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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Preparing for Hurricanes

Houses, trees, and powerlines in a New Orleans neighborhood flooded by Hurricane Katrina.

Hurricane Katrina flooded much of New Orleans, trapping many residents who did not evacuate. (NOAA)

Hurricane Matthew is the latest storm to wreak havoc on our nation’s shores. Being involved in disaster response, we at NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration know what can go wrong when a hurricane hits the coast—after all, we’ve seen it firsthand:

Boats scattered in a marsh and onshore next to damaged buildings.

After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, thousands of boats were scattered along the shores and waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Dealing with these vessels and their resulting pollution can be a long and difficult process. (NOAA)

Clearly, a lot is at stake when a hurricane sweeps through an area, which is why preparing for hurricanes and other disasters is so important. We can’t stop these powerful storms, but we can prepare ourselves, our homes, and our coastal communities to lessen the impacts and bounce back more quickly after storms hit. NOAA’s National Weather Service has plenty of tips and guidelines for preparing to weather these storms.

NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration also takes care to prepare for hurricanes and other disasters.

Sometimes that means building internet and phone access into the stormproof bathrooms of our facilities so that we can continue providing sound science and support to deal with pollution from a storm. Other times that means working with coastal regions to create response plans for disaster debris, training other emergency responders to address oil and chemical spills, and developing software tools that pull together and display key information necessary for making critical response decisions during disasters.

NOAA’s National Weather Service has plenty of tips and guidelines for preparing to weather these storms.

Learn more about how to protect yourself and your belongings from a hurricane.

NOAA’s National Weather Service has the latest information on Hurricane Matthew.

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Are You Ready for the Storm? — NOAA’s Marine Debris Blog

Hurricanes and severe storms come with high winds, heavy rains, and storm surges that have the potential to damage property and create a large amount of marine debris. Protecting our families and possessions are usually our top priority when we hear of an approaching storm, as they should be, but do you know what else […]

via Are You Ready for the Storm? — NOAA’s Marine Debris Blog

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Science of Oil Spills Training: Apply for Spring 2017

People sitting around desk in classroom

Science of Oil Spills class

October 3, 2016 —NOAA‘s Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R), a leader in providing scientific information in response to marine pollution, has scheduled two more Science of Oil Spills (SOS) classes:

  • Charleston, South Carolina, the week of February 13, 2017
  • Mobile, Alabama the week of March 27, 2017

OR&R will accept applications for these classes as follows:

  • The application period for the Charleston class will run through Monday, November 28, 2016. We will email applicants regarding their application status no later than Friday, December 9.
  • The application period for the Mobile class will run through Friday, January 20, 2017. We will email applicants regarding their application status no later than Friday, February 3, 2017.

SOS classes help spill responders increase their understanding of oil spill science when analyzing spills and making risk-based decisions. They are designed for new and mid-level spill responders.

The trainings cover:

  • Fate and behavior of oil spilled in the environment.
  • An introduction to oil chemistry and toxicity.
  • A review of basic spill response options for open water and shorelines.
  • Spill case studies.
  • Principles of ecological risk assessment.
  • A field trip.
  • An introduction to damage assessment techniques.
  • Determining cleanup endpoints.

To view the topics for the next SOS class, download a sample agenda [PDF, 170 KB].

Please understand that classes are not filled on a first-come, first-served basis. We try to diversify the participant composition to ensure a variety of perspectives and experiences, to enrich the workshop for the benefit of all participants. Classes are generally limited to 40 participants.

For more information, and to learn how to apply for the class, visit the SOS Classes page.

