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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This Is How We Help Make the Ocean a Better Place for Coral

Large corals on the seafloor.

The ocean on its own is an amazing place. Which is why we humans like to explore it, from its warm, sandy beaches to its dark, mysterious depths. But when humans are involved, things can and often do go wrong.

That’s where we come in. Our corner of NOAA helps figure out what impacts have happened and what restoration is needed to make up for them when humans create a mess of the ocean, from oil spills to ship groundings.

In honor of World Ocean Day, here are a few ways we at NOAA make the ocean a better place for corals when ships accidentally turn them into undersea roadkill.

First, we literally vacuum up broken coral and rubble from the seafloor after ships run into and get stuck on coral reefs. The ships end up crushing corals’ calcium carbonate homes, often carpeting the seafloor with rubble that needs to be removed for three reasons.

  1. To prevent it from smashing into healthy coral nearby.
  2. To clear space for re-attaching coral during restoration.
  3. To allow for tiny, free-floating coral babies to settle in the cleared area and start growing.

Check it out:A SCUBA diver using a suction tube to vacuum coral rubble from the seafloor during coral restoration after the VogeTrader ship grounding.Sometimes, however, the broken bits get stuck in the suction tube, and you have to give it a good shake to get things moving. SCUBA divers shaking a suction tube to clear it on the seafloor.Next, we save as many dislodged and knocked over corals as we can. In this case, popping them into a giant underwater basket that a boat pulls to the final restoration site.

SCUBA diver placing coral piece into a large wire basket on the seafloor during coral restoration after the VogeTrader ship grounding.Sometimes we use “coral nurseries” to regrow corals to replace the ones that were damaged. This is what that can look like:

Staghorn coral fragments hanging on an underwater tree structure of PVC pipes.Then, we cement healthy corals to the seafloor, but first we have to prepare the area, which includes scrubbing a spot for the cement and coral to stick to.

SCUBA diver scrubbing a spot on the seafloor for the cement and coral to stick to.(And if that doesn’t work very well, we’ll bring out a power washer to get the job done.)

SCUBA diver using a power washer to clear a spot on the seafloor for the cement and coral to stick to during coral restoration after the VogeTrader ship grounding.Finally, we’re ready for the bucket of cement and the healthy coral.

SCUBA diver turning over a bucket of cement on the seafloor during coral restoration after the VogeTrader ship grounding.

Instead of cement, we may also use epoxy, nails, or cable ties to secure corals to the ocean floor.

After all that work, the seafloor goes from looking like this:

View of seafloor devoid of coral before restoration.To this:

View of seafloor covered with healthy young coral and fish after restoration due to the VogeTrader grounding.

Ta-da! Good as new, or at least, on its way back to being good-as-new.

When that’s not enough to make up for all the harm done to coral reefs hit by ships, we look for other restoration projects to help corals in the area, like this project to vacuum invasive algae off of coral reefs in Oahu.

Watch how this device, dubbed the “Super Sucker,” works to efficiently remove the yellow-brown algae that is smothering the corals:

Or, as another example of a coral restoration project, we set sail each year to the remote Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands to pull more than 50 tons of giant, abandoned fishing nets off of the pristine coral reefs.

In 2014, that included removing an 11 ton “monster net” from a reef:

For the most part, the coral restoration you’ve seen here was completed by NOAA and our partners, beginning in October 2013 and wrapping up in April 2014.

These corals were damaged off the Hawaiian island of Oahu in February of 2010 when the cargo ship M/V VogeTrader ran aground and was later removed from a coral reef in Kalaeloa/Barber’s Point Harbor.


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Celebrate and Protect the Ocean with us on World Ocean Day

Family exploring tidepools in Santa Cruz.

Learn about, explore, and protect your ocean — our ocean. (NOAA)

At NOAA’s National Ocean Service, we’re honoring all things ocean the entire month of June, but if you have only one day to spare, make it this weekend. Sunday, June 8 is World Ocean Day. As we commemorate this interconnected body of water which sustains our planet, consider how each of us can be involved in both celebrating and protecting the ocean.

