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A line of oil visible in the marsh across the water.
2019 Accomplishments: The Fiscal 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. 

In Fiscal Year 2019: we provided scientific support for 133 pollution-related incidents (including a historic World War II tanker); we provided disaster coordination during the 2019 hurricane season through the Disaster Preparedness Program; we helped to settle seven pollution cases, resulting in $28 million for natural resource restoration; and we made major advances in data management. These accomplishments show our dedication to science-based solutions for protecting and restoring natural resources from coastal hazards.

A large vessel overturned on its side with a smaller vessel reading "NOAA Survey" in front of it.
Fiscal Year 2019: Accomplishments By the Numbers
  • 133. Oil spills, chemical releases, and other threats we responded to. 
  • 19. Training and response events hosted at the Gulf of Mexico Disaster Response Center. 
  • 4,357. Metric tons of marine debris removed. 
  • 2,314. People trained in disaster preparedness, oil and chemical spill response, and planning. 
  • $28 million. Funds for restoration of public natural resources in five states, Puerto Rico, and Washington D.C. from seven pollution settlements.
A bird sitting on a branch in a river with an industrial shoreline in the background.
Assessing and Restoring our Nation's Shores After Pollution

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.

ARD works with partners, through NOAA’s Damage Assessment and Restoration Program, to determine the harm to the environment and how much restoration is needed to compensate the public for those impacts.

An aerial view of a river winding through an urban area.
Restoring Natural Resources After Pollution

In 2019, OR&R yielded $28 million for restoration of public natural resources damaged from pollution: 

  • $5.4 million to restore salmon habitat in Port Gardner and the Snohomish River in Washington.
  • $376,532 to restore natural resources in Washington D.C. following a mineral oil spill. 
  • $6.4 million to restore the Ashely River at the ExxonMobil Former Fertilizer site in South Carolina. 
  • $1.5 million to restore oyster reefs in the Elizabeth River at the Atlantic Wood Superfund Site in Virginia. 
  • $1.9 million to compensate for natural resources injuries in the Ashley River for the Koppers Superfund site in South Carolina. 
  • $7.9 million for the restoration of fish, birds, and marine mammals for the Calcasieu Estuary/Bayou d’Inde site in Louisiana. 
  • $4.4 million for coral rubble removal and reef restoration in Puerto Rico impacted by the T/V Margara ship grounding. 
  • Over $4 million of NOAA’s assessment costs were recovered.
A man holding an oiled turtle on a boat.
Sea Turtle Guidelines for Oil Spill Response and Damage Assessment

Building on lessons learned from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, OR&R staff partnered with experts from the National Marine Fisheries Service Office of Protected Resources to produce a first-ever NOAA Technical Memo on “Guidelines for Oil Spill Response and Natural Resource Damage Assessment: Sea Turtles.

 The recently published guidelines provide an in-depth review of considerations for response and Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) for sea turtles. 

It incorporates knowledge gained from previous oil spills, especially the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill. Included are essential tools and information pertinent to sea turtles found within U.S. waters to aid preparations for future oil spills, effective spill response, and facilitating damage assessment.

A person explaining seated in front of a computer talking to two other people.
Data and Analysis Tools See Growth and Advancement

DIVER, OR&R’s data management application, and ERMA, our mapping tool for environmental responders, both saw a growth in data and usage. 

In 2019, OR&R trained over 500 staff from federal agencies, 18 coastal states, industry, nongovernmental organizations, and international partners on how to use ERMA to prepare for disasters and assess their impacts. ERMA has over 1,800 active users and hosted more than 35,000 sessions for emergency responders this year. In addition, 2,000 data layers (over 500 public), were added to support response activities.

DIVER is an enormous electronic warehouse that stores and shares environmental data with partners, researchers, and the public. DIVER has over 700 user accounts from federal, state, and tribal governments and academia. This year nearly 2,000 new data sets were uploaded to support pollution cases. What started as a tool for the Deepwater Horizon spill evolved to contain millions of field samples and data sets for work across OR&R and is also used to meet Freedom of Information (FOIA) requests.

A palm tree and an American flag standing among wrecked buildings and other hurricane debris.
Preparedness for Natural and Human-Caused Disasters

Created by NOAA’s National Ocean Service in 2018, the Disaster Preparedness Program is the latest addition to the Office of Response and Restoration. The program expands on the activity of the Gulf of Mexico Disaster Response Center, and coordinates current operational capabilities and knowledge from across the National Ocean Service and NOAA to ensure that commerce, communities, and natural resources can recover as quickly as possible. 