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Response and Restoration in a Changing Arctic

ice on ocean with two people

The Beaufort Sea. (NOAA)

Last week, the Administration hosted the first White House Arctic Science Ministerial. The gathering of science ministers, chief science advisers, and additional high-level officials from countries worldwide, as well as indigenous representatives, provided an opportunity to discuss Arctic science, research, observations, monitoring, and data-sharing. Discussion topics included:

  • Identifying Arctic science challenges and their regional and global implications
  • Strengthening and integrating Arctic observations and data sharing
  • Applying expanded scientific understanding of the Arctic to build regional resilience and shape global responses
  • Empowering citizens through Science Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education leveraging Arctic science

These issues are deeply entrenched in the work of NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R). Rising temperatures and thinning sea ice in the Arctic creates more opportunities for human activities that increase the threat of oil and chemical spills in a remote region that presents unique challenges.

As the lead science advisor to the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) during oil and hazardous material spills, OR&R provides both preparedness training and support during spills. In August, OR&R participated in an Alaska North Slope oil spill drill, conducting Shoreline Cleanup Assessment Technique surveys, relaying information to the Incident Command Post in Anchorage, and sharing operational and environmental information using the Arctic Environmental Response Management Application (ERMA).

OR&R also conducts assessments of natural resources damaged by spills and often participates in exercises for such activities. In 2014, OR&R released Guidelines for Collecting High Priority Ephemeral Data for Oil Spills in the Arctic in Support of Natural Resource Damage Assessments. In May, OR&R and the NOAA Restoration Center led a tabletop drill and management training for the Alaska Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration trustees.

OR&R’s Arctic work is not restricted to domestic activities. OR&R’s Spatial Data Branch Chief Dr. Amy Merten currently serves as chair of the Arctic Council’s Emergency Prevention, Preparedness, and Response Working Group, and OR&R frequently participates in international meetings and exercises. A few weeks ago, OR&R participated in an international cooperative information exchange with Canada and Norway hosted by USCG. Staff reviewed the use of Arctic ERMA and presented the Arctic Dispersant State of the Science initiative in coordination with the University of New Hampshire’s Coastal Response Research Center.

As the protection of Arctic natural resources and coastal communities gain increased attention, OR&R will continue to prepare and support partners with innovative science, tools, and services.

Graphic of cross section of oil spill.

Conceptual model of the impacts of an oil spill to various segments of the Arctic environment (NOAA)

Learn more about NOAA and oil spills, including challenges in the Arctic.

Learn more about the White House Arctic Science Ministerial.

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50th Anniversary of Bodega Marine Laboratory

Aerial view of coastal bluff with buildings

Aerial view of the Bodega Marine Laboratory. Credit: Bodega Marine Laboratory

The Bodega Marine Laboratory is 50 years old and going strong along with the partnership between NOAA and the University of California (UC).

Back in 1956, undeveloped land stretched across a peninsula to Bodega Head. In 1966 the first lab opened under the supervision of UC Berkeley, by the 1980s UC Davis took the helm. Since then the laboratory has more than doubled in size and the research scope greatly expanded to include fields as diverse as organismal biology, coastal ecology, climate change effects and ocean acidification, toxicology, bio-engineering, physical oceanography, and biotechnology.

Students, faculty, and visiting scientists have studied the shoreline habitats and conducted research at the lab since its modest beginnings – expanding our understanding of marine and estuarine systems along a beautiful stretch of northern California coastline.

The lab is part of the Bodega Marine Reserve, which is part of the UC Natural Reserve System and within NOAA’s recently expanded Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.

Some of the research at the BML includes:

  • Marine aquaculture
  •  Toxicity studies
  • Effects of oil spill in San Francisco Bay on Pacific herring
  • Captive breeding programs to support recovery of the special status species such as white abalone (Haliotis sorenseni ) and salmon (Oncorhynchus)
  • Ocean acidification studies
  • Deployment of various types of sensors to monitor physical phenomena such as oxygen levels in sanctuary waters.

Partnerships with marine laboratories such as Bodega Marine Laboratory are critical to the NOAA mission to protect and restore coastal resources and to help us remain a strong science-based agency well connected with current scientific research, trends, and findings.

