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Man in hard hat at the Panama Canal under construction.
2014 Accomplishments: The Year in Review

NOAA's Office of Response and Restoration is helping minimize environmental damages and prepare coastal communities to better deal with the impacts of marine debris, oil spills, and hazardous waste pollution.

Our accomplishments in fiscal year 2014 speak to our dedication in providing world-class science and solutions for protecting and restoring the nation's resources from coastal environmental hazards.

  • 138. That's the number of oil spills, chemical releases, and other threats we responded to.
  • 21. That's the number of training and response events hosted at the Gulf of Mexico Disaster Response Center.
  • $2,295,442. That's the amount awarded in grants and cooperative agreements for marine debris prevention, removal, and research.
  • 2,388. That's the number of people we trained in oil spill response and planning.
  • $627 million. That's the amount approved for Phase III of early environmental restoration in the Gulf of Mexico resulting from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Group of people pushing and pulling old fishing nets off a beach in Hawaii.
Reducing Debris on our Shores

The NOAA Marine Debris Program, a division of the Office of Response and Restoration, leads national efforts to research, prevent, and reduce the impacts of marine debris.

Staff are positioned across the country and support marine debris projects in partnership with state and local agencies, tribes, non-governmental organizations, academia, and industry. The program also spearheads national research efforts and works to change behavior in the public through education and outreach initiatives.

Cleanup workers remove oil from a sandy beach.
Texas City "Y" Oil Spill Response

The Office of Response and Restoration responded to the March 22, 2014 collision of the M/V Summer Wind with the tank-barge Kirby 27706 in Galveston Bay, near Texas City, Texas. The collision, which closed the Houston Ship Channel for several days, resulted in the largest U.S. oil spill response since 2010's Deepwater Horizon incident. Roughly 168,000 gallons of oil spilled, spreading 200 miles south to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, home to endangered species such as whooping cranes and sea turtles. Within 24 hours, OR&R was on scene, coordinating with NOAA's National Weather Service to provide localized forecasts and National Marine Fisheries Service to assess wildlife threats and support recovery efforts. OR&R responders also modeled the spread of oil, identified natural resources at risk, conducted aerial and shoreline surveys of beaches, and provided cleanup recommendations. OR&R used its online mapping tool ERMA® to display up-to-date operational response data for multiple command posts and remote field staff. Through NOAA's Damage Assessment, Remediation, and Restoration Program, OR&R now is conducting a Natural Resource Damage Assessment to identify injuries to natural resources, impacts to people's uses of resources, and restoration needs from the spill.

Restored river shoreline with large logs in the middle.
Assessing and Restoring our Shores

The Office of Response and Restoration's Assessment and Restoration Division (ARD) is responsible for evaluating and restoring coastal and estuarine habitats damaged by hazardous waste releases, oil spills, and vessel groundings.

Working with partners, ARD, through NOAA's Damage Assessment, Remediation, and Restoration Program, determines the harm to the environment and defines the amount of restoration required to compensate the American public for those impacts.

Boots of cleanup worker raking oil on sandy beach.
Responding to Oil and Chemical Spills

The Office of Response and Restoration's Emergency Response Division (ERD) supports the U.S. Coast Guard by providing round-the-clock scientific expertise for oil and chemical spills in U.S. marine and coastal waters. ERD's efforts facilitate spill prevention, preparedness, response, and restoration through its network of Scientific Support Coordinators; a Seattle-based support team of scientists, technical experts, and software developers; and federal, state, and academic partners.

View of bay in the Gulf of Mexico.
NOAA's Gulf of Mexico Disaster Response Center

NOAA's Gulf of Mexico Disaster Response Center (DRC) brings together NOAA-wide resources to improve preparedness, planning, and response capacity for natural and manmade disasters along the Gulf Coast. Located in Mobile, Alabama, the center is focused on the five states bordering the Gulf of Mexico.

The facility is designed to survive up to Category 5 hurricane winds, contains a Force-5 tornado shelter, and has backup power systems to continue operations in the midst of severe weather. Intended to serve as a safe and ready command center during major disaster responses in the Gulf, the DRC also offers facilities for drills, trainings, workshops, and planning activities.

