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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What we do to Help Endangered Species

Two killer whales (orcas) breach in front a boat. Image credit: NOAA

NOAA developed an oil spill response plan for killer whales that includes three main techniques to deploy quickly to keep these endangered animals away from a spill. Image credit: NOAA

For over 40 years, the 1973 Endangered Species Act has helped protect native plants and animals and that habitats where they live, and many government agencies play a role in that important work. That’s one reason the United States celebrates Endangered Species Day every year in May.

The Office of Response and Restoration contributes to the efforts to protect these species in our spill response and assessment and restoration work.

When a spill occurs in coastal waters one priority for our emergency responders is identifying any threatened or endangered species living in the area near the spill.

  • At every spill or chemical release, our scientists need to take into account:
  • Is it breeding season for any protected species in the area?
  • Is any of the spill area nesting grounds for protected species?
  • Are protected species likely to come into contact with the spilled contaminant?
  • What are possible negative effects from the cleanup process on the protected species?

We assist the U.S. Coast Guard with a required Endangered Species Act consultation for spills to ensure those species are considered in any response action taken. We’ve also developed tools that can be used by all emergency responders and environmental resource managers to help protected endangered plants, animals, and their habitats.

Environmental Sensitivity Index maps identify coastal habitats and locations that may be especially vulnerable to an oil spills. ​The main components of these maps are sensitive wildlife, shoreline habitats, and the economic resources people use there, such as a fishery or recreational beach.

Threatened and​ Endangered Species Geodatabases allows oil spill planners and responders to easily access data on federal or state listed threatened and endangered species for specific regions. These data are a subset of the larger, more complex environmental sensitivity index data and are a convenient way to access some of the more critical biological information for an area.

Environmental Resources Management Application, called ERMA®, is our online mapping tool that integrates static and real-time environmental data and allows users to investigate data in their area. There are hundreds of publicly available base layers including many endangered and threatened species. Environmental Sensitivity Index maps are available in this tool.

Marine debris affects endangered and threatened species including species of sea turtles, whales, seals, and corals. These fragile populations face a variety of stressors in the ocean including people, derelict fishing gear, trash, and other debris. To learn more about the dangers of marine debris on marine life check out this blog post or visit the NOAA Marine Debris Program website.

For more information on threatened and endangered species, and local events for Endangered Species Day, visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. For information on endangered and threatened marine species visit NOAA Fisheries.


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Updated Environmental Sensitivity Index Maps and Data for Some Atlantic States

Colored map of grid and ocean.

A section of ESI map for the New York/New Jersey area. (NOAA)

One of the challenges in any oil spill is the ability for spill responders to quickly evaluate protection priorities appropriate to the shoreline, habitats, and wildlife found in the area of the spill. Environmental Sensitivity Index (ESI) maps and data developed by NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R) provide spill responders with a concise summary of coastal resources that are at risk if an oil spill occurs nearby. Additionally, ESI maps can be used by planners—before a spill happens—to identify vulnerable locations, establish protection priorities, and identify cleanup strategies.

OR&R and its partners have recently updated much of the Atlantic Coast ESI data, and Geographic Information System (GIS) data are now available for these states and regions:

  • Maine and New Hampshire
  • Long Island Sound
  • New York/New Jersey Metro area, including the Hudson River and South Long Island
  • Chesapeake Bay, including Maryland and Virginia outer coasts
  • North Carolina
  • South Carolina
  • Georgia

Maps in Portable Document Format (PDF) are currently available for South Carolina, Long Island Sound, Georgia, and the New York/New Jersey region. PDFs for the other regions listed will be coming soon, as well as PDF maps for the Washington/Oregon Outer Coast data published in late 2014. GIS data for Massachusetts/Rhode Island are currently under review and will be available soon.

More Information about OR&R’s ESI Mapping Work

Redrawing the Coast After Sandy: First Round of Updated Environmental Sensitivity Data Released for Atlantic States