Ten Years of the NOAA Marine Debris Program: 2012

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NOAA Marine Debris Program is celebrating 10 years of protecting our nation’s marine environment.

NOAA's Marine Debris Blog

The NOAA Marine Debris Program 10 year anniversary identity marker.

This year marks the ten year anniversary of the NOAA Marine Debris Program and we will be celebrating throughout the year! As part of our celebration, we will be looking back on our accomplishments over the years (check out our timeline for a review of the past decade!). Let’s take a look back to 2012:


The NOAA Marine Debris Program (MDP) faced some important challenges in 2012 and was busier than ever! To start, the Marine Debris Act was amended, expanding to include regional coordination and emergency response. This made the MDP responsible for coordinating with partners on a daily basis, as well as responding to severe debris events. With the added responsibility of regional coordination, the MDP upgraded its reach from six to ten coastal regions, now including the Pacific Islands, Alaska, Pacific Northwest, California, Great Lakes, Gulf of Mexico, Northeast

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An Estuary in the Shadow of Seattle

People working at marsh's edge.

Volunteers help restore the Duwamish River by planting native vegetation at an Earth Day event hosted at Codiga Park, April 2008. (NOAA)

Update: It’s been announced that a proposed settlement was reached with Seattle to resolve its liability for injured natural resources. Seattle has purchased restoration credits from Bluefield Holdings Inc., a company that develops restoration projects. The city’s credit purchase totals approximately $3.5 million worth of restoration. This is the first natural resource damages settlement to fund restoration through the purchase of credits by a restoration development company. For more details:

What makes river water flow in one direction in the morning and change direction in the afternoon? Tides.

Where the Duwamish River meets Puget Sound in Washington state this shift of water flow happens daily. The Duwamish pours into the salty waters of Puget Sound, making it Seattle’s downtown estuary. The powerful tides that fill and drain the sound push and pull on the Duwamish causing a shift in directions at the river’s estuary.

This estuary does not look like the estuaries from high school text books. It no longer has a wide delta where the freshwater river fans out to meet the salty ocean. Instead, it looks like a channelized waterway. Almost all of the Duwamish estuarine wetlands and mudflats have been lost to dredging or filling for industrial purposes. Restoring the Duwamish‘s estuary is a massive challenge—requiring government agencies, industry, and the public to work together.

Aerial view of city with river.

Aerial photograph of the Lower Duwamish River. Harbor Island and Elliott Bay are shown in the top left and downtown Seattle in the top center of the photograph. (NOAA)

I am happy to report a significant step forward in this collaboration. NOAA recently produced key answers to some tough questions, based on lessons we learned as we worked on this restoration effort: What works the best to restore this highly urban and developed river and estuary? What are some of the key obstacles we encountered?

Main challenges for restoring the Duwamish:

  • Dealing with costs and challenges of existing contamination
  • Preventing erosion of new restoration
  • Keeping newly-planted vegetation alive—geese and other wildlife love to eat newly planted restoration sites

Key lessons learned for successful restoration:

  • Plan for uncertainty: the most common issue for restoration in urban areas is discovering unexpected challenges, such as sediment contamination during construction.
  • Allow for ongoing maintenance: Restoration isn’t over just because a project is complete. To ensure the long-term success of restoration efforts, continued stewardship of the site is necessary and should be included in project planning.
  • Get the biggest bang for your buck: When companies conduct cleanups of their sites, it is most cost effective to conduct restoration at the same time.
River with grid strung above it.

Geese inside goose exclusion fencing at Boeing Project. (Credit: Boeing)

The challenges and recommendations are only a snapshot of what can be found in the NOAA report, Habitat Restoration in an Urban Waterway: Lessons Learned from the Lower Duwamish River. While the Duwamish estuary may look nothing like it did historically, it is important to always be reminded that it is still full of life. From salmon to kayakers to industry, the estuary serves a key role in the Seattle community. Learn more about what we are doing to restore the Duwamish River.