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Debris floating in a canal.
2017 Accomplishments: The Year in Review

NOAA's Office of Response and Restoration works to 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 2017 — including a record number of incident responses and ongoing pollution response to an above-average hurricane season — show our dedication to science-based solutions for protecting and restoring natural resources from coastal hazards.

Two women working at a table.
Fiscal Year 2017: By the Numbers
  • 205. That's the number of oil spills, chemical releases, and other threats we responded to.
  • 23. That's the number of training and response events hosted at the Gulf of Mexico Disaster Response Center.
  • $2,173,514. That's the amount awarded for marine debris research and removal projects.
  • 2,130. That's the number of people we trained in oil and chemical spill response and planning.
  • $5,130,000. That's the amount of dollars for restoration recovered from responsible parties from settlements at two oil spills and one waste site.
View of water's edge from a 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 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.

Firefighter in front of a fire.
New Mobile App for Hazardous Chemicals

From hazards and incident response recommendations to public safety guidelines and chemical properties, the new CAMEO Chemicals mobile app lets emergency responders and planners learn more about thousands of hazardous chemicals. That critical information is available even when the internet isn’t — a major benefit in emergency situations.

This is the first mobile app developed by OR&R’s Emergency Response Division. Division Chief Scott Lundgren notes, “The CAMEO Chemicals mobile app represents NOAA’s commitment to keeping our communities safe. By providing first responders with ready access to the information they need to respond to chemical emergencies and manage these risks in their communities, we are raising the bar for public safety. The app serves as an example for how government can leverage science and technology to protect citizens and the world we live in.”

CAMEO Chemicals is part of the CAMEO® software suite, which has been developed jointly by NOAA and the Environmental Protection Agency for over 30 years. Users downloaded the app almost 16,000 times this year (in over 100 countries).

Oil floating on water.
Generational Update for Oil Spill Response Tool

Previously, NOAA spill responders used separate, stand-alone models to estimate oil transport (GNOME™) and weathering (ADIOS®), and to assess the performance of response methods (ROC). They now turn to one integrated oil spill response model, the GNOME suite. These improvements, completed by NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration Emergency Response Division, keep NOAA’s spill response tools at the forefront of oil fate and trajectory modeling and spill scientific support, serving to better manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources.

The GNOME suite (beta) was officially released at the triennial International Oil Spill Conference in May 2017 after nearly four years of work under two interagency agreements. The suite greatly improves NOAA’s ability to forecast and share information on coastal marine pollution. Additionally, through export of spill trajectories to ERMA® and visualization with geographic response strategies digitally captured there, GNOME users can view protection strategies for coastal areas around the country that are vulnerable to oil spills. The suite provides OR&R responders with timely information for decision-making during oil spills, and is freely available to the broader academic, response and oil spill planning communities.

Lecture hall filled with seated people, looking at large screens.
OR&R Leads at International Oil Spill Conference

The International Oil Spill Conference, held May 2017 in Long Beach, California, is the primary technical conference and tradeshow for spill response professionals, bringing together over 1,500 responders from the private sector, government, and nongovernmental organizations to share lessons learned from actual spill responses and research around the world.

NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R), a member of the Permanent Conference Committee, contributed 10 session chairs and 10 short course instructors in five different courses, and presented seven papers and 15 posters. In the exhibit hall, OR&R was joined by the University of New Hampshire Coastal Response Research Center at a NOAA booth that showcased key applications, such as the latest version of the GNOME™ suite, the new CAMEO Chemicals mobile app and ERMA®. The opening plenary session included Nicole LeBoeuf, the National Ocean Service assistant administrator, and the closing plenary featured Gary Shigenaka, one of OR&R’s senior scientists. OR&R also helped produce an interagency technology demonstration at the conference, focusing on how spill response technology has progressed from the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 to today.

An underwater photo of coral.
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.

