, this work could be applied beyond the Great Lakes and across the United States. The NOAA Marine Debris Program, part of the Office of Response and Restoration, is engaged with and following the project. We plan to participate in the next steps of this promising effort. You can learn more about the project and a related workshop on plastic pollution in the Great Lakes.
Sarah Opfer received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology from Bowling Green State University and was a Knauss Sea Grant fellow with NOAA in 2009. She is based in Ohio and enjoys having Lake Erie in her back yard! While away from work she enjoys cooking, reading, kayaking, dreaming of places she wants to travel to, and spending time with her family.
Here, we take a peek into the world of science policy (and the budgets that make it possible) as we hear from Dave Westerholm, director of NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration, about what we can expect as a starting point for this office in the next fiscal year.
The White House recently released the President’s Budget for Fiscal Year 2014. This budget offers several exciting opportunities for research, development, and growth in response and restoration activities at NOAA. The budget contains close to $4 million in increases for the Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R).
I am very proud of the work we do every day at OR&R and am very grateful for all the support that enables this work. In the last year we responded to 139 environmental incidents, including Hurricane Sandy, generated over $800,000 for restoration through the natural resource damage assessment process, opened NOAA’s new Gulf of Mexico Disaster Response Center, and saw passage of the Marine Debris Act Amendments of 2012 (which expanded the scope of our office to deal specifically with large amounts of natural disaster debris).
While meeting the needs of those critical issues, we have continued to support the ongoing response and damage assessment for the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill, looked forward to address emerging challenges in the U.S. Arctic by launching an Environmental Response Management Application (ERMA) online mapping tool for the Arctic region and contributed our expertise to interagency planning and preparedness in support of ongoing energy exploration in the Arctic.
I am eager to show you what OR&R can do with the latest budget from the President that will build upon our recent achievements:
The fiscal year 2014 budget proposes a $2 million increase for Natural Resource Damage Assessment to increase technical, strategic, and legal support so we can more quickly move more oil spill and hazardous waste site cases toward settlement and support the restoration process. We anticipate that this increase will more than pay for itself in settlement funds recovered from responsible parties and deliver significant return on investment for the American public.
There is an increase of $1 million for the NOAA Marine Debris Program to fund a variety of programs and efforts to reduce and prevent the impacts of marine debris. This includes funding for:
- research programs and academic institutions with demonstrated expertise in the economic impacts of marine debris.
- alternatives to fishing gear that pose potential marine threats.
- enhanced tracking, recovery, and identification of lost and discarded fishing gear.
- efforts to reduce the amount of baseline debris from ocean and non-ocean based sources.
Additionally, the Marine Debris Program’s regional marine debris coordination program will receive a funding increase to enhance regional efforts and develop response plans for states in the Northeast, Southeast, and Gulf of Mexico as described under the Marine Debris Act. These plans will help federal, state, and local authorities plan and prepare for the next major marine debris cleanup event, for example, a hurricane.
This budget also proposes funding increases for emergency response preparedness in the Arctic and Gulf of Mexico and for our innovative ERMA tool to transition to a cloud computing platform. These funds will allow OR&R to improve our services through participation in more regional response exercises with governmental and private partners and enhance scientific support for the Arctic through increased direct engagement with Arctic communities.
I invite you to review the NOAA Fiscal Year 2014 Budget Summary [PDF] for more detailed information on all of NOAA’s proposed activities in the President’s budget.
Each budgetary increase provides a significant opportunity to build NOAA’s capacity to assess future oil and chemical spill impacts, plan for increased maritime activity in the Arctic, and expand our scientific and tactical capabilities using state-of-the-art information management. The budget also will help NOAA to develop capabilities that will lead to more effective strategies to prevent and mitigate the effects of marine debris. I hope to work with our office’s many partners and supporters in the coming months to ensure OR&R’s capacity will continue to meet the rising tide of ocean and coastal challenges to protect lives, property, and the environment and to keep commerce moving.
Dave Westerholm currently serves as the Director of NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration. Prior to NOAA, he had several years of corporate experience as both Senior Operations Director and Vice President for Maritime Security, Policy and Communications for Anteon Corporation and then General Dynamics. He is a retired Coast Guard Captain with over 27 years of experience in a variety of fields including maritime safety, port security, and environmental protection.
GIS specialist Jay Coady, Environmental Sensitivity Index map specialist Jill Petersen, John Tarpley of the OR&R Emergency Response Division, and Jason Rolfe of the NOAA Marine Debris Program also contributed to this post.
With Memorial Day approaching and summer weather returning, folks in the northeast will once again be flocking to the shore, as they have for generations. This summer season is the first since Hurricane Sandy hit the region in late October of 2012, with devastating effects to beaches from Connecticut to Virginia. Much of the damage has been repaired and many visitors likely will find their favorite beaches as enjoyable as ever, but there is much work remaining to do.Headed for Calmer Shores
The NOAA Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R) responded immediately in the wake of the massive storm. OR&R’s Emergency Response Division provided scientific support to the U.S. Coast Guard to contain a major diesel spill at the Motiva Refinery in Sewarren, N.J., next to New York’s Staten Island and Raritan Bay. We also provided support for the many smaller petroleum product spills in northern New Jersey and southern New York. Aerial and ground surveys helped identify and prioritize the cleanup of pollution sources from boats, displaced hazardous material containers, and other debris.
OR&R was on scene working with other state and federal agencies to lead a preliminary assessment of natural resource impacts from the oil spills for possible Natural Resource Damage Assessment claims and restoration. In addition, the Coast Guard and other responders used OR&R’s collaborative online mapping tool, Environmental Response Management Application (ERMA®) for the Atlantic Coast, as the “common operational picture,” that is, the official “big picture” tool for coordinating pollution response activities.
Atlantic ERMA, which is customized for New York and New Jersey waters, was involved in mapping the Hurricane Sandy response and recovery efforts since before the storm hit land. In the days leading up to landfall, OR&R started populating Atlantic ERMA with storm-specific data, such as predicted storm surge models, hurricane track and wind speeds, and NOAA facility locations.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Atlantic ERMA served as the common operational picture for the Hurricane Sandy pollution response. It aided the NOAA Scientific Support Coordinators (our pollution first responders), U.S. Coast Guard, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the removal and cleanup of identified pollution sources and threats.
