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An aerial image of oil in a river.
2021 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. 

In fiscal year 2021: we provided scientific support for 177 pollution-related incidents; we provided incident coordination to four hurricane and tropical storms during the 2021 hurricane season through the Disaster Preparedness Program; we removed 1,924 metric tons of marine debris; we recovered over $130 million from polluters for restoration; and we made significant, publicly available improvements to our data management and mapping capabilities. These accomplishments show our dedication to science-based solutions for protecting and restoring natural resources from coastal hazards.

A shoreline.
2021 Accomplishments: The Fiscal Year in Numbers

“I’m incredibly proud of the entire OR&R team for these extraordinary results. These numbers are an indicator of the scope of the outstanding services that OR&R delivered this past fiscal year. Pandemic challenges were no match for the team’s creativity and drive to protect and restore ocean and coastal resources from the impacts of pollution—oil, chemical, marine debris—and other coastal hazards.”  —Scott Lundgren, OR&R Director

  • 177. That’s the number of times we were activated to support oil spills, chemical releases, and other incident responses.
  • 69. That’s the number of training and response events we led or hosted.
  • 4. That's the number of hurricanes and tropical storms we served as incident coordinators for the National Ocean Service. 
  • 2,960. That’s the number of people we trained in disaster preparedness, oil and chemical spill response, and planning. 
  • 2,121. Metric tons of marine debris removed.
  • Over $130 million. Funds recovered from polluters for restoration at 10 contaminated waterways in six coastal states.
A group of people on a beach.
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.

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

An aerial image of a river.
Over $130 Million Recovered from Polluters for Restoration

In 2021, OR&R worked with our partners to recover over $130 million from polluters at 10 contaminated waterways in six coastal states. This funding will be used to restore marine environments and communities damaged from oil spills and hazardous waste pollution. These efforts will restore robust fisheries, endangered species, coastal habitats, and outdoor recreation. This work will benefit blue economies, coastal resilience, and affected local communities, including underserved and indigenous localities, which are often impacted by pollution.   

Restoration will include: $61 million to create habitats for salmon in the Lower Duwamish River, Washington; $8.8 million to restore salmon and tribal cultural resources at Western Port Angeles Harbor, Washington; $20.3 million to restore outdoor recreation and wildlife in California; $25 million to restore freshwater habitats and outdoor recreation in the Kalamazoo River, Michigan; $19.2 milion to restore salt marsh and estuarine wildlife on the Calcasieu River, Louisiana; $4.5 million to restore fish and marine mammals in the Gulf of Mexico; $1.7 million to restore the Galveston Bay, Texas; $629,000 to preserve 475 acres of wilderness in perpetuity in Texas; and $247,333 to restore natural resources at Berry’s Creek, New Jersey.

A person pulling fish netting through a body of water.
Conducting Research at Hazardous Waste Sites in the Time of COVID-19

Despite challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, scientists safely conducted fieldwork at hazardous waste sites across the country.

In the Southeast, NOAA and the National Marine Mammal Foundation safely captured photo-ID surveys for dolphins at a hazardous waste site as part of a multi-year effort to better understand the population demographics of the resident bottlenose dolphin—surveying more than 1,300 miles both in February and May. 

In the Pacific Northwest, scientists completed a four-week study on juvenile chinook salmon to test the relationship between contaminant concentrations in the tissues of fish and otolith (earbone) growth and polluted sediment. At the Lower Duwamish River Superfund site in Washington, researchers collected close to 700 juvenile flatfish to examine their growth rates. 

In the Great Lakes region, invertebrate sampling at the U.S. Steel site allowed scientists to evaluate the impacts of contaminated sediments, collected from 18 locations, on two species. At the Lower Passaic River Superfund site in New Jersey, NOAA experts collected sediment samples and fish, specifically white perch, to analyze their overall health.

Dolphins in water.
Leading Workshops for Assessing the Pollution Impacts on Marine Mammals

Since thousands of oil spills of varying sizes occur in U.S. waters each year, oil spill scientists must be prepared to respond to and assess the impacts of oil on marine mammals. In 2021 experts from OR&R held two virtual workshops to prepare scientists across NOAA to assess the impacts of oil spills on marine mammals.

The first of these workshops focused on marine mammals in sub-arctic Alaskan waters. The workshop used oil spill scenarios to drive discussions on approaches, methods, and limitations to conducting Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) for marine mammals in Alaska. The second workshop was held to discuss NRDA for marine mammals in the Gulf of Mexico. It utilized lessons learned during the historic Deepwater Horizon spill, including panels on real world scenarios and technological innovations in marine mammal research. Both of these workshops facilitated important conversations on challenges, data gaps, and adaptations that will improve NOAA’s preparedness for future oil spills that impact marine mammals.