Three men watch a backhoe operating in a river.
Restoring our Nation's Coasts after Industrial Pollution

In 2017 multiple agreements were reached requiring companies to restore natural resources damaged by industrial pollution:

  • Minnesota. $8.2 million will be used to restore habitats on the St. Louis River.
  • South Carolina. A plan was finalized for a large marsh restoration project following injuries caused by the Koppers hazardous site.
  • New Jersey. A final settlement was reached for the American Cyanamid Superfund site that will improve fish passage in the Raritan River watershed.
  • Puerto Rico. A settlement from the 2009 grounding of T/V Port Stewart will fund coral habitat restoration.
  • Oregon. A large-scale final restoration plan for the Portland Harbor region will benefit fish and wildlife potentially injured by industrial contamination.
  • Alabama. Trustees are proposing restoration in the Upper Mobile-Tensaw River Delta to compensate for hazardous substances released from the Ciba-Geigy (McIntosh Plant).
Documenting the Impacts of Deepwater Horizon

The 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster spilled oil deep into the ocean’s depths and along the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, compromising the complex ecosystem and local economies. The response and the natural resources damage assessment were the largest in U.S. history. Scientists made 20,000 trips to the field to obtain 100,000 environmental samples that yielded 15 million records.

Scientific studies helped the entire scientific community understand the effects of oil spills on nature and our communities. Natural resources that were damaged include reduced plant cover and vegetation along 350 to 720 miles of shoreline, 51,000 to 84,000 birds killed, up to 51 percent decrease in Barataria Bay dolphin population, and $527 - $859 million in lost recreation such as boating, fishing and beachgoing.

As of mid-2017, over 110 peer-reviewed journal articles, as well as all the data collected for the studies, are available to the public and the scientific community. Additionally, NOAA’s Gulf of Mexico Gulf of Mexico ERMA® allows anyone to download the data from a scientific study, and then see that data on a map.

Broken up ice floating on water.
Online Mapping Tool Upgrades Protect Coasts, Reduce Costs

Upgrades to ERMA® included the addition of key oil spill response strategies around the country, improved Arctic-specific functionality, and the consolidation of data from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill.

For the first time, all U.S. oil spill geographic response strategies (GRSs) GIS data can be found in one web portal. During an oil spill, GRSs provide direction to responders regarding how to protect natural, cultural or significant economic resources at risk of injury.

A new mapping view was added to Arctic ERMA®. The polar projections of the Arctic region will be essential for emergency responders trying to estimate how far an oil spill may be from landfall. It also allows users to take a Pan-Arctic approach versus a U.S.-centric view and improves transparency and communication.

In order to reduce costs and improve the user experience, the Office of Response and Restoration consolidated environmental data associated with the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill into one complete Gulf of Mexico ERMA®.

Group pf people pose behind collected marine debris.
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.


Image credit: Hudson River Community Sailing. 
Hand holding pieces of plastics.
Quantification of Microplastics on National Park Beaches

In a coordinated effort with the National Park Service and Clemson University, the NOAA Marine Debris Program funded a research project to investigate the abundance and distribution of microplastics on national park beaches. Beach sediments were collected from 37 beaches, representing 35 national parks, monuments, seashores, and recreation areas, and analyzed for the presence of microplastics and microfibers. Researchers found microplastics or microfibers in sand samples collected from all 37 beaches. Microfibers were the predominant type of debris, found at all sampling sites and representing 97 percent of all debris by count. This “snapshot study,” in which results are based off of one sampling point in time, observed the highest concentrations of microplastics and microfibers at individual beaches in the Great Lakes and Pacific Islands, and even found microplastics and microfibers in remote areas of Alaska.

Woman talking with a man as he takes notes while standing on a beach.
Marine Debris Regional Coordination and Planning

Throughout this past fiscal year, the NOAA Marine Debris Program has worked with a diversity of partners from federal and state agencies, tribes, local governments, nongovernmental organizations, academia, and industry to coordinate response to marine debris events and plan for addressing marine debris regionally. These highly collaborative efforts resulted in the creation of marine debris emergency response guides for the states of South Carolina, Mississippi and Georgia, as well as marine debris action plans for Florida and Oregon. Emergency response guides aim to improve preparedness and facilitate a coordinated, well- managed, and immediate response to acute waterway debris incidents. At times in which emergency response is not needed, marine debris action plans work to guide their state in a strategic and regional approach in addressing marine debris and its impacts.