Atlantic ERMA integrated these response efforts with environmental data (like locations of sensitive habitat) to give responders a better idea of how to deal with pollution threats while minimizing environmental damages.
As the common operational picture, ERMA provided a single platform for responders to view all of the storm-related data and imagery as well as various cleanup efforts by the states and other federal agencies. Our team of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) specialists working on ERMA also helped provide data management support in tracking the progress made by the pollution response field teams.Making it Safe to Get Back in the Water
In the Hurricane Sandy Relief Bill, Congress provided the NOAA Marine Debris Program with funds to address marine debris issues resulting from Sandy. In addition, funds were allocated to OR&R’s Emergency Response Division to update our Environmental Sensitivity Index maps on the east coast, with particular emphasis on areas affected by Hurricane Sandy and other coastal storms over the past several years. These maps identify coastal shorelines, wildlife, and habitat that may be especially vulnerable to an oil spill and also include the resources people use, such as a fishery or recreational beach.
Marine debris can be found in concentrations across the impacted region both on the shoreline and below the water surface. These items pose potential hazards to navigation, commercial fishing grounds, and sensitive ecosystems.
We are using Atlantic ERMA to provide mapping support and tools to show aerial imagery, debris dispersion models, and identified marine debris locations supplied by stakeholders. Our mapping support also helps with the planning efforts for debris cleanup.
A combination of aerial, underwater, and shoreline surveys are necessary to assess the quantity and location of marine debris in the impacted coastal areas. These assessments will allow NOAA to estimate the debris impacts to economies and ecosystems, identify priority items for removal, support limited removal efforts, and help bring our northeastern shores back to a sunnier state.
Read about more examples of our work protecting and restoring the shores the nation loves to visit.
Spending time at the beach is reported to be one of America’s favorite vacation memories [PDF]. So, when our coasts become polluted, the effects can seem both traumatic and personal: damaged habitats; dirtied water; injured birds, fish, wildlife, and plants; and blemished places where we boat, fish, and play. But thanks to NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration, we help reverse these impacts—whether from an oil spill, toxic chemicals, or marine debris—through our scientific solutions for protecting and restoring our favorite natural places.
To celebrate National Travel and Tourism Week (May 4-12), we have gathered a few examples of the places you can visit that our office is helping protect and restore.San Juan, Puerto Rico
Sandy beaches, swaying palm trees, and turquoise waters—Puerto Rico is the quintessential tropical vacation destination. Besides surfing, snorkeling, and swimming at its more than 270 miles of beaches, this Caribbean island offers jungle adventures, resort relaxation, and Spanish colonial history. But on an island only 110 miles long and 40 miles wide, the ocean is never far away.
On January 7, 1994, just before dawn, a barge the length of a football field plowed into the picturesque surf near San Juan, Puerto Rico. When it grounded, the Tank Barge Morris J. Berman damaged coral reefs and spilled 800,000 gallons of a thick, black fuel oil into the deep blue waters off Puerto Rico’s Atlantic coast. After the grounding, the barge continued to leak, spilling more than 85,000 gallons of oily water as it was towed offshore and scuttled (intentionally sunk) 23 miles northeast of San Juan. About 169 miles of ocean and bay shorelines were affected by the spilled oil, disrupting beachgoers, boaters, and sportfishers for up to three months in some areas. The oil also crept onto the shoreline of several historic sites, including San Juan National Historic Site, a National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site. And in the end, nearly 111,000 square feet of coral reef were damaged from the grounded barge and subsequent response measures.Click to view slideshow.
NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration was involved in a variety of activities from the start: forecasting the oil’s spread, performing aerial surveys of the spill, assessing impacted shorelines, and advising the Coast Guard on potential environmental impacts of sinking the leaking barge. Our involvement carried beyond spill cleanup and extended to evaluating and determining how the spill injured natural resources, which included people’s use of them. To compensate the public for the spill’s impacts, we helped implement a suite of projects focused on restoring damaged reefs, recreational beach use, and lost tourism at San Juan National Historic Site.
To begin restoring the coral ecosystems, NOAA and our partners built the Condado Coral Reef Trail, comprised of three underwater educational trails adjacent to a public beach. Along each trail, we placed ten pre-made artificial cement reefs, intended to establish similar reef habitat to that damaged by the barge grounding. This project wrapped up in the fall of 2008 and provides an incredible first-hand opportunity to learn about coral reefs and restoring natural resources in Puerto Rico.San Francisco, California
According to the San Francisco Travel Association, more than 16.5 million visitors traveled to San Francisco, Calif., in 2012. Known as the “City by the Bay,” San Francisco is closely connected to its maritime heritage and marine resources. Fisherman’s Wharf is a popular northern waterfront area home to the city’s fleet of fishing boats, many of whose owners have been fishing there for three generations and bringing in the fresh seafood both locals and tourists savor. The Golden Gate Bridge, the city’s most iconic bridge, links San Francisco Bay to the Pacific Ocean and its bustling maritime commerce.
But on the typically foggy morning of November 7, 2007, the 900-foot cargo ship Cosco Busan slammed against the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and caused one of the largest oil spills in the bay’s history. Scraping a 100-foot-long gash into the vessel’s side, the crash released 53,000 gallons of a thick fuel oil, which quickly dispersed into the surrounding waters and onto sensitive coastline both in the bay and along the outer coast. Similar to our efforts after the barge grounding in Puerto Rico, NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration provided forecasts of the oil’s path, aerial oil surveys, oiled shoreline assessment, and other scientific support for the spill response.
NOAA and our partners determined that, as a result, the incident oiled more than 3,300 acres of shoreline habitat, killed an estimated 6,849 birds and thousands of herring, and lost an estimated 1,079,900 possible recreational days for individuals. In addition, it temporarily closed a dozen urban beaches [PDF], and even shoreline along Alcatraz Island, a National Park and home to the infamous prison, suffered heavy oiling after the spill. More than $30 million was awarded from the company responsible to restore injured birds, fish, eelgrass vegetation, habitat, and lost outdoor recreation.