The program is dedicated to providing services that allow NOS and our partners to move through the preparedness cycle efficiently, safely and effectively — including creating and modifying NOS emergency plans for continuity of operations, providing training and exercises to improve preparedness and response posture, and serving in an incident coordination role during natural disasters and other emergencies.

A satellite image of a hurricane along the East Coast of the U.S.
Coordinating the National Ocean Service Response to Hurricane Dorian

The Disaster Preparedness Program (DPP) supported National Ocean Service preparedness and response operations for Hurricane Dorian for 16 days. As the incident coordinators for NOS, DPP staff are responsible for coordinating across NOS program offices. They gather information on NOS mission readiness, logistical needs, and impacts to NOS personnel and infrastructure before, during and after a disaster. 

During Dorian, the program coordinated information on the tracking and safety of more than 300 NOS staff, as well as the closure, impacts, and reopening of numerous sanctuaries, estuarine research reserves, office buildings and laboratories. The DPP also coordinated the operational mission support provided by four NOS program offices. For Dorian they were working through NOAA International Affairs and the White House to ensure that services like National Geodetic Survey aerial imagery flights were provided smoothly. They also brought in OR&R mapping and communication to support the U.S. Coast Guard deployment to the Bahamas.

A woman next to a projection screen presenting to a group.
An Ambitious Year for Training and Workshops

Training for a range of possible scenarios is the best way to prepare for disasters. OR&R's Disaster Preparedness Program provides emergency preparedness, response, and recovery training for NOAA field responders, federal partners, and state and local emergency managers. In 2019, the program executed one of it most ambitious training curriculums to-date, including its first international training. The program led the organization and facilitation of four Science of Oil Spill classes and one Science of Chemical Releases (SOCR) class. The SOCR class implemented a virtual classroom to connect to and train our Canadian partners, making it the first time that OR&R has taught a multi-day international course remotely. The program also organized, facilitated, and taught two NOAA-specific Incident Command Systems 300 courses. 

In addition to its traditional classroom offering, the DPP also revitalized its NOAA Regional Preparedness Training Workshops in FY19, offering workshops for NOAA and our close partners in Puerto Rico and Norfolk, Virginia. The Puerto Rico workshop focused on disaster communications and the Virginia workshop examined the impacts of nuisance flooding and storm surge on NOAA’s mission. Through these courses and workshops, the DPP team taught over 300 students.

An aerial view of a river running through a city.
Working with NOAA Regional Teams to Prepare for Disasters

In Fiscal Year 2019, the Disaster Preparedness Program (DPP) collaborated with two NOAA Regional Teams to advance the National Ocean Service’s preparedness posture. In collaboration with NOAA’s Southeast and Caribbean Regional Collaboration Team (SECART), the DPP and SECART focused on NOAA’s first long-term recovery scenario. This exercise brought together representatives from the National Weather Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service, and the National Ocean Service joined a few offices from the local level to progress through a hurricane scenario and discuss how recovery operations would work.

The DPP also worked with the NOAA West Regional Collaboration Team and the Western Regional Center in Seattle to exercise preparedness and response plans for a Seattle earthquake scenario. As the Seattle campus is located on a liquefaction zone, the urgent need to make sure NOAA’s response plans are thorough and well-socialized is critical. This exercise brought together a diverse group of NOAA representatives to identify areas for improvement in our Northwest earthquake preparedness and response posture. This exercise also helps define more of NOAA’s recovery roles as the DPP continues to grow and ventures into the recovery realm.

A barge in a lock filled with dark liquid.
Providing Scientific Expertise for Oil and Chemical Spill Response

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.

A diver working on a sunken vessel.
Response to Sunken World War II Tanker off New York

OR&R response scientists, as part of a larger NOAA team, supported a U.S. Coast Guard-led response to oil leaking from a sunken World War II tanker. A British supply ship, the Coimbra was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat in the Battle of the Atlantic on Jan. 15, 1942. The vessel went down off Long Island carrying about 2.7 million gallons of lubricating oil. 

The Coast Guard removed 99% of the recoverable oil — protecting trust resources and successfully removing the spill threat by leveraging NOAA's scientific support. The National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service has monitored the vessel over the years as part of NOAA's Remediation of Underwater Legacy Environmental Threats project. Sporadic oil sheens on the ocean surface observed via satellite confirmed that the Coimbra was routinely leaking. OR&R ran spill trajectory and risk analysis, using detailed spot forecasts provided by the National Weather Service. 

This accomplishment has rekindled interest in addressing other historic wrecks laden with oil. Increasing our knowledge of the condition of known wrecks better enables evaluation of their spill risks.

