NOAA's Response and Restoration Blog

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


Leave a comment

Wildlife Webcams Bring NOAA Restoration Projects Live to You

This is a post by Gabrielle Dorr, NOAA/Montrose Settlements Restoration Program Outreach Coordinator.

A photo of A-49, also known as "Princess Cruz," in her nest on Santa Cruz Island. She was the first Bald Eagle chick hatched naturally on California’s Santa Cruz Island in over 50 years. (Photo Credit: Peter Sharpe, Institute for Wildlife Studies)

A-49, also known as “Princess Cruz,” in her nest on Santa Cruz Island. She was the first Bald Eagle chick hatched naturally on California’s Santa Cruz Island in over 50 years. (Photo Credit: Peter Sharpe, Institute for Wildlife Studies)

We want you to take a bird’s eye view of restoration with our wildlife webcams.  In 2006, NOAA’s Montrose Settlements Restoration Program, established to make up for a toxic DDT and PCB legacy in southern California, installed a live webcam with a close-up view of the first Bald Eagle nest to hatch a chick naturally on California’s Santa Cruz Island in over 50 years. Thousands watched as the eagle parents tended to their chick, affectionately named “Princess Cruz” by webcam watchers. Today, there are a total of five webcams on other nests around the California Channel Islands, highlighting the success of our Bald Eagle Restoration Program.

We also wanted to connect the public to the underwater world of wetlands with an underwater fish webcam. In 2010, our program installed a live webcam in Huntington Beach wetlands, where we completed one of our fish habitat restoration projects. This underwater camera demonstrates the importance of wetlands as a fish nursery and feeding area.

Watch Bald Eagles Live

A photo of a Bald Eagle adult and chicks in the Pelican Harbor nest on Santa Cruz Island. (Photo Credit: Kevin White, Full Frame Productions)

A Bald Eagle adult and chicks in the Pelican Harbor nest on Santa Cruz Island. (Photo Credit: Kevin White, Full Frame Productions)

What is cute and cuddly and has wings?  You guessed it … a Bald Eagle chick! What is even better is that you can watch these adorable birds on live webcams that are placed near Bald Eagle nests located on Catalina and Santa Cruz Islands in the California Channel Islands right now. Viewers can watch daily as both male and female adults attend to their chicks by feeding them and keeping them warm. One of the most popular nests to watch is the West End nest on Catalina Island that has triplets for the third year in a row.

For eagle enthusiasts, there is a Channel Islands Eaglecam discussion forum where you can post or read daily nest observations, chat with other enthusiasts, or read updates from the Bald Eagle restoration team. With over 1 million hits each year, the Bald Eagle webcams have captivated audiences all over the world from January to June as these regal birds raise their young.

Diving with the Fish

If you are more interested in what lurks beneath the ocean then you should check out the live fish webcam that is broadcast from Talbert Marsh in the Huntington Beach wetlands. Since the fish webcam has been live, we have observed over 20 species of fish, diving seabirds, an octopus, nudibranchs (colorful sea slugs), and numerous other cool invertebrates.  We have also seen fish spawning events, territorial displays of fish, and even sharks.

If you want to let us know what you have seen on our webcam, you can fill out our online fish webcam observation sheet. In case our solar-powered camera is down, you can check out this 10 minute clip recorded from the webcam for a snapshot of what you might normally see. The eelgrass swaying side to side is mesmerizing and you can always catch a glimpse of a fish when you log onto the fish webcam. Test your fish identification skills now!

Gabrielle Dorr

Gabrielle Dorr.

Gabrielle Dorr is the Outreach Coordinator for the Montrose Settlements Restoration Program as part of NOAA’s Restoration Center. She lives and works in Long Beach, California where she is always interacting with the local community through outreach events, public meetings, and fishing education programs.


1 Comment

Small Boat Confirmed as First Japan Tsunami Debris to Reach California

Examining the Japanese skiff that washed up near Crescent City, Calif., on April 7, 2013. This is the first verified item from the Japan tsunami to appear in California. (Redwood Coast Tsunami Working Group)

Examining the Japanese skiff that washed up near Crescent City, Calif., on April 7, 2013. This is the first verified item from the Japan tsunami to appear in California. (Redwood Coast Tsunami Working Group)

The Consulate General of Japan in San Francisco has confirmed to NOAA that a 20-foot-long skiff found near Crescent City, Calif., is the first verified piece of Japan tsunami debris to turn up in California. Crescent City, a coastal town surrounded by redwoods, is only a twenty-mile drive from Oregon down the iconic, coastal Highway 101.