Trash on a beach.
First Action Plan for Great Lakes Debris

In the spring of 2014, the NOAA Marine Debris Program unveiled the Great Lakes Land-based Marine Debris Action Plan—the first of its kind for the region.

The action plan provides scientists, governments, stakeholders, and decision makers a road map for strategic progress to see that the Great Lakes, its coasts, people, and wildlife are free from the impacts of marine debris.

Restored river shoreline with large logs.
Restoring Salmon Habitat in Washington

South of Seattle, Washington, the airplane manufacturer Boeing Company has created one of the largest habitat restoration projects on the Lower Duwamish River. Boeing worked with NOAA's Damage Assessment, Remediation, and Restoration Program and our partners under a Natural Resource Damage Assessment to restore habitat for fish, shorebirds, and wildlife harmed by historical hazardous substance releases on this heavily used urban river. The restoration included reshaping the shoreline and adding 170,000 native plants and large woody debris, which provide areas where young salmon can seek refuge from predators in the river. Two acres of wetlands were also constructed on the site, all of which will be maintained by Boeing to ensure productive habitat for years to come.

Oil sheen on water surface.
Partnering for Dispersant Research

Response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico resulted in unprecedented use of chemical dispersants on and below the ocean's surface. This use raised scientific, public, and political questions about both their effectiveness and their potential consequences for ecosystems and marine life in the Gulf—and elsewhere. To help answer those questions, NOAA's Office of Response and Restoration partnered with the Coastal Response Research Center at the University of New Hampshire to fund research on dispersants and dispersed oil. These efforts funded three projects. The first developed a worldwide quantitative database of the toxicological effects of dispersants and chemically dispersed oil. The second sought to improve understanding of chronic impacts of chemical dispersant and chemically dispersed oil on blue crabs. The third researched public concerns and sought to improve risk communication tools for oil spills and dispersant use. Already, the results of this research are being used to improve NOAA's scientific support during spills, update predictive models, and improve risk communication during spills and other incidents.

People at tables in a conference room.
An All-Hazards Training Hub

NOAA's Gulf of Mexico Disaster Response Center (DRC) sponsored or hosted 21 different meetings, workshops, and training events at the Mobile-based facility in fiscal year 2014. These events included a Federal Regional Response Team meeting, a Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program class, NOAA's Science of Oil Spills class, and a tropical storm–preparedness exercise co-sponsored by the National Weather Service.

The DRC also hosted the Alabama Emergency Management Agency for their class on Managing Floodplain Development through the National Flood Insurance Program. In addition, the DRC provided meeting space for Mobile County Emergency Management Agency for their local Mass Care meeting, which is held annually.

Providing a home for these trainings allows the DRC to be a central hub for all-hazards coordination and to improve emergency responder readiness throughout the Gulf of Mexico region.

A beach in southern California with a few pieces of debris washed up.
Economic Impacts of Littered Beaches

Southern California residents lose millions of dollars each year avoiding local beaches with litter in favor of cleaner beaches that are farther away and may cost more to reach, according to a new economic study funded by the NOAA Marine Debris Program. The study, led by Industrial Economics, Incorporated, is the first of its kind to look at how marine debris influences decisions to go to the beach and what it may cost.

The study found that reducing marine debris on beaches can prevent financial loss and provide economic benefits to residents. For beaches in and around Orange County, for example, reducing marine debris by even 25 percent could benefit residents roughly $32 million during three months in the summer.

Broken sea ice in the Arctic Ocean.
Mapping from the Cloud to the Arctic

Having the right tools and information on hand is vital to any response, whether responders are spread across the country or facing the challenging conditions of the Arctic.

In September 2014, the Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R) launched an updated version of the Environmental Response Management Application (ERMA®), an online mapping tool integrating key environmental response information for decision makers. The updated tool is the first official NOAA system to be hosted on a federally approved external cloud service provider. With many behind-the-scenes improvements, these enhancements will increase the scalability and performance of the application and strengthen ERMA's data management practices.

