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Scientist recording information on a data sheet on an Arctic beach.
2015 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 materials.

Our accomplishments in fiscal year 2015 speak to our dedication to science-based solutions for protecting and restoring natural resources from coastal hazards.

  • 154. That's the number of oil spills, chemical releases, and other threats we responded to.
  • 39. That's the number of training and response events hosted at the Gulf of Mexico Disaster Response Center.
  • $2,058,145. That's the amount awarded for marine debris prevention and removal projects.
  • 2,682. That's the number of people we trained in oil and chemical spill response and planning.
  • $8.8 billion. That's the amount of natural resource damages awarded from the agreement in principle for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
  • 13 million. That's the number of Deepwater Horizon oil spill scientific records available to the public.
Partial decayed boat floats on the ocean.
Reducing Marine 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.

Seascape with light on the horizon
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 man-made 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, training, workshops, and planning activities.

Two workers clean up a rocky and sandy oiled beach in California.
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.

Restored salt marsh surrounded by palms and grasses in Florida.
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.

Oiled grasses in a bucket of oily water.
Responding to Spills, From Bangladesh to Houston

In the past year we responded to 154 oil and hazardous material spills. In December 2014, we joined a United Nations team offering assistance after an oil tanker sank in Bangladesh, spilling oil into a protected mangrove area and UNESCO World Heritage site. We helped evaluate the threat and minimize the impacts to this diverse ecosystem. As part of the UN team, we assessed spill impacts and developed recommendations for the Bangladesh government.

In March 2015, a collision caused the tanker Carla Maersk to leak the highly flammable and potentially explosive chemical methyl tert-butyl ether into the Houston Ship Channel. Our scientists provided information on environmental fate, hazard assessment, air and water trajectory predictions, and natural resources at risk. In May 2015, a pipeline ruptured near Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara County, California. A reported 21,000 gallons of crude oil reached the Pacific Ocean, closing multiple beaches and fisheries and affecting birds, marine mammals, fish, and marine invertebrates. In response to this spill, we provided aerial surveys of the spill, information on fate and effects of the oil, potential environmental impacts, and observational and data management support for the Natural Resource Damage Assessment.

Grasses on beach in front of ocean.
Restoration Plan for the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

On July 2, 2015, BP reached an agreement in principle with the United States and the five Gulf states to settle the civil claims against the company arising out of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill tragedy. Although the terms are not final or binding until a consent decree is negotiated, undergoes public comment, and secures court approval, BP has announced the value of the settlement to be approximately $20.8 billion. Of this proposed settlement up to $8.8 billion will go to natural resource damages and fund Gulf restoration projects as designated by the trustees.

The agreement in principle led to the October 2015 release of the draft comprehensive restoration plan for the Gulf of Mexico. The draft plan would allocate funds to meet five restoration goals and 13 restoration types designed to meet these goals. Together, these efforts will restore wildlife and habitat and increase recreational opportunities in the Gulf.

Scientific data for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill can be accessed on our public data warehouse and query tool DIVER Explorer, as well as our online mapping tool ERMA® Deepwater Gulf Response.

Divers detangle floating nets from remote Hawaiian reefs.
57 Tons of Debris Removed from NW Hawaiian Islands

The NOAA Marine Debris Program (MDP) partnered with NOAA's Coral Reef Ecosystem Division and Office of National Marine Sanctuaries to fund a 33-day mission to remove marine debris from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. A total of 17 NOAA divers and crew members, including MDP staff, sailed aboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette and removed debris from Hawaii's Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, a World Heritage Site and one of the largest marine conservation areas in the world.

In total, the team removed approximately 57 tons of derelict fishing nets and plastic debris from the monument's tiny islands and atolls, sensitive coral reefs, and shallow waters. NOAA has led this mission every year since 1996, removing a total of 904 tons of marine debris, including this year's haul.

People in safety vests sitting at a table and taking notes.
Disaster Drill Improves NOAA Preparedness

In concert with National Ocean Service (NOS) priorities, we collaborated with other NOS offices and the NOAA Homeland Security Program Office to execute a one-day exercise in emergency preparedness. The primary goal of this drill was to improve NOS response, recovery, and resilience capabilities during disasters. This exercise simulated a small-scale tsunami wave inundating the East Coast, which resulted from a major landslide in the Canary Islands off Africa. Staff participated from offices in Maryland, Virginia, and South Carolina. Nearly 60 staff worked through critical logistical, planning, and operational issues during this hypothetical disaster.

Field staff provided real-time situational reports to the NOS incident management team using our online environmental mapping tool, ERMA®, to create an accessible, central location for incident data. NOAA's communications team even simulated a press conference. NOAA's incident management team has continued training, with our Disaster Response Center taking a lead role in determining and implementing training requirements, as well as a NOAA incident management handbook and course.

Person in boat paddling on Gulf of Mexico waters.
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.

Old decrepit recreational boats piled on a dock.
Planning for Disaster Debris in Alabama

The State of Alabama now has a plan that will help state and local officials, along with federal partners, respond to acute waterway debris releases from hurricanes and other natural disasters or man-made incidents.

In May 2015, the NOAA Marine Debris Program released the Alabama Incident Waterway Debris Response Plan and Field Guide, the first in a planned series of state plans intended to improve preparedness and facilitate a coordinated, well-managed, and immediate response to this type of marine debris.