Once the skiff was found, the U.S. Coast Guard and the local sheriff’s office worked quickly to remove it from the shoreline. Help translating the Japanese writing on it came from further down the coast, from staff at California’s Humboldt State University. They traced the skiff to Takata High School, located in Japan’s Iwate Prefecture, an area devastated by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. A teacher from the school reportedly identified the vessel as belonging to them, which the Japanese Consulate has now confirmed.

A close up of the boat's hull reveals the many small gooseneck barnacles, a common open-ocean species. (Redwood Coast Tsunami Working Group)

A close up of the boat’s hull reveals the many small gooseneck barnacles, a common open-ocean species. (Redwood Coast Tsunami Working Group)

To date, 26 other marine debris items with a confirmed connection to the 2011 tsunami have washed up in Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, Alaska, and Canada’s British Columbia.

And like so many of them, the small, flat-bottomed boat that washed up in California was thick with gooseneck barnacles, a common and widespread filter feeder that attaches itself to floating objects in the open ocean. While unusual-looking, these barnacles are not invasive and have a fascinating historical myth purporting that a type of goose developed from gooseneck barnacles because they had similar colors and shapes (a typical-if-faulty basis for classifying life in earlier eras).

However, the influx of sea creatures aboard tsunami marine debris also brings the concern that aquatic species hitching a ride to North America may make themselves at home, possibly to the detriment of marine life and commerce communities here in the United States.

A submerged compartment in the back of the Japanese boat that washed up in Long Beach, Wash., provided a refuge for five striped beakfish. (Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife/Allen Pleus)

A submerged compartment in the back of the Japanese boat that washed up in Long Beach, Wash., provided a refuge for five striped beakfish. (Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife/Allen Pleus)

This issue was highlighted in the unusual case of another small Japanese boat lost in the 2011 tsunami. The Sai-shou-maru came ashore near Long Beach, Wash., on March 22, 2013, but the inside of it looked like a miniature aquarium. Five live fish were swimming about in a submerged compartment at the back of the boat. They were striped beakfish, a species native to coral reefs mainly in Japanese waters, sometimes found in Hawaii, but certainly not in the cold waters of the Pacific Northwest coast.

According to the Washington State Department of Ecology website, “Besides the five striped beakfish found in the open well of the boat when it washed ashore, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife estimates 30 to 50 species of plants and animals were also on the Sai-shou-maru – including potential invasive species. State officials quickly removed the Sai-shou-maru from the beach and collected samples of potential invasive species including the fish, algae, anemones, crabs, marine worms and shellfish.”

However, most of the species arriving on marine debris are not invasive—even if they are hitchhikers.

Keep up with NOAA’s latest efforts surrounding the issue of Japan tsunami marine debris at http://marinedebris.noaa.gov/tsunamidebris/faqs.html.


Leave a comment

NOAA Hosts Forum Exploring Oil Sands and the Challenges of When They Spill

Water and sediment sampling on Morrow Lake near Battle Creek, Mich., during the response to the Enbridge pipeline spill of oil sands product. August 2, 2010 (U.S. Coast Guard)

Water and sediment sampling on Morrow Lake near Battle Creek, Mich., during the response to the Enbridge pipeline spill of oil sands product. August 2, 2010 (U.S. Coast Guard)

Unless there is a big spill or accident, most people probably don’t think much about different types of crude oil, where it comes from, or how it is transported.

Yet there is an ongoing national debate about Canada’s Alberta oil sands and whether to complete the Keystone XL pipeline that would carry Alberta oil sands products to refineries in the U.S. Gulf Coast. This proposed pipeline has gotten a lot of attention, but there are existing pipelines carrying oil sands products around Canada and across the border into the U.S., as well as tanker, barge, and rail operations doing the same.

The Exxon Pegasus pipeline spill in Mayflower, Ark., on March 29, 2013, was a reminder that oil sands are already being transported and, whenever oil is transported, there is risk of a spill.

