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Update: Ongoing Hurricane Response

JANUARY 26, 2018 — OR&R Emergency Response Division staff are serving in Puerto Rico and in the U.S. Virgin Islands as Scientific Support Coordinators, Environmental Unit Leaders, and Biological Monitors for vessel removals in sensitive ecological marine environments. 

Many of the vessels displaced from the 2017 hurricanes landed in areas with coral, mangrove, and sea grass habitats that are slow to recover, and that sometimes never recover, from even the slightest bit of damage. These areas are critical to many endangered species, including sea turtles, manatees, and sharks, and some coral species that are listed as endangered.  The mission to remove vessels containing hazardous materials such as fuel, cleaners, and batteries involves balancing trade-offs of leaving the vessels and associated contaminants in place, against removing some or all of the pollutants, including the vessels themselves.  

The role of the Scientific Support Coordinator and the Environmental Unit Leader is to advise the Federal On-Scene Coordinator, which is the U.S. Coast Guard in this case, on environmental concerns regarding vessel removals and best management practices for salvage crews to follow when taking the potential pollution sources off the displaced vessels and salvaging them from these delicate marine areas.  Best management practices for removals were developed in coordination with NOAA scientists, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Research Planning, Inc., who is serving as Environmental Unit Leader in both Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands.

In areas where vessels came to rest on coral, sea grass, or mangroves, the Scientific Support Coordinator and Environmental Unit Leader accompany salvage crews to give advice on carrying out removals in the most delicate manner possible in order to limit impact.

For further information, contact Jesse.Stark@noaa.gov.

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