Debris in a waterway.
Preparedness for Natural and Human-Caused Disasters

The Disaster Preparedness Program (DPP) coordinates current operational capabilities and facilitates knowledge from across the National Ocean Service (NOS) and NOAA to ensure that commerce, communities, and natural resources can recover as quickly as possible. The DPP includes NOAA’s Gulf of Mexico Disaster Response Center, located in Mobile, Alabama, which is a fully staffed facility that expands the federal capacity to plan for and respond to hazards of all types in the five states bordering the Gulf of Mexico.

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 harmful algal bloom in water.
A Leader in Preparedness-Focused Workshops

In FY21, OR&R led a series of preparedness-focused workshops to enhance NOS, NOAA, and partner readiness: 

  • Harmful Algal Bloom Workshop: OR&R and partners co-hosted a virtual workshop and table top exercise on harmful algal bloom preparedness and response capabilities for over 115 participants.
  • Hurricane Preparedness Summit: Over 140 participants virtually joined the two-day OR&R-sponsored Hurricane Preparedness Summit featuring over 30 different speakers, with topics ranging from storm surge modeling and aircraft operation to power and utility loss logistics and incident command management. 
  • Disaster Recovery Workshop: OR&R hosted the first cross-NOAA workshop to discuss agency roles, responsibilities, and opportunities for enhancing coordination and support delivery in disaster recovery.
  • Next Generation Environmental Sensitivity Index Workshop: OR&R hosted four workshop days focused on defining how the next generation of Environmental Sensitivity Index maps can maximize the impacts of limited resources. This workshop explored stakeholder data and mapping needs, innovations, and partnerships that can strategically move ESIs forward.
A group of people in a conference environment.
The Incident Command System 300 Course Goes Virtual

Without the ability to have in-person training, OR&R restructured the three-day NOAA Intermediate Incident Command System training for expanding incidents (the NOAA ICS 300 course) into a virtual classroom environment.

Students participated from offices across NOAA including three NOAA line offices and the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer. Students participated through a series of role playing activities first as local responders (i.e., mayor, fire chief), then as responders in a command post (i.e., planning section chief), and finally as a member of a NOAA incident management team reporting to senior leadership at NOAA headquarters. They not only learned classic ICS principles through objectives, planning, and tactics meetings, but also learned about the NOAA All Hazards Incident Management Concept of Operations plan and how different NOAA line offices respond. OR&R plans to build on the success of this virtual class and offer additional virtual classes in the future.

A satellite image of a hurricane.
Improving Preparedness with the NOS Ready Self-Assessment Tool

The NOS Ready Self-Assessment Tool is a web-based Google Form explicitly designed to help NOAA’s National Ocean Service (NOS) program and staff offices better prepare for emergencies, including continuity events.

The 63-question, web-based assessment covered items from hazard vulnerability to the continuity of operations and employee training and readiness. Once completed, OR&R developed tailored NOS Ready Self-Assessment Results Reports for each program office. The reports provide NOS offices with results summaries, assessment scores, and preparedness recommendations. This new tool will allow NOS to identify strengths and weaknesses, identify areas of improvement for NOS program and staff offices, and monitor year-to-year progress toward improving preparedness.

A bulk carrier aground in a river.
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 regionally distributed scientific support coordinators; a Seattle-based support team of scientists, technical experts, and software developers; and federal, state, and academic partners.

A satellite image of a black area in water.
Providing Scientific Support for International Oil Spills

Over the past year, OR&R coordinated and directly provided scientific support to six nations that experienced marine oil, chemical, and plastic spills. Working with partners within NOAA, we provided response products and guidance to: Sri Lanka, following the fire and sinking of the container ship X-Press Pearl; Trinidad and Tobago, following an oil spill from the tankship Nabarima and a later spill from a shoreside facility; Israel, following a mystery dump of oil offshore; Haiti, following a devastating earthquake; the United Nations, regarding a derelict tanker in the Middle East; and Cyprus, after a spill of crude oil off the coast of Syria. 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, NOAA scientists were not able to go on-scene; however, our improved capabilities to provide support ensured that our remote service continues to be effective. Among the products provided were oil fate and trajectory analyses, oil and debris cleanup recommendations, advice regarding marine mammal and sea turtle impacts, and satellite imagery. Through the U.S. State Department’s Assistance for International Oil Spills process, NOAA is brought in as a key member of the U.S. National Response Team to provide many types of scientific and technical support, resources, products, and advice.

A river.
ESI Maps Updated in Key Regions While Planning for Their Next Generation

OR&R continued its momentum by securing funding and updating Environmental Sensitivity Index (ESI) maps in the Great Lakes region for a second consecutive year. ESI maps provide responders and resource managers with a concise summary of coastal resources that are at risk if an oil spill occurs nearby. They can help responders reduce the environmental consequences of an incident and help coastal managers identify vulnerable locations, establish protection priorities, and assist in restoration planning.

In fall 2021, through a new agreement with the U.S. Coast Guard, OR&R published updated ESI maps and data for the St. Marys and St. Lawrence rivers, whose maps and data had not been updated in over 35 years. The new ESI digital data and maps are available for download, and can also be viewed in Great Lakes ERMA®.