Oil sands are considered an unconventional oil type that has been growing in prominence as oil prices fluctuate and production technologies improve. As a result, there are many questions about how best to respond to spills of crude oil products derived from oil sands. One of the major concerns is the buoyancy of oil sands products, and their potential to sink, especially in sediment-laden waters. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is still cleaning up submerged oil from the July 2010 Enbridge pipeline spill in Michigan’s Kalamazoo River.

Last week, NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration participated in an Oil Sands Products Forum held at NOAA’s Western Regional Center in Seattle, Wash. The forum was sponsored by the Washington State Department of Ecology Spills Program, U.S. Coast Guard, and the Pacific States/British Columbia Oil Spill Task Force. The University of New Hampshire Center for Spills in the Environment facilitated the forum.

The two-day meeting included a full day of presentations and discussions about oil sands (also known as tar sands or bitumen) and their related products—covering everything from extraction, refining, and transportation to chemistry, how they move and react in the environment, and recent case studies of spill responses. Over 50 environmental specialists, oil spill planners, and responders attended from government agencies, tribal governments, nongovernmental organizations, and industry.  Several oil sands experts from Canadian agencies and organizations also attended and presented.

On the second day, spill responders were presented with four different spill scenarios involving oil sands products, and the potential issues and challenges highlighted by the different spill situations were thoroughly discussed and recorded. Presentations and meeting notes will be made available through the Center for Spills in the Environment.  The focus of this forum was not to discuss whether or not oil sands should be exploited as a resource, but rather, how to prepare better for and then deal effectively with a spill of oil sands products when it happens.


Leave a comment

What Do We Know About Transporting Oil Sands in the United States?

This is a guest post by University of Washington graduate students Robin Fay, Terry Sullivan, Shanese Crosby, Jeffrey Smith, Ali Kani, and Colin Groark.

Response operations near the source of the oil sands spill on Talmadge Creek near Michigan's Kalamazoo River. August 1, 2010 (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

Response operations near the source of the oil sands spill on Talmadge Creek near Michigan’s Kalamazoo River. August 1, 2010 (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

Over the past 6 months, our research team has been gathering data and interpreting information to help NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R) better prepare for a potential spill of Canadian oil sands product in U.S. waters. (Oil sands are also known as tar sands.)

Our research has sought to provide OR&R, whose experts offer scientific support in case of a marine or coastal oil spill, with:

  • Background and context on oil sands development and transport.
  • In-depth research on the physical properties of oil sands products, national transportation networks, and emerging risks.
  • Analysis of the existing information and policy gaps, and some recommendations aimed at improving pollution response readiness in the event of an oil sands spill.

In doing so, we have worked to answer some key research questions, which we developed with the OR&R and other stakeholders (e.g., Washington State Department of Ecology), including:

  • Would oil sands products sink or float when spilled in salt water? What about fresh water?
  • How might oils sands products weather and change their physical and chemical characteristics once spilled into the environment?
  • How and where are oil sands products already being transported around the U.S. and Washington’s Puget Sound?
  • What are the future plans for expanding the national transportation network for oil sands products?

Our research took us into the technical depths of petroleum chemistry, state-of-the-art oil spill response technology, federal and state regulations, human and environmental health implications, and several types of transportation networks. From early on, it was clear to us just what a complex and far-reaching issue oils sands development really is. In some cases, trying to find answers just led to more questions. Although there are still many things we don’t know for sure and further research is needed, we ultimately were able to get closer to understanding the unique risks and challenges oils sands products pose to pollution responders and the environments they work to protect.

Here are our top five research findings:

  1. All oil sands products are not created equal. They are not homogenous and are not easily categorized by any particular set of characteristics. Their composition and physical properties can vary widely based on many factors, including: what region the product originated from, what chemicals or substances it has been blended with, and how much processing or upgrading it has gone through prior to transport. This means that anticipating appropriate response action for a diverse array of products labeled as “oil sands” is somewhat of a moving target.
  2. Very little is known about how oil sands products might weather (or change) in the environment. Some studies have been done on this topic[1], but they have typically tested one or two specific oil sands products in a laboratory setting. Their results cannot be presumed to represent the full range of possible weathering scenarios (e.g., the varying influence of waves, sunlight, wind, etc). Understanding how an oil changes as it weathers in the environment is critical to planning and executing an effective spill response.
  3. The United States already receives almost 1.4 million barrels per day of oil sands products from Canada. This oil is transported all over the country by pipeline, rail, tanker ship, and barge. Although the proposed Keystone XL pipeline project is certainly the most visible oil sands infrastructure expansion project currently in the works, it is far from the only one. Many other pipeline expansion and terminal projects have been proposed—such as the Trans Mountain and Northern Gateway expansions proposed by Kinder Morgan and Enbridge—which would bring Alberta oil into Western Canada and even as far as Cherry Point and Anacortes, Wash. If completed, they could more than double the capacity to transport oil sands products into the U.S.
  4. While pipeline projects—like the Keystone XL—have met fierce resistance from environmental groups, tribes, and others concerned about the risks these projects might present to their communities, the oil industry already has begun (without fanfare) to use rail for transporting oil sands products instead. Because the network of rail lines already exists, and the regulatory framework governing oil transport by rail is less developed, this segment of their transportation has been expanding rapidly. The full extent of current and planned oil sands transport by rail is unknown.
  5. During our assessments, we found critical gaps in the current oversight, rules and regulations, contingency planning requirements, and response capacity to address the increasing transport of oil sands products. In order for regulators and responders to address effectively the emerging risks associated with oil sands products, these gaps must be addressed. Response equipment needs to be developed that is proven to be effective at detecting, containing, and removing oil sands products from the environment. Disclosure requirements for those processing and transporting oil sands products need to be improved so that regulatory agencies can better understand where and how to prioritize their efforts. Additionally, oversight, risk assessment, and contingency planning should be enhanced to take into account the increasing possibility of a spill of oil sands product. This need and the lack of adequate response capacity for oil sands products have been highlighted by the recent spills in Minnesota and Arkansas.

That’s a tall order, and unlikely to happen overnight. But there is some good news. Locally in Washington state, the Washington State Department of Ecology and U.S. Coast Guard in Sector Puget Sound have been pioneers. They are already working to improve their ability to prevent, plan for, and respond to an oil sands product spill. Last December, a conference in Portland, Maine, brought experts together from across the U.S. and Canada to discuss oil sands, and a similar conference recently was held in Seattle on April 16.

Stakeholders and policy makers we spoke with on both coasts, in the Great Lakes region, and in Canada have all begun to consider how increased oil sands development affects their region or function. Oil sands slowly are beginning to appear with greater prominence on the agenda for decision makers, not just for a particular state or project, but as an issue that spans political and geographic boundaries. If oil sands development and transportation continues to receive more and more attention, we hope it will also receive the oversight and response resources necessary to address sufficiently the risks that come with it.


Leave a comment

The Oil Spill That Helped a South Carolina Community Transform an Abandoned Naval Golf Course Back into a Healthy Coastal Marsh

This Earth Day and every day, NOAA honors our planet by using cutting-edge science to understand Earth’s systems and keep its habitats and vital natural resources healthy and resilient. Learn more at http://www.noaa.gov/earthday.

Pelicans and dark, oiled marsh are visible in front of the container ship M/V Everreach, which spilled oil into the Cooper River and Charleston Harbor on September 30, 2002. (NOAA)

Pelicans and dark, oiled marsh are visible in front of the container ship M/V Everreach, which spilled oil into the Cooper River and Charleston Harbor on September 30, 2002. (NOAA)

Around 100,000 residents call North Charleston, S.C., home, and since 2000, more and more people have been flocking to this urban center that balances the benefits of a lively port city with the rich history and natural beauty of a southern coastal town. Yet this isn’t by coincidence. It’s by decision and design. The City of North Charleston actively promotes a prosperous and livable community, which includes restoring green spaces and opening public access to the hard-working waterfront.

This spring, NOAA (through our Damage Assessment, Remediation, and Restoration Program) and our fellow natural resource trustees supported that vision as we restored approximately 12 acres of salt marsh (coastal wetlands) and an additional acre of upland buffer area on Noisette Creek, a tributary of the Cooper River adjacent to the city’s scenic Riverfront Park. These efforts were part of a larger restoration plan to address the environmental and recreational impacts from an accidental oil spill in 2002.