While the cloud increases the capacity to share information anywhere with Internet, response teams need to be able to use ERMA where little or no connectivity exists, such as on the Arctic Ocean. For the second year in a row, OR&R addressed this challenge when an Internet-independent version of ERMA was used in the U.S. Coast Guard's Arctic Shield exercise. Participating in these kinds of drills also allows NOAA to better integrate into ERMA real-time data from unmanned aerial surveying equipment, which might be used during a spill response in remote areas.

Aerial view of the former Ciba chemical plant.
$3.7 Million for Alabama Restoration

Following a natural resource damages settlement, NOAA and our federal and state partners have announced $3.7 million in funding to restore natural resources and habitats harmed by hazardous substances released from a manufacturing site in McIntosh, Alabama. Beginning in the 1950s, the Ciba-Geigy plant manufactured the pesticide DDT and other chemicals. During those years, hazardous wastes from the facility were released into unlined pits on the property and discharged in and around the Tombigbee River. In 1984, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency listed the McIntosh facility as a Superfund site. Early investigations found elevated levels of DDT in fish and sediments nearby. Restoration projects will make up for the environmental impacts resulting from exposure to the contaminants released at the Ciba-Geigy plant.

Rocky beach in Washington with a dock washed up on it.
Lessons from Japan Tsunami Marine Debris

Three years after the Japan earthquake and tsunami disaster, the deposition of Japan tsunami marine debris (JTMD) has subsided, and agencies addressing this issue have accumulated considerable experience, insight, skills, and lessons. To capture and share this information, the NOAA Marine Debris Program coordinated a May 2014 meeting of the entities most involved with JTMD: federal, state, and Indian Tribe representatives, as well as resource managers and university scientists who had been part of NOAA-led bi-weekly debrief calls. The goal of the meeting was to summarize the main activities to date, derive lessons learned, and make recommendations for future severe marine debris events. Read a summary of the proceedings [PDF].

Boat barn at Disaster Response Center.
Facilities Ready for Response

The Disaster Response Center (DRC) added a 3,500 square foot vessel storage building known as the "Boat Barn." The Boat Barn was designed to provide a staging area for equipment and NOAA Navigation Response Team vessels in the event of a major disaster, whether environmental or manmade.

Built to the same standards as the DRC, this additional facility can withstand severe weather and sustained winds up to a Category 5 hurricane. It has room to house up to four vessels.

People talking on a beach.
Preparing Responders for Spills

Each year, NOAA's Office of Response and Restoration, through its Emergency Response Division, provides extensive training on the scientific aspects of oil and chemical spill response and planning. Classes, workshops, and training materials help spill responders increase their understanding of oil spill science when analyzing spills and making risk-based decisions. In fiscal year 2014, these training efforts reached more than 2,000 representatives from dozens of organizations, including the U.S. Coast Guard, Environmental Protection Agency, Navy, tribes, state agencies, industry, universities, and nongovernmental organizations.

Training events included classes in the Science of Oil Spills (SOS) and Shoreline Cleanup and Assessment Technique (SCAT), as well as training in aerial observation of oil (overflights). NOAA staff also taught in-depth, half-day workshops on a variety of topics at the 2014 International Oil Spill Conference. In addition, the Emergency Response Division partnered with The COMET® Program to develop its first online training module, designed specifically for U.S. Coast Guard aircrews, who may spot oil spills in the course of their work. The online training provides a basic one-hour introduction to aerial observation of oil on water.

People sitting around a conference table.
Preparing for Storms in the Gulf of Mexico

The Disaster Response Center partnered with the National Weather Service to assess the hurricane response capabilities of NOAA partners in the Gulf of Mexico through a tabletop exercise simulating a response to the fictitious storm "Tropical Storm Topaz." This discussion-based exercise was designed to improve preparedness, allow NOAA offices to become familiar with other offices' abilities, and demonstrate the measures taken from the beginning to the end of a major storm, should one threaten the Gulf Coast.

The three day exercise brought together 38 participants from the National Ocean Service, National Weather Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, Office of Ocean and Atmospheric Research, Homeland Security Program Office, and National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service.

This exercise fostered awareness and partnerships across NOAA offices, while also helping establish better communication among the offices.

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