In a virtual workshop in late 2020, OR&R collected feedback from the ESI user community and planned for the next generation of sensitivity maps. 

Pollution boom with a city skyline in the background.
Leader at International Oil Spill Conference

The triennial International Oil Spill Conference (IOSC) is a highly acclaimed event, inviting a diverse coalition of emergency responders and scientists spanning governments, industry, and academia across many countries to tackle spill response challenges and share technological advances. In December 2020, the conference pivoted to a virtual format held in May 2021. IOSC registrants can still review recorded sessions from the IOSC 2021. 

OR&R was heavily embedded within the organization of the conference, with a total of 35 NOAA representatives from OR&R involved in the conference’s success. The OR&R director served on the Executive Committee and presented OR&R’s vision in a plenary discussion. The Emergency Response Division deputy chief joined the Planning Committee and was the short course coordinator, supporting 12 short courses, three of which were NOAA-led. OR&R’s chief scientist presented on the interagency response to the Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Horizon incident. She was also among the OR&R scientists who contributed to the inaugural women’s session to help create a network for women in oil spills and to leverage with other existing networks. OR&R staff served roles in hosting platform sessions, authoring papers and posters, and creating and staffing OR&R’s first ever virtual booth.

Bottle caps.
Researching, Preventing, and Reducing Marine Debris on our 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.

Marine debris.
The Marine Debris Program Awards Funding to 25 New Projects

Following a highly competitive review process, the Marine Debris Program provided approximately $7.3 million in federal funds to 25 recipients of the 2021 Removal, Research, and North America Marine Debris Prevention and Removal Grants. Federal funding is matched by non-federal contributions, bringing the total investment of these marine debris projects to approximately $14.7 million. Marine debris is a pervasive national and global problem that harms wildlife, navigation safety, ecosystem health, and the economy. These projects will improve habitats and other ecological resources, and help build a foundation of knowledge and resources to change behaviors, raise awareness, and promote the long-term prevention of marine debris. OR&R is proud to support impactful, community-driven, and cost-effective projects.

Children painting on a tarp.
Marine Debris Program Initiatives to Improve Diversity and Equity

In November 2020, the Marine Debris Program released its new Strategic Plan with a focus on justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI). Throughout FY 2021, the program has worked to make this commitment a reality. The program began an analysis of how its recent grant programs reach underserved communities, to better serve these audiences in future competitions. The program incorporated new language in its FY 2022 Notices of Funding Opportunities (NOFO) to promote JEDI in the design and execution of grant-funded work. To improve the ability of smaller organizations and new applicants to submit competitive project ideas, the new NOFO guidance document is offered in both English and Spanish.

In addition, in partnership with the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, the program coordinated the development and implementation of a pilot program across OR&R with the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. In the 2021-2022 academic year, six undergraduate students will work virtually in paid internships, gaining work experience, career guidance, and connections to professionals who serve as mentors and advocates for a more diverse workforce. OR&R hopes to expand the program to additional minority serving institutions in the future.

Marine debris on a beach.
Implementing the Save Our Seas 2.0 Act, Combating Global Marine Debris

On Dec. 18, 2020, the Save Our Seas 2.0 Act was signed into law. The Act contains three titles that enhance the United States’ domestic programs to address marine debris, international engagement to combat marine debris, and domestic infrastructure to prevent marine debris. Significant components of the Act within NOAA’s jurisdiction include authorizing the NOAA Marine Debris Program to work on marine debris globally, establishing a Marine Debris Foundation and a Genius Prize for Save Our Seas Innovation, and requiring several new reports and studies on different aspects of marine debris. Throughout fiscal year 2021, the program has worked to implement these new mandates and authorities, including soliciting nominations for the Marine Debris Foundation Board of Directors and entering into agreements and contracts to produce the required studies and reports.

A map.
OR&R’s Digital Tools Support Marine Environmental Response

In 2021, OR&R made significant, publicly available improvements to both DIVER, an electronic warehouse that shares environmental data, and ERMA®, our mapping tool for environmental responders. ERMA integrates both static and real-time data, including Environmental Sensitivity Index maps, ship locations, weather, and ocean currents. When an event occurs or is imminent, the NOAA Homeland Security Program Office relies on ERMA dashboards, which contain information on the event, identify personnel in the area of impact, and show who has responded to emergency alerts. 

In support of emergency response for hurricanes, oil spills, and natural resource damage assessment field work, ERMA enhancements focus on field operations regarding data collection. In FY21, these tools expedited more effective and timely responses to spills and hurricanes, enabling faster recovery of natural resources and the economies that depend on them. In addition, Marine Debris Emergency Response Guides now include direct links to maps hosted within ERMA. This allows responders to access a state-specific view, a preloaded set of layers relevant to debris response, and important information for determining jurisdiction boundaries.

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