The bulk of these funds (tentatively $18.8 million) is allocated for a slew of improvements benefiting Bay Area recreational activities, such as picnicking, hiking, surfing, kiteboarding, fishing, and boating. These projects will take place in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Point Reyes National Seashore, and other areas of the East Bay and San Mateo and Marin County. They range from improving beach and fishing access and enhancing trails and shorelines to repairing waterfront park infrastructure and supporting lifeguard and educational programs. Restoration is expected to begin in the summer of 2013, helping turn back the harmful effects of this oil spill on the City by the Bay.Olympic Coast, Washington
Visitors flock each year to Washington’s breathtaking Olympic Peninsula to go hiking, camping, kayaking, and harvesting clams and oysters (just for starters). Driving the 350 miles along the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway, you can access an impressive amount of diversity along this state’s coast. From foggy sea stacks poking out of the Pacific Ocean to giant red cedars standing sentinel in old-growth forests to tide pools populated with vibrant orange and purple starfish, this coast abounds with natural wonders.
In December of 2012, however, a remote portion of the Olympic Coast received an unusual “visitor”: a 185 ton, 65-foot floating dock. Swept away from the Port of Misawa during Japan’s 2011 tsunami, it ended up beached within NOAA’s Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary and a designated wilderness portion of Olympic National Park. The dock was built out of plastic foam housed in steel-reinforced concrete, which had been damaged as changing tides and waves continued to shift the dock’s placement in the surf. A threat to the environment, visitors, and wildlife, its foam was escaping to the surrounding beach and waters, where it could have been eaten by the coast’s whales, seals, birds, and fish.
According to the Washington Department of Ecology website, “the intertidal area of the Olympic Coast is home to the most diverse ecosystem of marine invertebrates and seaweeds on the west coast of North America … Leaving the dock in place could [have] result[ed] in the release of over 200 cubic yards of foam into federally protected waters and wilderness coast.”
Fortunately, in March 2013, the National Park Service and NOAA worked with a local salvage company to dismantle and remove this hazard to the coast, using both federal money and a generous donation from Japan to fund the project and ensuring the Olympic Coast’s visitors can enjoy its healthy habitats for years to come.
To learn more about NOAA’s work protecting the coastal places we love to visit, go to response.restoration.noaa.gov.
This is a post by Gabrielle Dorr, NOAA/Montrose Settlements Restoration Program Outreach Coordinator.
We want you to take a bird’s eye view of restoration with our wildlife webcams. In 2006, NOAA’s Montrose Settlements Restoration Program, established to make up for a toxic DDT and PCB legacy in southern California, installed a live webcam with a close-up view of the first Bald Eagle nest to hatch a chick naturally on California’s Santa Cruz Island in over 50 years. Thousands watched as the eagle parents tended to their chick, affectionately named “Princess Cruz” by webcam watchers. Today, there are a total of five webcams on other nests around the California Channel Islands, highlighting the success of our Bald Eagle Restoration Program.
We also wanted to connect the public to the underwater world of wetlands with an underwater fish webcam. In 2010, our program installed a live webcam in Huntington Beach wetlands, where we completed one of our fish habitat restoration projects. This underwater camera demonstrates the importance of wetlands as a fish nursery and feeding area.Watch Bald Eagles Live
What is cute and cuddly and has wings? You guessed it … a Bald Eagle chick! What is even better is that you can watch these adorable birds on live webcams that are placed near Bald Eagle nests located on Catalina and Santa Cruz Islands in the California Channel Islands right now. Viewers can watch daily as both male and female adults attend to their chicks by feeding them and keeping them warm. One of the most popular nests to watch is the West End nest on Catalina Island that has triplets for the third year in a row.
For eagle enthusiasts, there is a Channel Islands Eaglecam discussion forum where you can post or read daily nest observations, chat with other enthusiasts, or read updates from the Bald Eagle restoration team. With over 1 million hits each year, the Bald Eagle webcams have captivated audiences all over the world from January to June as these regal birds raise their young.Diving with the Fish
If you are more interested in what lurks beneath the ocean then you should check out the live fish webcam that is broadcast from Talbert Marsh in the Huntington Beach wetlands. Since the fish webcam has been live, we have observed over 20 species of fish, diving seabirds, an octopus, nudibranchs (colorful sea slugs), and numerous other cool invertebrates. We have also seen fish spawning events, territorial displays of fish, and even sharks.
If you want to let us know what you have seen on our webcam, you can fill out our online fish webcam observation sheet. In case our solar-powered camera is down, you can check out this 10 minute clip recorded from the webcam for a snapshot of what you might normally see. The eelgrass swaying side to side is mesmerizing and you can always catch a glimpse of a fish when you log onto the fish webcam. Test your fish identification skills now!
Gabrielle Dorr is the Outreach Coordinator for the Montrose Settlements Restoration Program as part of NOAA’s Restoration Center. She lives and works in Long Beach, California where she is always interacting with the local community through outreach events, public meetings, and fishing education programs.
The Consulate General of Japan in San Francisco has confirmed to NOAA that a 20-foot-long skiff found near Crescent City, Calif., is the first verified piece of Japan tsunami debris to turn up in California. Crescent City, a coastal town surrounded by redwoods, is only a twenty-mile drive from Oregon down the iconic, coastal Highway 101.
Once the skiff was found, the U.S. Coast Guard and the local sheriff’s office worked quickly to remove it from the shoreline. Help translating the Japanese writing on it came from further down the coast, from staff at California’s Humboldt State University. They traced the skiff to Takata High School, located in Japan’s Iwate Prefecture, an area devastated by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. A teacher from the school reportedly identified the vessel as belonging to them, which the Japanese Consulate has now confirmed.
To date, 26 other marine debris items with a confirmed connection to the 2011 tsunami have washed up in Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, Alaska, and Canada’s British Columbia.
And like so many of them, the small, flat-bottomed boat that washed up in California was thick with gooseneck barnacles, a common and widespread filter feeder that attaches itself to floating objects in the open ocean. While unusual-looking, these barnacles are not invasive and have a fascinating historical myth purporting that a type of goose developed from gooseneck barnacles because they had similar colors and shapes (a typical-if-faulty basis for classifying life in earlier eras).
However, the influx of sea creatures aboard tsunami marine debris also brings the concern that aquatic species hitching a ride to North America may make themselves at home, possibly to the detriment of marine life and commerce communities here in the United States.
