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Celebrating Our Restoration Successes – 20 Years after the Buzzards Bay Oil Spill

MAY 8, 2023 — Twenty years ago, disaster struck along the picturesque coastline of Buzzards Bay, Rhode Island, where the barge Bouchard 120 ran aground on a ledge of bedrock on April 27, 2003. A gash in its hull released 98,000 gallons of fuel oil, polluting nearly 100 miles of Massachusetts and Rhode Island shorelines. The spill damaged many salt marshes and other coastal habitats, killed and injured fish, shellfish, terns, loons, and other bird species, and closed shellfishing and other public uses of coastal resources.

Rocky intertidal shoreline habitat covered in oil in Massachusetts.
Heavy oiling of the rocky intertidal shoreline habitat, South Dartmouth, MA (Credit: James Turek, NOAA)

In the months after the spill, NOAA provided expert scientific support to the U.S. Coast Guard, states, and other partners to help guide the extensive cleanup required. Subsequently, the Trustees, including NOAA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the State of Rhode Island conducted a detailed natural resource damage assessment (NRDA), culminating in a $19.3M settlement for restoration of injured natural resources and lost recreation.

Today, Buzzards Bay is transformed, through the dedicated efforts of scientists and specialists and a diverse array of partners, such as the Town of Wareham. The last two decades of work has helped to restore fish, wildlife and birds as well as public uses impacted by the spill. Some of the highlighted projects are as follows:

Projects to support healthy, sustainable fish populations included the removal of dams and other fish passage barriers and construction of a fishway to re-open miles of stream habitat to river herring and other migratory fishes. Significant wetland acreage was also restored.

Aquatic Habitat
Below the surface of Buzzards Bay, the installation of more than 40 conservation moorings, supporting eelgrass restoration in West Falmouth Harbor, and dedicated projects enhanced oyster habitat at multiple sites in the Bay. Conservation moorings help prevent scouring of the Bay bottom and loss of eelgrass that occurs with older, metal mooring chains lying on the

Restoration included the protection and management of piping plover nesting habitat along beaches in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, seven loon restoration projects throughout the Northeast, and an ongoing assessment of potential projects to restore tern nesting and shoreline habitat.

Recreational Uses
Projects to restore lost public uses have addressed coastal access and boating and shellfishing in many Buzzards Bay communities, including construction of trails, boardwalks, boat ramps, kayak launches, beach access and several shellfish restoration projects. Restoration has also included the purchase of land for conservation and public access.

These projects provide multiple, ongoing benefits to these coastal communities, enhance resilience, and support the sustainable use of natural resources. While some work remains, the Trustees now celebrate many achievements, 20 years after the unfortunate Bouchard 120 oil spill.  For more details, see:

Last updated Friday, May 12, 2023 10:22am PDT