Oil in wake of boat.
New Data Management Tool for Deepwater Horizon Data

In May 2015, we released a flexible new data management tool, known as DIVER, to the public. We developed DIVER to support the Natural Resource Damage Assessment for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. DIVER, which is a digital data warehouse and query tool, provides unprecedented flexibility for filtering and downloading environmental data collected as part of the damage assessment efforts for the Gulf of Mexico. DIVER has served as the centralized data repository for scientists from many different organizations across the country to upload their field data, analyses, results, photographs, and other key information from scientific studies. The DIVER application integrates diverse data sets and related information into the data warehouse, and the web-based DIVER Explorer query tool provides unique filtering and exporting from this vast data set. Publicly accessible data include more than 13 million records from 100,000 environmental samples collected during 20,000 field trips over the more than five year injury assessment. DIVER is available at https://www.diver.orr.noaa.gov/deepwater-horizon-nrda-data/.

Group of people on Charleston beach learning how to characterize shoreline.
New Developments in Spill Training

We now offer our highly in-demand Science of Oil Spills (SOS) class five times a year, educating 194 responders annually. In addition, we have developed a similar course focused on the science of chemical releases. In June, we presented a pilot version of this course at our Disaster Response Center in Mobile, Alabama. The new course is designed to provide information and tools to better manage and plan for responses to chemical incidents.

We also trained 380 responders in Shoreline Cleanup and Assessment Technique (SCAT). A critical component for effective oil spill response, SCAT drives operational decisions and deployment of assets during the response. In addition, we reached 261 responders through our online training, created in partnership with The COMET® Program, covering aerial observation of oil on water.

Internationally, we taught our Australian counterparts to use our oil weathering model, ADIOS; trained personnel from the Panama Canal Authority in the use of our chemical response (CAMEO) and oil trajectory (GNOME) software; and helped organize the 2015 Monitoring and Reporting of Illicit Discharges in the ROPME Sea Area Workshop in Dubai.

Two SCUBA divers gather broken corals from the seafloor into a basket.
Bringing Emergency Restoration into Response

In March, NOAA's Gulf of Mexico Disaster Response Center partnered with NOAA's Restoration Center to hold a workshop covering the emergency restoration process during the response phase of an incident, such as an oil spill or ship grounding on coral. During the workshop, participants from federal and state agencies and private industry focused on topics such as developing a clear understanding of how and when emergency restoration integrates into a response, what might be necessary to implement this option more often, and what types of tools or publications could facilitate this process. NOAA built on the efforts of this workshop to create a practical guide to emergency restoration. This guide is meant to facilitate implementation of emergency restoration by practitioners of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment process and the incident response. The goal is to improve understanding of emergency restoration, identify points of contact and decision points in the process, improve coordination between response and damage assessment, and provide examples of emergency restoration actions in commonly affected habitats.

People learn chemical safety with equipment in a warehouse.
Better Chemical Response Tools for Better Safety

By enhancing our chemical response and planning tools, we are working to reduce the frequency and impacts of chemical accidents. After two major chemical disasters in 2013, President Obama signed Executive Order 13650 to improve the safety and security of chemical facilities. The order established a multi-agency working group that identified specific actions [PDF] for reducing hazardous chemical risks to workers and communities. It directly called out enhancements to our CAMEO suite of response and planning tools, jointly developed with U.S. EPA.

Following this, we revamped MARPLOT, the mapping component of CAMEO, offering greater flexibility and even more powerful data-searching capabilities. We updated CAMEO's hazard modeling software, ALOHA, to estimate how chemicals escape from tanks over time. We also added the Department of Homeland Security's Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards regulatory information to our hazardous chemical database, CAMEO Chemicals. In addition, we released the Chemical Aquatic Fate and Effects (CAFE) database, a software program for estimating the fate and effects of thousands of chemicals, oils, and dispersants. This tool will help responders assess environmental impacts from spills in aquatic environments.

Restored wetland in North Carolina in winter.
Reversing Environmental Harm from Pollution

In addition to the settlement in principle with BP for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, NOAA and our partners achieved numerous other legal settlements for natural resource damages, totaling $40 million. These settlements will provide funding for environmental restoration and recreational opportunities for the public at polluted sites along the coasts and Great Lakes.

  • In Washington, a new project will reopen 121 acres of historic floodplain for salmon. This project will continue a long legacy of efforts in Commencement Bay to ensure those companies that released hazardous materials into the bay are held accountable for restoring the public natural resources harmed.
  • In New Jersey, over $9 million will compensate for environmental impacts due to toxic chemicals released at a former Cornell-Dubilier Electronics, Inc. site.
Devastation of Bolivar Peninsula, Texas, following Hurricane Ike.
Assessing Risks and Threats in the Gulf

The first step in planning and preparing for potential disasters is to conduct a threat analysis to determine where and what risks exist. We undertook the Gulf of Mexico Coastal All-Hazards Risk and Threat Assessment to provide a detailed assessment of plausible risk to the coastal states bordering the Gulf of Mexico. This assessment may be useful for emergency professionals pursuing regional preparedness planning.

The assessment investigated how threats from natural and man-made infrastructure, such as oil production or chemical manufacturing facilities, overlap to augment environmental risk during potential hazards. The spectrum of hazards evaluated for this project included natural disasters (hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunami waves), pollution accidents (oil or chemical spills), and potential biological events (harmful algal blooms). The study area was comprised of 73 counties and parishes throughout Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. The final product is an assessment report with maps linking to a GIS viewer, including our online environmental data mapping tool ERMA®, and is intended for regional contingency planners.

Americorps volunteers carry debris out of a marsh.
Funding Removal of 250 Tons of Marine Debris

Removing marine debris is critical for delivering restoration and long-lasting ecological benefits to coastal habitats. Eight removal projects, funded through the NOAA Marine Debris Program's removal grant competition, completed efforts which removed nearly 250 tons of debris from the ocean and coasts.

The projects ranged from the Pacific Islands and Alaska to the eastern seaboard and were implemented in partnership with non-governmental organizations, tribes, universities, and local government agencies. The combined effort demonstrates the widespread need to address marine debris across the country.

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