This issue was highlighted in the unusual case of another small Japanese boat lost in the 2011 tsunami. The Sai-shou-maru came ashore near Long Beach, Wash., on March 22, 2013, but the inside of it looked like a miniature aquarium. Five live fish were swimming about in a submerged compartment at the back of the boat. They were striped beakfish, a species native to coral reefs mainly in Japanese waters, sometimes found in Hawaii, but certainly not in the cold waters of the Pacific Northwest coast.
According to the Washington State Department of Ecology website, “Besides the five striped beakfish found in the open well of the boat when it washed ashore, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife estimates 30 to 50 species of plants and animals were also on the Sai-shou-maru – including potential invasive species. State officials quickly removed the Sai-shou-maru from the beach and collected samples of potential invasive species including the fish, algae, anemones, crabs, marine worms and shellfish.”
However, most of the species arriving on marine debris are not invasive—even if they are hitchhikers.
Keep up with NOAA’s latest efforts surrounding the issue of Japan tsunami marine debris at http://marinedebris.noaa.gov/tsunamidebris/updates.html.
Unless there is a big spill or accident, most people probably don’t think much about different types of crude oil, where it comes from, or how it is transported.
Yet there is an ongoing national debate about Canada’s Alberta oil sands and whether to complete the Keystone XL pipeline that would carry Alberta oil sands products to refineries in the U.S. Gulf Coast. This proposed pipeline has gotten a lot of attention, but there are existing pipelines carrying oil sands products around Canada and across the border into the U.S., as well as tanker, barge, and rail operations doing the same.
The Exxon Pegasus pipeline spill in Mayflower, Ark., on March 29, 2013, was a reminder that oil sands are already being transported and, whenever oil is transported, there is risk of a spill.
Oil sands are considered an unconventional oil type that has been growing in prominence as oil prices fluctuate and production technologies improve. As a result, there are many questions about how best to respond to spills of crude oil products derived from oil sands. One of the major concerns is the buoyancy of oil sands products, and their potential to sink, especially in sediment-laden waters. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is still cleaning up submerged oil from the July 2010 Enbridge pipeline spill in Michigan’s Kalamazoo River.
Last week, NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration participated in an Oil Sands Products Forum held at NOAA’s Western Regional Center in Seattle, Wash. The forum was sponsored by the Washington State Department of Ecology Spills Program, U.S. Coast Guard, and the Pacific States/British Columbia Oil Spill Task Force. The University of New Hampshire Center for Spills in the Environment facilitated the forum.
The two-day meeting included a full day of presentations and discussions about oil sands (also known as tar sands or bitumen) and their related products—covering everything from extraction, refining, and transportation to chemistry, how they move and react in the environment, and recent case studies of spill responses. Over 50 environmental specialists, oil spill planners, and responders attended from government agencies, tribal governments, nongovernmental organizations, and industry. Several oil sands experts from Canadian agencies and organizations also attended and presented.
On the second day, spill responders were presented with four different spill scenarios involving oil sands products, and the potential issues and challenges highlighted by the different spill situations were thoroughly discussed and recorded. Presentations and meeting notes will be made available through the Center for Spills in the Environment. The focus of this forum was not to discuss whether or not oil sands should be exploited as a resource, but rather, how to prepare better for and then deal effectively with a spill of oil sands products when it happens.
This is a guest post by University of Washington graduate students Robin Fay, Terry Sullivan, Shanese Crosby, Jeffrey Smith, Ali Kani, and Colin Groark.
Over the past 6 months, our research team has been gathering data and interpreting information to help NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R) better prepare for a potential spill of Canadian oil sands product in U.S. waters. (Oil sands are also known as tar sands.)
Our research has sought to provide OR&R, whose experts offer scientific support in case of a marine or coastal oil spill, with:
- Background and context on oil sands development and transport.
- In-depth research on the physical properties of oil sands products, national transportation networks, and emerging risks.
- Analysis of the existing information and policy gaps, and some recommendations aimed at improving pollution response readiness in the event of an oil sands spill.
In doing so, we have worked to answer some key research questions, which we developed with the OR&R and other stakeholders (e.g., Washington State Department of Ecology), including:
- Would oil sands products sink or float when spilled in salt water? What about fresh water?
- How might oils sands products weather and change their physical and chemical characteristics once spilled into the environment?
- How and where are oil sands products already being transported around the U.S. and Washington’s Puget Sound?
- What are the future plans for expanding the national transportation network for oil sands products?
Our research took us into the technical depths of petroleum chemistry, state-of-the-art oil spill response technology, federal and state regulations, human and environmental health implications, and several types of transportation networks. From early on, it was clear to us just what a complex and far-reaching issue oils sands development really is. In some cases, trying to find answers just led to more questions. Although there are still many things we don’t know for sure and further research is needed, we ultimately were able to get closer to understanding the unique risks and challenges oils sands products pose to pollution responders and the environments they work to protect.
Here are our top five research findings:
- All oil sands products are not created equal. They are not homogenous and are not easily categorized by any particular set of characteristics. Their composition and physical properties can vary widely based on many factors, including: what region the product originated from, what chemicals or substances it has been blended with, and how much processing or upgrading it has gone through prior to transport. This means that anticipating appropriate response action for a diverse array of products labeled as “oil sands” is somewhat of a moving target.
- Very little is known about how oil sands products might weather (or change) in the environment. Some studies have been done on this topic, but they have typically tested one or two specific oil sands products in a laboratory setting. Their results cannot be presumed to represent the full range of possible weathering scenarios (e.g., the varying influence of waves, sunlight, wind, etc). Understanding how an oil changes as it weathers in the environment is critical to planning and executing an effective spill response.
- The United States already receives almost 1.4 million barrels per day of oil sands products from Canada. This oil is transported all over the country by pipeline, rail, tanker ship, and barge. Although the proposed Keystone XL pipeline project is certainly the most visible oil sands infrastructure expansion project currently in the works, it is far from the only one. Many other pipeline expansion and terminal projects have been proposed—such as the Trans Mountain and Northern Gateway expansions proposed by Kinder Morgan and Enbridge—which would bring Alberta oil into Western Canada and even as far as Cherry Point and Anacortes, Wash. If completed, they could more than double the capacity to transport oil sands products into the U.S.
