NOAA's Response and Restoration Blog

An inside look at the science of cleaning up and fixing the mess of marine pollution


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Bringing Urban Waterfronts Back to Life: Philadelphia Edition

Lardner's Point Park sign.If you visit the waterfronts of many cities in the U.S., you will find a common scene: abandoned eyesores with artificial, hardened, and denuded shorelines. They attract trash, invasive species, and crime and repel just about everything else. But where some see ecological and economic wastelands, others envision tremendous opportunities for reviving coastal communities.

Back in October of 2008, I was part of a team that visited one of these waterfronts in northern Philadelphia—a ferry terminal that had been abandoned decades before, Lardner’s Point.

We were there at the invitation of the Delaware River City Corporation and Pennsylvania Environmental Council, two of a series of partners who were interested in transforming this urban wasteland into a jewel—a waterfront park that would provide the public with a rare amenity: safe and attractive access to the Delaware River. It also had the potential to serve as a model for reclaiming blighted city shorelines.

At the time, NOAA and co-trustee agencies from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service were looking for restoration projects that could help offset the environmental impacts from the 2004 release of 265,000 gallons of oil from the tanker M/V Athos I. Some of the oil washed up on these shorelines, and we were interested in options for reversing some of the harm.

As we walked around and listened to the park’s proponents, I admit that it was tough to imagine how this dump site, full of concrete rubble and weeds, could be turned into a park. But the more we listened, the more we realized that they had a vision, a plan, and a passion for returning the shoreline to the people.

The trustees agreed to partner with the Delaware River City Corporation by contributing part of the settlement from the Athos oil spill to add a living shoreline to the park, including wetland plantings.

Now, four and a half years later, I was back on May 14 to witness the grand opening of Lardner’s Point Park. This 4.5-acre riverfront oasis is Philadelphia’s newest park and includes a river overlook, fishing pier, picnic tables, connections to a trail system, riverbank forest, and a living shoreline with tidal wetlands.

On that blustery day in May, the visionaries were out in force to recognize the accomplishment of a dream come true, including Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, Rep. Allyson Schwartz, former Rep. Robert Borski, and other state and local officials and community groups.

The famous Philadelphia Mummers provided entertainment. Another guest that showed up unannounced was a rare and threatened Pennsylvania red-bellied turtle, which was seen visiting the newly restored shoreline habitat.

In an effort to continue this momentum, NOAA is also coordinating with other federal agencies, the city, and community groups in preparing an application for Philadelphia to become an Urban Waters Federal Partnership site, a program under America’s Great Outdoors Initiative.

We look forward to future successes in restoring urban waterfronts and ecological and economic benefits to more coastal communities.


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Doctors to Dolphins: How Did the Deepwater Horizon/BP Oil Spill Affect Gulf Dolphins?

Researchers corral two dolphins in Barataria Bay, Louisiana.

Researchers corral two dolphins in nets in Barataria Bay, La., to determine the status of their health after the 2010 oil spill there. Credit: NOAA.

A small fleet of boats left the docks at Grand Isle, La. at 7 a.m. Within 30 minutes, researchers had encircled two male dolphins with a net and jumped into the murky, waist-deep water to grab the dolphins and keep them calm during the checkup aboard a research vessel.

Veterinary scientists then began to examine their patients: measuring the dolphins’ length and weight; performing an external exam and—with the help of an ultrasound—an internal exam; and collecting samples of blood, blubber, urine, feces, and teeth (for aging).

Taking a blood sample from one dolphin.

Veterinary scientists take a blood sample from a dolphin as part of an overall health assessment. Credit: NOAA.

This marine mammal health exam took place on August 15, about a year after waves of oil had flowed through the waters during the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill. A team of 50 scientists formed the effort behind it, joining forces across federal, state, academic, and private institutions to assess the health of wild dolphins from Barataria Bay, La., an area that had been heavily exposed to oil from the previous year’s spill.

The concern was that dolphins could potentially suffer a variety of short- and long-term health impacts after breathing in fumes of oil or ingesting it in prey. As part of a natural resource damage assessment [leaves this blog], NOAA, the other trustees, and their partners designed a study to compare the health of dolphins from an area contaminated by the oil spill (Barataria Bay) with an area that did not experience oiling (Sarasota, Fla.).

Photographing a dolphin's dorsal fin.

A team of researchers photographs a dolphin’s dorsal fin as a means of identifying the individual. Credit: NOAA.

Before releasing the dolphins back into the wild, researchers took photos of each one’s dorsal fin, which acts like a fingerprint to identify individual dolphins. They also attached satellite and radio tags to allow researchers to track the dolphins and better understand their movement and home range patterns. The entire process took about an hour before the dolphins were returned safely back to the bay.

This process is being repeated on approximately 30 dolphins from Barataria Bay.  Researchers look forward to getting the results of these health assessments over the next several months to try to understand what impact the oil may have had on Louisiana’s dolphins. If the dolphins are suffering negative effects from the oil, NOAA and the other resource trustees, with public input, will identify restoration actions to offset these impacts [leaves this blog]. Submit your own idea for restoring dolphins, other wildlife, and habitats that might have been impacted by the oil. [leaves this blog]

Several members of the media came along to observe the assessment. You can find video and stories about the dolphin health exams by typing search terms such as “dolphins examined to assess gulf recovery” into a search engine.

To keep up with the latest on the damage assessment from the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill, join our mailing list [leaves this blog] or subscribe to our RSS news feed [leaves this blog].

–Tom Brosnan, Communications Branch Chief in the Office of Response and Restoration’s Assessment and Restoration Division

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