Old crab pot with barnacles attached.
Effects of Derelict Fishing Gear in the Chesapeake Bay

The NOAA Marine Debris Program funded a study to assess the impact of lost and abandoned crab pots on wildlife and the economy in the Chesapeake Bay. A diverse team of researchers from CSS-Dynamac Inc., Versar Inc., the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, and Global Science & Technology Inc. estimated that 145,000 derelict crab pots reside in the Chesapeake Bay. Every day, commercial fishermen deploy hundreds of fishing pots, which are often lost due to storms, tangled lines or disturbance from passing vessels.

This study estimated that derelict pots kill 3.3 million unharvested blue crabs each year and unintentionally catch more than 40 fish species. From 2008 to 2014, scientists found that removing derelict pots in active fishing areas increased the blue crab harvest by 23.8 percent (38 million pounds), translating to $33.5 million over the six-year study period. This study culminated in a Guiding Framework for derelict fishing gear assessments, which can be applied to other fisheries and/or regions.


Image credit: Susan Allen, Stockton University
Two grounded and wrecked sailboats.
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.

Groups working at tables with flag in background.
Earthquake Preparedness: Cascadia Rising Exercise

NOAA’s Disaster Response Center, a division of the Office of Response and Restoration, is committed to ensuring the overall preparedness of NOAA. By developing exercises of various complexities. This year, representatives from the National Ocean Service, National Weather Service, Workforce Management, National Marine Fisheries Service, National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service, Office of the Chief Administrative Officer, Office of Marine and Aviation Operations, Office of the Chief Information Officer, and the Homeland Security Program Office gathered for a one-day tabletop exercise to discuss the potential impacts caused by a simulated earthquake and subsequent tsunami on the West Coast of the United States. The scenario included a 9.0 magnitude earthquake that shook the entire Cascadia Subduction Zone — a complete rupture of the 700-mile fault line — followed by a tsunami and almost four minutes of shaking and multiple aftershocks. Exercise participants used this simulated scenario as a way to discuss the severity of a disaster and how it could potentially impact NOAA’s primary mission essential functions, mission essential functions and other responsibilities.

Sand beach, beach grass, trees in background.
Improving Shoreline Cleanup and Assessment Technique

The NOAA Disaster Response Center in partnership with the Emergency Response Division, both divisions of NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration, held a workshop designed to advance interoperable data collection and management tools for Shoreline Cleanup and Assessment Technique (SCAT) during an oil spill response. This workshop assessed the current concerns of electronic data management for SCAT in oil spills; evaluated the future needs for SCAT to improve readiness and efficiency; defined key data-standards and data-exchange formats to allow for better management and sharing of SCAT data for response and Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA); and allowed for feedback from stakeholders on NOAA’s draft data-standard and data-sharing agreement strategies regarding SCAT. Participants included SCAT coordinators, data managers and stakeholders from international, federal and state agencies, as well as the private sector. At the end of the workshop, participants agreed on six-month, one-year, and three-year goals in an effort to fully develop and standardize SCAT data sharing and management throughout all agencies.

Science of Coastal Natural Hazards Training Course

In October 2016, the NOAA Disaster Response Center (DRC) in coordination with the National Weather Service (NWS) and the Office for Coastal Management (OCM) developed the Science of Coastal Natural Hazards course. This is the third course in NOAA Office of Response and Restoration’s “Science of” suite which also includes Science of Oil Spills (SOS) and Science of Chemical Releases (SOCR). This course provides training on the region-specific risks, physical processes and NOAA products and services related to coastal natural hazards in an effort to improve decision making and planning. The pilot course included 36 participants from various areas of NOAA as well as other federal, state and local partners.

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