- While pipeline projects—like the Keystone XL—have met fierce resistance from environmental groups, tribes, and others concerned about the risks these projects might present to their communities, the oil industry already has begun (without fanfare) to use rail for transporting oil sands products instead. Because the network of rail lines already exists, and the regulatory framework governing oil transport by rail is less developed, this segment of their transportation has been expanding rapidly. The full extent of current and planned oil sands transport by rail is unknown.
- During our assessments, we found critical gaps in the current oversight, rules and regulations, contingency planning requirements, and response capacity to address the increasing transport of oil sands products. In order for regulators and responders to address effectively the emerging risks associated with oil sands products, these gaps must be addressed. Response equipment needs to be developed that is proven to be effective at detecting, containing, and removing oil sands products from the environment. Disclosure requirements for those processing and transporting oil sands products need to be improved so that regulatory agencies can better understand where and how to prioritize their efforts. Additionally, oversight, risk assessment, and contingency planning should be enhanced to take into account the increasing possibility of a spill of oil sands product. This need and the lack of adequate response capacity for oil sands products have been highlighted by the recent spills in Minnesota and Arkansas.
That’s a tall order, and unlikely to happen overnight. But there is some good news. Locally in Washington state, the Washington State Department of Ecology and U.S. Coast Guard in Sector Puget Sound have been pioneers. They are already working to improve their ability to prevent, plan for, and respond to an oil sands product spill. Last December, a conference in Portland, Maine, brought experts together from across the U.S. and Canada to discuss oil sands, and a similar conference recently was held in Seattle on April 16.
Stakeholders and policy makers we spoke with on both coasts, in the Great Lakes region, and in Canada have all begun to consider how increased oil sands development affects their region or function. Oil sands slowly are beginning to appear with greater prominence on the agenda for decision makers, not just for a particular state or project, but as an issue that spans political and geographic boundaries. If oil sands development and transportation continues to receive more and more attention, we hope it will also receive the oversight and response resources necessary to address sufficiently the risks that come with it.
The Oil Spill That Helped a South Carolina Community Transform an Abandoned Naval Golf Course Back into a Healthy Coastal Marsh
This Earth Day and every day, NOAA honors our planet by using cutting-edge science to understand Earth’s systems and keep its habitats and vital natural resources healthy and resilient. Learn more at http://www.noaa.gov/earthday.
Around 100,000 residents call North Charleston, S.C., home, and since 2000, more and more people have been flocking to this urban center that balances the benefits of a lively port city with the rich history and natural beauty of a southern coastal town. Yet this isn’t by coincidence. It’s by decision and design. The City of North Charleston actively promotes a prosperous and livable community, which includes restoring green spaces and opening public access to the hard-working waterfront.
This spring, NOAA (through our Damage Assessment, Remediation, and Restoration Program) and our fellow natural resource trustees supported that vision as we restored approximately 12 acres of salt marsh (coastal wetlands) and an additional acre of upland buffer area on Noisette Creek, a tributary of the Cooper River adjacent to the city’s scenic Riverfront Park. These efforts were part of a larger restoration plan to address the environmental and recreational impacts from an accidental oil spill in 2002.Turning an Oil Spill into an Opportunity
At the end of September in 2002, as the container ship M/V Everreach pulled away from North Charleston for its next destination, approximately 12,500 gallons of oil spilled out of it and into the waters of the Cooper River and Charleston Harbor.
The oil was seen over some 30 miles of shoreline and sediments, including tidal flats, fringing marshes, intertidal oyster reefs, sandy beaches, and manmade structures (e.g., docks, piers, bulkheads). Most of the oil concentrated in the vicinity of the North Charleston Terminal on the Cooper River and old Navy base piers and docks.
This spill impacted pelicans and shorebirds, closed a shellfish bed operation, and temporarily disrupted recreational shrimp-baiting in local waters.
The state and federal agencies charged with preserving the area’s public natural resources—NOAA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, and South Carolina Department of Natural Resources—worked cooperatively with the ship’s owner, Evergreen International, to determine the resulting environmental injury and resolve legal claims for natural resource damages.From Marsh to Golf Course and Back Again
After carefully assessing the impacts, we the natural resource trustees worked with North Charleston’s property owners, developers, and local officials to restore a marsh-turned-naval golf course back into a functioning wetland that could support birds, fish, invertebrates, and vegetation.
Back in 1901, decades before North Charleston became its own city, the City of Charleston provided riverfront land to the U.S. Navy to develop a naval base. This also involved converting a marsh on the base into a golf course. The former Navy golf course along Noisette Creek in North Charleston was used until the base closed in 1996 and the property was transferred back to the City of North Charleston with a small portion owned by the Noisette Company. In 2002, the city and Noisette Company began arrangements and planning for the Noisette Preserve, a 135 acre “recreation and nature preserve at the heart of the redevelopment, located around Noisette Creek and its marshes, creeks and inlets” [Final Restoration Plan and Environmental Assessment, PDF]
To increase the tidal exchange and drainage needed to restore this area to a salt marsh, the project required removing a berm in two areas along Noisette Creek and constructing a network of tidal creeks throughout the property, which also provides access for recreational paddlers. Roads, drainage tiles, rip-rap, and other sources of debris were removed during the process as well.
As a result, the public will be able to enjoy a beautiful living shoreline which supports the surrounding area’s ecological services and ultimately benefits activities like boating, fishing, shellfish harvest, and shrimp baiting.Supporting Green Communities
In cooperation with Evergreen International, we will monitor the wetland enhancements over the next five years to ensure the project achieves the desired ecological improvements. This project, the first of the planned restoration completed for the Noisette Creek Preserve, has created momentum and excitement for several similar projects slated for this small urban watershed. By aligning these restoration efforts with the larger goals for the City of North Charleston’s smart and sustainable growth, we and our partners have been able to build stronger, greener coastal communities and support a thriving local economy—a success for both the environment and the people of North Charleston.
Readers, how are you supporting resilient and sustainable coastal communities near you this Earth Day (and every day)?
This is a post by Office of Response and Restoration Biologist Nicolle Rutherford.
To clean, or not to clean: That is the question.
And if you’re going to clean, how best to do it? This is a question that responders face whenever oil ends up on a shoreline after an oil spill. It’s a particularly difficult question when this happens on the shoreline of marshes.