Turning an Oil Spill into an Opportunity

An aerial view of the former Navy base and the Cooper River (foreground) looking up Noisette Creek, dating to approximately 2003. The area restored back to coastal wetlands appears on the left side of the creek.  The building at the point with a red roof was the former Naval Officers Club, which has been replaced by a city park at the point. The project site starts where the Officers Club parking lot ends and extends to the first road crossing the creek. (The Noisette Company/Jim Augustin)

An aerial view of the former Navy base and the Cooper River (foreground) looking up Noisette Creek, dating to approximately 2003. The area restored back to coastal wetlands appears on the left side of the creek. The building at the point with a red roof was the former Naval Officers Club, which has been replaced by a city park at the point. The project site starts where the Officers Club parking lot ends and extends to the first road crossing the creek. (The Noisette Company/Jim Augustin)

At the end of September in 2002, as the container ship M/V Everreach pulled away from North Charleston for its next destination, approximately 12,500 gallons of oil spilled out of it and into the waters of the Cooper River and Charleston Harbor.

The oil was seen over some 30 miles of shoreline and sediments, including tidal flats, fringing marshes, intertidal oyster reefs, sandy beaches, and manmade structures (e.g., docks, piers, bulkheads). Most of the oil concentrated in the vicinity of the North Charleston Terminal on the Cooper River and old Navy base piers and docks.

This spill impacted pelicans and shorebirds, closed a shellfish bed operation, and temporarily disrupted recreational shrimp-baiting in local waters.

The state and federal agencies charged with preserving the area’s public natural resources—NOAA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, and South Carolina Department of Natural Resources—worked cooperatively with the ship’s owner, Evergreen International, to determine the resulting environmental injury and resolve legal claims for natural resource damages.

From Marsh to Golf Course and Back Again

After carefully assessing the impacts, we the natural resource trustees worked with North Charleston’s property owners, developers, and local officials to restore a marsh-turned-naval golf course back into a functioning wetland that could support birds, fish, invertebrates, and vegetation.

As part of a restoration project after the 2002 M/V Everreach oil spill, NOAA and our partners constructed a network of tidal creeks along Noisette Creek in North Charleston, S.C. (NOAA/Restoration Center/Howard Schnabolk)

As part of a restoration project after the 2002 M/V Everreach oil spill, NOAA and our partners have just finished constructing a network of tidal creeks along Noisette Creek in North Charleston, S.C. (NOAA/Restoration Center/Howard Schnabolk)

Back in 1901, decades before North Charleston became its own city, the City of Charleston provided riverfront land to the U.S. Navy to develop a naval base. This also involved converting a marsh on the base into a golf course. The former Navy golf course along Noisette Creek in North Charleston was used until the base closed in 1996 and the property was transferred back to the City of North Charleston with a small portion owned by the Noisette Company. In 2002, the city and Noisette Company began arrangements and planning for the Noisette Preserve, a 135 acre “recreation and nature preserve at the heart of the redevelopment, located around Noisette Creek and its marshes, creeks and inlets” [Final Restoration Plan and Environmental Assessment, PDF]

A newly established inlet in the Noisette Creek Preserve, looking towards the interior of the restored marsh. (NOAA/Restoration Center/Howard Schnabolk)

A newly established inlet in the Noisette Creek Preserve, looking towards the interior of the restored marsh. (NOAA/Restoration Center/Howard Schnabolk)

To increase the tidal exchange and drainage needed to restore this area to a salt marsh, the project required removing a berm in two areas along Noisette Creek and constructing a network of tidal creeks throughout the property, which also provides access for recreational paddlers. Roads, drainage tiles, rip-rap, and other sources of debris were removed during the process as well.

As a result, the public will be able to enjoy a beautiful living shoreline which supports the surrounding area’s ecological services and ultimately benefits activities like boating, fishing, shellfish harvest, and shrimp baiting.

Supporting Green Communities

In cooperation with Evergreen International, we will monitor the wetland enhancements over the next five years to ensure the project achieves the desired ecological improvements. This project, the first of the planned restoration completed for the Noisette Creek Preserve, has created momentum and excitement for several similar projects slated for this small urban watershed. By aligning these restoration efforts with the larger goals for the City of North Charleston’s smart and sustainable growth, we and our partners have been able to build stronger, greener coastal communities and support a thriving local economy—a success for both the environment and the people of North Charleston.