Oil in a boat wake.
Engaging with the Academic Community to Enhance Response

Nearly ten years after Deepwater Horizon, new science continues to come to light following the 2010 disaster. In response to that work, OR&R sponsored a major academic workshop focused on how ongoing academic research can be applied to future spills. New science is helping us understand the fate and effects of oil on sensitive species, such as marine mammals and turtles, and new technologies (such as wave gliders, satellites, remote sensing) used during the Deepwater Horizon spill are becoming routine tools in spill response and damage assessment. 

The resulting science and technologies apply to NOAA and its U.S. partners, but also our international counterparts. OR&R staff participated in the Multi-Party Research Initiative of Canada’s Oceans Protection Plan, to “mine” Deepwater Horizon data for shoreline cleanup and assessment and oil data to build our library of oils.

By building relationships during the preparation phase, we can foster a better understanding of the roles and responsibilities of the oil spill scientific and academic communities, and developing mechanisms that facilitate access for academic research during spill events.

An aerial view of oil in a pollution boom along a barge.
Advances and Collaboration in Interagency Atmospheric Modeling

This year, OR&R scientists worked closely with other federal offices to develop a harmonized, interagency approach for water modeling of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear threats, known as CBRN.

Due to OR&R’s strong role in oil and chemical modeling for spill response and planning — including modeling for hundreds of cases per year — we developed an agreement with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the National Weather Service. When a request comes through the Interagency Modeling and Atmospheric Assessment Center, OR&R acts as the oil and chemical model provider in the Coastal Zone.

In May 2019, FEMA, NOAA, and EPA conducted exercises to put the new agreement to the test. The new protocols for water modeling build on existing interagency partnerships focused on chemical air dispersion modeling. Responders benefited from this modeling collaboration in May 2019, after a barge collision released more than 473,600 gallons of gasoline-blend stock into the Houston Ship Channel. Responders were better able to ensure the safety of the public and the environment.

A boat and other debris on a dock.
Preventing and Reducing Marine Debris on our Nation's Shores

The NOAA Marine Debris Program leads national efforts to research, prevent, and reduce the adverse impacts of marine debris on the United States economy, the marine environment, and navigation safety.

The Marine Debris Program team is positioned across the country and supports Great Lakes and coastal marine debris projects and action planning in partnership with state and local agencies, tribes, nongovernmental organizations, academia, and industry. The program also spearheads national research efforts, leads interagency coordination on marine debris, responds to severe weather events, and supports marine debris removal and prevention efforts.

A person holding a handful of old lighters.
Funding Awarded to 14 New Marine Debris Projects

Following a highly competitive review process, the NOAA Marine Debris Program provided approximately $2.7 million in federal funds to 14 recipients of our 2019 removal and research grant awards. Federal funding is matched by non-federal contributions, bringing the total investment of these marine debris projects to about $5.2 million. 

The Marine Debris Program offers nation-wide competitive funding opportunities for community-based projects that improve ecological resources through the removal of marine debris. They also fund hypothesis-driven research projects that improve our understanding of the ecological risks associated with marine debris and the fate and transport of debris in nearshore, coastal environments. Through these opportunities, the Marine Debris Program is proud to support impactful, community-driven, and cost-effective projects.

A beach toy and a plastic bottle on a beach.
Economic Effects of Marine Debris on Coastal Communities

To better understand the relationship between coastal tourism economies and marine debris, the NOAA Marine Debris Program funded a study to look at how the amount of marine debris on beaches can affect the behaviors of beachgoers and the economies of coastal communities that depend on tourism. 

Most notably, the results of the study revealed that doubling the amount of marine debris on beaches within the study areas would decrease the number of visitors to those beaches. This decline in beach visitors would result in less tourism dollars spent, and translate into a decrease in local jobs. This study deepens our understanding of the economic impact of marine debris to tourism-dependent coastal communities, and illustrates the importance of marine debris prevention and removal efforts.

A derelict trap and several beach toys on a beach.
New Marine Debris Action Plans and Emergency Response Guides

The NOAA Marine Debris Program worked with local, state, federal, tribal, industry, and nongovernmental partners in coastal regions around the country to develop and implement marine debris action plans to combat marine debris. Through collaborative workshops with these stakeholders, plans for Hawaii and Oregon were updated, while a new plan was released for the Southeast region. 

This year the program also worked with states on marine emergency response guides to establish guidelines and best practices for preparing and responding to events and completed two new Marine Debris Emergency Response Guides for Maryland and Texas.

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