Although we may sometimes think of marshes as murky, swampy, or smelly, marshes are highly sensitive environments with soft sediments that support a huge diversity of creatures, including birds, mammals, fish, crabs, and shrimp. Marshes are also incredibly productive habitats that act as nurseries for many juvenile organisms and whose large amounts of decaying plant material are the base of a complex food web. They also provide other important ecological services like storm surge protection and shoreline stabilization and water quality improvement. In many instances, when marshes get oiled, the best response action is no response—meaning no human-led cleanup. In the spill response world, we call this “natural recovery.”
Natural recovery is often the best option for an oiled marsh because nearly all types of active cleanup will include some unintentional habitat damage or disturbance. This can stem from the type of equipment used, the way it is used, or the mere presence of cleanup workers disturbing wildlife or trampling the marsh vegetation. The last 40 years of cleaning up oil spills in marshes has demonstrated that active, aggressive cleaning can cause as much or more short- and long-term damage than leaving the oil in place to break down naturally.When Natural Recovery Is Not Enough
So, when over 30 miles of sensitive salt marshes in Louisiana’s Northern Barataria Bay were heavily oiled as a result of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, natural recovery was the preferred approach. However, in the areas with the most substantial and persistent oiling, the oil did not appear to be weathering or naturally degrading over time.
In these areas, a dense, heavy layer of oiled, matted vegetation was lying overtop thick, fresher-looking emulsified oil (meaning it had water mixed in it). The vegetation mats were limiting the oil’s exposure to sunlight, air circulation, and tidal flushing—all natural factors which help break down oil. A number of “traditional” methods of marsh cleanup were tried earlier in the spill response, including low-pressure flushing with ambient seawater, skimming, vacuuming, applying materials to absorb the oil, and natural recovery. However, they performed poorly and in some cases caused additional damage to the marsh.
So what to do? Since the tried-and-true, traditional methods of cleanup weren’t working, this spill’s Shoreline Cleanup and Assessment Technique (SCAT) program (which surveys an affected shoreline after an oil spill) proposed a field test of various treatment methods, led by the oil spill science experts on NOAA’s Scientific Support Team. In addition to proposing a series of test treatments, they set aside several “no treatment” (natural recovery) sites with similar oiling conditions, and established nearby reference sites as well, both for later comparison to the treated sites.
All of the proposed test treatments included cutting the oiled vegetation to expose the thick oil beneath it, in order to accelerate weathering of the oil. In addition to vegetation cutting, the following treatments were tried:
- Using two different chemical shoreline cleaners that are designed to make oil “lift and float.”
- Low-pressure flushing.
- Marsh vacuuming.
As it turned out, conventional “weed whackers” were no match for the dense, heavily oiled vegetation mats, even when we tried different cutting techniques and cutting attachments. So we raked the vegetation. In the end, the only treatment that showed promise was the vegetation raking.Click to view slideshow.
As we monitored the treated plots, however, we found that the ebb and flow of the tide laid the raked vegetation back down on the marsh, reforming the oiled vegetation mats and continuing to trap the layer of thick emulsified oil on the marsh surface. It quickly became apparent to us SCAT program scientists that any successful treatment would require removing the oiled vegetation. A fresh round of investigation into cutting devices began.
Ultimately, a heavy-duty, commercial power hedge trimmer was the solution. It was successfully used to cut through the dense, heavily oiled mats of laid-over vegetation and to cut oiled vegetation that still stood upright. By aggressively raking the oiled vegetation and the thick oil layer on the surface of the marsh, we were able to remove much of the oil, reducing the surface oiling and risk of re-oiling other vegetation.
Initial monitoring showed that this approach resulted in completely removing the heavily oiled vegetation mats in the raked and cut plots. Most importantly, the character of the remaining oil on the marsh area changed from mostly thick emulsified oil to a predominance of more weathered surface oil residue that posed far less of a risk to wildlife or for refloating and re-oiling the marsh.
In all, seven miles of the most heavily oiled areas in Northern Barataria Bay, La., were treated by raking and cutting. Most of this work was conducted by hand, using walk boards to reduce the foot traffic in the marsh. It appears that the treatment was effective and that impacts to the marsh from the cleanup action were limited.
We are continuing to monitor the test plots in order to fully understand whether this cleanup action was the best approach and what the ecological effects or impacts of “treatment” versus “no treatment” are. Stay tuned for a future post that explores the results of the data collected thus far.
Nicolle Rutherford is a biologist in NOAA Office of Response and Restoration’s Emergency Response Division. Nicolle received a bachelor’s degree in marine science from the University of South Carolina, Coastal Carolina College, and a master’s degree from Western Washington University in biology with a concentration in marine and estuarine science.
After graduate school, she and her husband served in the U.S. Peace Corps in the Republic of Vanuatu. Upon her return to the States, Nicolle worked for an environmental consulting firm as a wetland ecologist for several years before taking a position as a biologist at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps). She came to NOAA from the Corps.
This is a guest post by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Kathryn Jahn, case manager for the Hudson River Natural Resource Damage Assessment. This originally appeared in full on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region blog.
In the early 1970s, toxic compounds known as polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, were discovered in the water, fish, and sediment of the Hudson River below General Electric Company’s plants at Hudson Falls and Fort Edward in New York.
Those PCBs have contaminated the surface water, groundwater, sediments, and floodplains of the Hudson River. We find that living resources at every level of the Hudson River’s food chains are contaminated with PCBs. We believe that serious adverse effects are likely to be occurring to wildlife exposed to this PCB contamination in the Hudson River.
A whole team of people are using their individual and collective expertise to address the problem of PCB contamination in the Hudson River and its effect on wildlife. My favorite part of this job is the teamwork among all the people working on this issue, and the interactions with our experts and the public.
We know that PCBs can cause serious harm to wildlife and other natural resources. Although a cleanup funded by GE is underway for certain sections of the Hudson River, the dredging GE is doing will leave some areas still contaminated with PCBs.
The dredging also cannot compensate for past effects of this PCB contamination on the Hudson River’s natural resources. For example, dredging will not make up for all the years that public use of the Hudson River fishery has been impaired by fish consumption advisories. Dredging will not return that lost use to the public.
In our planning to determine the effects of PCBs on wildlife, we identified mink health as one area to investigate. Mink are vulnerable to the effects of PCBs. Hudson River mink eat PCB-contaminated fish and other small creatures, and they ingest contaminated water, soil, and sediments as they look for food and build their dens. This led us to suspect that Hudson River mink might be harmed by PCBs in their environment.