Readers, how are you supporting resilient and sustainable coastal communities near you this Earth Day (and every day)?


1 Comment

When Studying How to Clean Oiled Marshes, NOAA Scientists Have Their Work Cut Out for Them

This is a post by Office of Response and Restoration Biologist Nicolle Rutherford.

Oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill oozes out from beneath a vegetation mat in a marsh in Barataria Bay's Bay Jimmy, Louisiana. (Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality/Mike Broussard)

Oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill oozes out from beneath a vegetation mat in a marsh in Barataria Bay’s Bay Jimmy, Louisiana. (Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality/Mike Broussard)

To clean, or not to clean: That is the question.

And if you’re going to clean, how best to do it? This is a question that responders face whenever oil ends up on a shoreline after an oil spill. It’s a particularly difficult question when this happens on the shoreline of marshes.

Although we may sometimes think of marshes as murky, swampy, or smelly, marshes are highly sensitive environments with soft sediments that support a huge diversity of creatures, including birds, mammals, fish, crabs, and shrimp. Marshes are also incredibly productive habitats that act as nurseries for many juvenile organisms and whose large amounts of decaying plant material are the base of a complex food web. They also provide other important ecological services like storm surge protection and shoreline stabilization and water quality improvement. In many instances, when marshes get oiled, the best response action is no response—meaning no human-led cleanup. In the spill response world, we call this “natural recovery.”

Natural recovery is often the best option for an oiled marsh because nearly all types of active cleanup will include some unintentional habitat damage or disturbance. This can stem from the type of equipment used, the way it is used, or the mere presence of cleanup workers disturbing wildlife or trampling the marsh vegetation. The last 40 years of cleaning up oil spills in marshes has demonstrated that active, aggressive cleaning can cause as much or more short- and long-term damage than leaving the oil in place to break down naturally.

When Natural Recovery Is Not Enough

So, when over 30 miles of sensitive salt marshes in Louisiana’s Northern Barataria Bay were heavily oiled as a result of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, natural recovery was the preferred approach. However, in the areas with the most substantial and persistent oiling, the oil did not appear to be weathering or naturally degrading over time.

After the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill, a heavy layer of oiled vegetation mats were preventing the thick emulsified oil underneath from breaking down in Barataria Bay. (NOAA/Scott Zengel)

After the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill, a heavy layer of oiled vegetation mats were preventing the thick emulsified oil underneath from breaking down along Barataria Bay’s marshes. (NOAA/Scott Zengel)

In these areas, a dense, heavy layer of oiled, matted vegetation was lying overtop thick, fresher-looking emulsified oil (meaning it had water mixed in it). The vegetation mats were limiting the oil’s exposure to sunlight, air circulation, and tidal flushing—all natural factors which help break down oil. A number of “traditional” methods of marsh cleanup were tried earlier in the spill response, including low-pressure flushing with ambient seawater, skimming, vacuuming, applying materials to absorb the oil, and natural recovery. However, they performed poorly and in some cases caused additional damage to the marsh.

So what to do? Since the tried-and-true, traditional methods of cleanup weren’t working, this spill’s Shoreline Cleanup and Assessment Technique (SCAT) program (which surveys an affected shoreline after an oil spill) proposed a field test of various treatment methods, led by the oil spill science experts on NOAA’s Scientific Support Team. In addition to proposing a series of test treatments, they set aside several “no treatment” (natural recovery) sites with similar oiling conditions, and established nearby reference sites as well, both for later comparison to the treated sites.

All of the proposed test treatments included cutting the oiled vegetation to expose the thick oil beneath it, in order to accelerate weathering of the oil. In addition to vegetation cutting, the following treatments were tried:

  • Using two different chemical shoreline cleaners that are designed to make oil “lift and float.”
  • Low-pressure flushing.
  • Marsh vacuuming.

Weed Whackers, Rakes, and Hedge Trimmers

As it turned out, conventional “weed whackers” were no match for the dense, heavily oiled vegetation mats, even when we tried different cutting techniques and cutting attachments. So we raked the vegetation.  In the end, the only treatment that showed promise was the vegetation raking.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As we monitored the treated plots, however, we found that the ebb and flow of the tide laid the raked vegetation back down on the marsh, reforming the oiled vegetation mats and continuing to trap the layer of thick emulsified oil on the marsh surface. It quickly became apparent to us SCAT program scientists that any successful treatment would require removing the oiled vegetation. A fresh round of investigation into cutting devices began.

Ultimately, a heavy-duty, commercial power hedge trimmer was the solution. It was successfully used to cut through the dense, heavily oiled mats of laid-over vegetation and to cut oiled vegetation that still stood upright. By aggressively raking the oiled vegetation and the thick oil layer on the surface of the marsh, we were able to remove much of the oil, reducing the surface oiling and risk of re-oiling other vegetation.

Initial monitoring showed that this approach resulted in completely removing the heavily oiled vegetation mats in the raked and cut plots. Most importantly, the character of the remaining oil on the marsh area changed from mostly thick emulsified oil to a predominance of more weathered surface oil residue that posed far less of a risk to wildlife or for refloating and re-oiling the marsh.

In all, seven miles of the most heavily oiled areas in Northern Barataria Bay, La., were treated by raking and cutting. Most of this work was conducted by hand, using walk boards to reduce the foot traffic in the marsh. It appears that the treatment was effective and that impacts to the marsh from the cleanup action were limited.

NOAA SCAT team scientist, Carl Childs.

NOAA SCAT team scientist, Carl Childs.

We are continuing to monitor the test plots in order to fully understand whether this cleanup action was the best approach and what the ecological effects or impacts of “treatment” versus “no treatment” are. Stay tuned for a future post that explores the results of the data collected thus far.

Nicolle Rutherford, blog author and SCAT team scientist.

Nicolle Rutherford, blog author and SCAT team scientist.

Nicolle Rutherford is a biologist in NOAA Office of Response and Restoration’s Emergency Response Division. Nicolle received a bachelor’s degree in marine science from the University of South Carolina, Coastal Carolina College, and a master’s degree from Western Washington University in biology with a concentration in marine and estuarine science.

NOAA contractor and SCAT team scientist, Scott Zengel.

NOAA contractor and SCAT team scientist, Scott Zengel.

After graduate school, she and her husband served in the U.S. Peace Corps in the Republic of Vanuatu. Upon her return to the States, Nicolle worked for an environmental consulting firm as a wetland ecologist for several years before taking a position as a biologist at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps). She came to NOAA from the Corps.


Leave a comment

Baby Mink Jeopardized by Toxic Chemicals in New York’s Hudson River

This is a guest post by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Kathryn Jahn, case manager for the Hudson River Natural Resource Damage Assessment. This originally appeared in full on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region blog.

Mink at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge.

Mink at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge. (Don Cooper)

In the early 1970s, toxic compounds known as polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, were discovered in the water, fish, and sediment of the Hudson River below General Electric Company’s plants at Hudson Falls and Fort Edward in New York.

Those PCBs have contaminated the surface water, groundwater, sediments, and floodplains of the Hudson River. We find that living resources at every level of the Hudson River’s food chains are contaminated with PCBs. We believe that serious adverse effects are likely to be occurring to wildlife exposed to this PCB contamination in the Hudson River.

A whole team of people are using their individual and collective expertise to address the problem of PCB contamination in the Hudson River and its effect on wildlife. My favorite part of this job is the teamwork among all the people working on this issue, and the interactions with our experts and the public.

We know that PCBs can cause serious harm to wildlife and other natural resources. Although a cleanup funded by GE is underway for certain sections of the Hudson River, the dredging GE is doing will leave some areas still contaminated with PCBs.

The dredging also cannot compensate for past effects of this PCB contamination on the Hudson River’s natural resources. For example, dredging will not make up for all the years that public use of the Hudson River fishery has been impaired by fish consumption advisories. Dredging will not return that lost use to the public.

In our planning to determine the effects of PCBs on wildlife, we identified mink health as one area to investigate. Mink are vulnerable to the effects of PCBs. Hudson River mink eat PCB-contaminated fish and other small creatures, and they ingest contaminated water, soil, and sediments as they look for food and build their dens. This led us to suspect that Hudson River mink might be harmed by PCBs in their environment.

Read more to find out how PCB contamination might be affecting mink offspring.

[Editor’s note: And learn about a past report from the Hudson River Natural Resource Trustees, including NOAA, which found that PCBs permeate nearly every part of the Hudson River.]