[Editor's note: And learn about a past report from the Hudson River Natural Resource Trustees, including NOAA, which found that PCBs permeate nearly every part of the Hudson River.]
This is a post by the Office of Response and Restoration’s Jessica White.
If, like most Americans, you live in a city, then you’re probably familiar with their crowds, busy streets, and steel-and-glass skyscrapers. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could occasionally break away from the city to watch wood storks fly by, or take a leisurely stroll on a trail surrounded by live oaks and tall grasses?
For the lucky residents of Houston, Texas, they can make this happen in as little as 45 minutes at the Baytown Nature Center and Spring Creek Greenway. But these natural escapes hold a few surprising secrets. The waters and greenery of Baytown have their origins in an abandoned waterfront housing development, and their transformation from concrete to marsh, along with the preservation of Spring Creek’s wetlands, actually owe some thanks to Greens Bayou, a previously pesticide-laden industrial site just down the interstate.The Site
The Greens Bayou site, located in Houston, is 217 acres of chemical manufacturing facilities, a flood control ditch that leads into the bayou itself, and the undeveloped land that surrounds all of this. Greens Bayou is a tidally influenced area whose brackish waters run into those of the well-trafficked Houston Ship Channel.
Historically, the area’s chemical plants disposed of untreated liquid waste and wastewaters from manufacturing operations in unlined, earthen ditches, which then flowed into Greens Bayou. These ditches were the primary way pesticides were able to leach into the soil, sediment, surface water, and ground water in this environment. In particular, DDT and its by-products were found at high levels, signaling to us the potential for adverse effects for the bayou’s bottom-dwelling invertebrates, fish, and aquatic-dependent wildlife.The Investigation
I became involved with Greens Bayou in 2004. By this time, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) had commenced the remedial investigation under the Texas Risk Reduction Program. This investigation included a detailed assessment of risk to the environment, which involved sampling and chemical analysis of sediment, soil, water, and fish tissue from Greens Bayou. The assessment’s results indicated that the natural resources found at this site were at risk of injury or loss. This prompted the natural resources trustees—NOAA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, TCEQ, and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department—to initiate a Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) in 2005. This meant we were performing our own assessment, which used information from the remedial investigation to quantify the harm done to the habitats, fish, birds, and wildlife there. As a result, our assessment continued on a parallel track to the remedial investigation. This collaboration helped us work more efficiently as we collected and analyzed data.
At the conclusion of the damage assessment, the trustees determined that this chemical facility site required ecological restoration to offset the past injuries to the forested wetlands and submerged mud bottom habitats. The next step in the NRDA process was to identify suitable restoration projects which would benefit the natural resources that depended on the injured habitats. Restoration is defined as the rehabilitation, replacement, or acquisition of the equivalent natural resources that were lost or injured. In this case, we trustees selected both the route of restoration and acquisition to compensate the public for the loss of these natural resources. (The final damage assessment and restoration plan is available online. [PDF])The Restoration
The restoration project we chose for the submerged mud bottom habitat is the creation of nearly 11 acres of estuarine marsh at the Baytown Nature Center located in Baytown, Texas. To accomplish this, the existing shoreline and adjacent area will be re-contoured to a lower elevation. Further lowering the elevation of the shoreline will allow more water to infiltrate the land and support the addition of marsh plants. However, this also involves breaking up the concrete sidewalks and foundations remaining from the area’s past life as an upscale residential neighborhood known as Brownwood.Click to view slideshow.
In the 1940s and 50s, Brownwood became home to impressive two-story residences and their boathouses, framed by palm trees and the San Jacinto River. The death of this booming subdivision came slowly, delivered by local industry’s massive extraction of water beneath Brownwood, which caused the land to subside significantly. More than two decades of hurricanes and storm surges began flooding residents out of their sinking homes, and after Hurricane Alicia devastated the area in 1983, the city of Baytown worked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to buy out the last of Brownwood’s homeowners. Baytown then agreed to transform the abandoned neighborhood into a public park and nature center. One of the few surviving signs of Brownwood will be a swimming pool the trustees have decided to leave amid the re-created saltmarsh.
Across town, on the north side of Houston, we will replace Greens Bayou’s lost forested wetland habitat with 100 acres of similar habitat, located in the Spring Creek Greenway. The acreage has already been acquired and placed under a conservation easement. This easement will protect the property, already surrounded by subdivisions, from development. It will also ensure the land is available for the public to enjoy through a number of activities such as nature hiking, biking, and bird-watching.
Settlement of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment for the Greens Bayou case includes reimbursement for the trustee assessment and restoration oversight costs as well as the cost to implement the restoration projects (estimated at approximately $375,000 for the Baytown Nature Center project and $417,000 for the Spring Creek project). Both the Baytown Nature Center and Spring Creek Greenway are places where people can enjoy nature in the highly developed Houston area. By partnering with these existing initiatives, we trustees were able to ensure the restoration projects would build on the local momentum to protect and appreciate the natural environment while reversing the ecological damage done at Greens Bayou.
Jessica White is a Regional Resource Coordinator with the Assessment and Restoration Division of NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration. She has been working with NOAA in the Gulf since 2003 and recently relocated to the Gulf of Mexico Disaster Response Center. Jessica has assessed and restored Superfund sites in Texas and Louisiana and has supported oil spill and marine debris cleanup. She has a B.S. in Biology from Texas Tech University and a M.S. in Environmental Science from the University of North Texas.
After Remaking the Way for Fish, Huge Increases Follow for Migrating Herring in a Massachusetts River
A version of this story first appeared on the NOAA Restoration Center website on April 8, 2013.
In 2007, as part of a habitat restoration project, NOAA helped to install stone “fishways” at two dams on the Acushnet River in Massachusetts. These fishways, designed to more closely resemble conditions found in nature, are located in the river channel and allow migrating fish to gradually gain enough elevation to successfully pass over the dams.
Since construction, there has been an astounding 1,140% increase in migrating herring able to pass over the dams and access prime spawning grounds, according to data collected by the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries [PDF].
Migrating fish, including river herring and American eels, now have much better access to habitat all along the Acushnet River, which runs 8.5 miles from the spawning areas of the New Bedford Reservoir into New Bedford Harbor and empties into Buzzards Bay. This means more opportunities for herring to grow, thrive, and spawn.
Herring are caught commercially and are also important prey fish for other commercial and recreational fish species, such as cod. But, due to very low numbers, there is currently a moratorium on the take of river herring from Massachusetts waters.
Between the 1940s and the 1970s, electrical parts manufacturers discharged wastes containing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and toxic metals into New Bedford Harbor, resulting in high levels of contamination. NOAA, through the Damage Assessment Remediation and Restoration Program (DARRP), worked with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the Department of Interior to fund the design and construction of these fishways. They are part of a restoration plan developed in response to decades of industrial pollution in New Bedford Harbor, a major commercial fishing port and industrial center in southeastern Massachusetts. According to NOAA, part of this site held the “highest concentrations of PCBs ever documented in a marine environment.”
So far, 34 projects—including these fishways—have been completed to restore natural resources that were injured or lost due to the contamination. Read more on the case and get the latest updates on restoration.
This spring, scientists are hoping to see even bigger runs of herring on the Acushnet. Want to see them in person? The third and fourth weeks of April should be peak migration time for these fish—check out this viewing guide for more information.
This is a post by Ian Zelo, NOAA Oil Spill Coordinator for the Office of Response and Restoration.
In the center of Alaska’s rugged Aleutian Islands is the sparsely populated Adak Island. It was here—in the middle of winter on January 11, 2010—that workers at the Adak Petroleum Bulk Fuel facility were filling an underground tank with oil from the supply tanker Al Amerat. But as the tanker sat moored at the dock, its oil began overfilling the 4.8 million gallon underground tank. Up to 142,800 gallons of #2 diesel flowed out of the tank and eventually into the nearby salmon stream, Helmet Creek.
Just over a mile after the creek passes the oil storage facility, it enters the Adak Small Boat Harbor, which is open to Sweeper Cove’s marine waters. Helmet Creek is equipped with gates that can partially close off the flow of the stream. That feature played to the response’s favor because spill response personnel were able to use these gates, along with boom and absorbent materials, to contain most of the oil spill in the stream.
Only a small percentage of the oil reached the boat harbor and Sweeper Cove. However, Alaska, NOAA, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as natural resource trustees, were concerned about injury to both the stream and marine habitats and began a Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) to investigate potential environmental impacts.Mission: Nearly Impossible
I got involved the next day, January 12, leading the NOAA team for this injury assessment. While the trustees were coordinating closely with the response, it was clear that we would need to send environmental assessment teams to the island to document the spill and its impacts on local habitats. However, there are only two flights to Adak each week. We knew the next flight to the island was on January 14 and we needed to be on it. This meant we had only two days to plan our initial assessment, recruit a field team to take samples, assemble the equipment, and finalize a field sampling protocol.
My role was to coordinate partners and tasks across two federal and four state agencies. On such a short time frame, we could not afford to work using the logical path we usually take: plan, recruit, gear up, and go. We had to scramble and do it all at once.
On the evening of January 13, our assembled field staff had flown to Anchorage, Alaska, with their field gear and were staged there for the 2:00 p.m. flight the next day. A local laboratory would assemble our sampling equipment and have it ready to pick up the following morning. We had a draft sampling protocol that would be finalized while the team was flying so they could be briefed on the details of their mission when they arrived. Things looked good.
At 6:30 a.m. on January 14, I got a call from one of our field staff. She had a personal emergency and had to pull out of the mission. Suddenly, things did not look good. To work safely and to accomplish our sampling goals, we needed four people on the team. I now had 8 hours to find another qualified person or we had to cancel. Working with our state partners, I identified and spoke to an Anchorage-based consulting firm by 8:30 a.m. We identified a potential replacement and called him on his drive into the office. By 9:00 he was on his way back home to get ready. With a little over an hour before the flight took off, we were able to get a contract in place to hire the consulting firm and buy his plane ticket. Once again, the mission was a go.
Over the next five weeks, we sent three field teams to Adak to assess injury caused by the oil spill. I was on the second mission. During the assessment we fished both Helmet Creek and similar streams (for comparison) to document the fish communities. One of the methods we used is known as “electrofishing.” A common research technique, it involves sticking an electrified wand in the water to temporarily shock and disable nearby fish and allow us to catch them. We counted and collected fish for contaminant and developmental analysis. Mussels were collected from sites in and around Sweeper Cover and Finger Bay (a nearby bay farther than we thought the oil might travel, again, for comparison). Trustees also collected dozens of water and sediment samples and surveyed birds.
During this assessment, we had to deal with a few unusual challenges. We had to operate at night in order to work at low tide. We were excluded from Helmet Creek for half of the second assessment because the responders discovered unexploded ordnance (potentially explosive weapons), which had to be removed before we could continue. We worked in streams that were partially or fully covered in ice, and on the final mission our assessment was interrupted by a blizzard. Our teams had to recover fish traps from under several feet of snow.Ready for Restoration
In the summer of 2011, the trustees worked cooperatively with Adak Petroleum Bulk Fuel facility, the responsible party, on scoping restoration options. NOAA and the other trustee partners are now nearing a cooperative settlement with the fuel facility. We’ve reviewed possible restoration projects that could compensate the public for the injuries caused by the spill and have drafted a Damage Assessment and Restoration Plan [PDF] that is available for public comment.
In the plan, we present our preferred restoration alternative, which includes a suite of projects to improve the overall quality of Helmet Creek. Restoration is targeted at pink salmon but also will benefit the entire stream corridor. The proposed work includes restoring access to the creek for fish, removing barrels and other debris, and increasing water flow by plugging a culvert system that is drawing water from the stream. Our goal is to perform this restoration in the summer of 2013.
You can comment on the restoration plan until April 30, 2013. Send comments to me at:
NOAA Oil Spill Coordinator
Assessment and Restoration Division
7600 Sand Point Way NE
Seattle, WA 98115
Please provide a subject line, indicating that your comments relate to restoration planning for the Adak 2010 oil spill. Any comments received will become part of the administrative record. Please be aware that your entire comment—including your personal identifying information—may be made publicly available.
Ian Zelo is an oil spill and injury assessment specialist for NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration. He has performed both response and damage assessment roles on spills across the country. His first case in Alaska was the Selendang Ayu grounding on Unalaska Island in 2004.