To celebrate it, we suggest you learn something new about the ocean and share it with at least one friend (perhaps by sharing this blog post). Then, tell us which actions you’re taking to protect the ocean. We have a few examples to get you ready for both.

Learn to Love the Ocean

Did you know that …

You can learn even more about the ocean and coastal areas by visiting a National Marine Sanctuary or National Estuarine Research Reserve and getting a hands-on education.

Act to Protect the Ocean

Plastic water bottle floating in the ocean.

Don’t let this be your vision of World Ocean Day. Be part of the solution. (NOAA)

Now that you’re hopefully feeling inspired by our amazing ocean, you’re ready to do something to protect it from its many threats, such as ocean acidification (global warming’s oceanic counterpart), pollution, and habitat degradation. Here are some ways you can help:

The more we all know and care about the ocean, the more we will do to take care of it. Do your part this World Ocean Day and every day.


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How Will You Celebrate World Ocean Day?

Red-footed booby landing near edge of ocean atoll.

Red-footed booby at the Three Sisters at Pearl and Hermes Atoll in the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. (NOAA)

World Ocean Day is June 8, and we’re only a month away. What will you do to celebrate and protect that big blue body of water that sustains our planet?

We have a few ideas to get you ready:

Look for even more ways to keep the ocean healthy and free of pollution, a small way of saying thanks for everything the ocean does for us.


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Celebrate World Ocean Day on June 8 by Keeping it Clean

A sunset viewed from Kure Atoll, located near Midway Atoll in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. An atoll is an island of coral that encircles a lagoon partially or completely. (NOAA)

A sunset viewed from Kure Atoll, located near Midway Atoll in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. An atoll is an island of coral that encircles a lagoon partially or completely. (NOAA)

June 8 is World Ocean Day, a time to celebrate the ocean which covers most of our planet.

The ocean—it’s blue, deep, and full of strange-looking forms of life. But beyond its natural beauty and mystery, the ocean is useful to have around for many practical reasons, such as: past ocean life produced enough oxygen to make this planet a nice place to live; it affects the atmosphere, and therefore, the weather and climate; it is full of food humans like to eat; it is fun to play in; and it has lots of materials and mineral resources we use for energy, manufacturing, and transportation.

What is the best way to give your thanks for the many benefits the ocean offers us? By protecting it and keeping it clean, of course.

Here are a few suggestions for keeping a healthy and pollution-free ocean:

What are other ways you could protect and celebrate the ocean?

Follow the countdown to World Ocean Day with NOAA’s Ocean Service.


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From Community Rescuers to Co-Workers: Reflections on World Oceans Day

Within my first couple of hours on the job at NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration, I realized how much my life had already crossed paths with this organization. I grew up in Eagle Harbor, located in Puget Sound, Washington, and my house looked straight across at an old creosote plant that polluted my piece of the ocean.

A ferry in Eagle Harbor, Washington

A ferry pulls into Eagle Harbor, Wash., which was essentially my backyard growing up. Credit: Joe Inslee.

Little did I know then that I would someday work for the office that evaluated the marine environmental damage from activities conducted at this very plant. The office also restored beaches in the harbor that I still use when I return home.

After high school, I headed north to Bellingham, Wash., where the memory of a tragic pipeline explosion was fresh in the minds and hearts of the community. As a result of a pipeline leak, over 200,000 gallons of gasoline flowed into a creek that ran through downtown Bellingham. After igniting, the explosion severely damaged the creek’s ecosystem and tragically killed three community members.

Very early in my new job at NOAA, I was amazed to learn how closely my office was involved in dealing with that incident. My co-workers acted quickly to provide scientific support to response agencies and are still involved in returning the creek environment to its pre-spill state through such actions as restoring salmon habitat and improving public access to the creek.

Why do these experiences and realizations carry such significance to me as I sit in my cube in D.C. years later? Quite simply, they are my ultimate motivators.  I know first-hand how the multiple communities I have lived in have benefited from my co-workers’ efforts. I completely understand how environmental restoration projects can help a community recover from environmental damage.

It can be easy for us who sit in cubicle-land to slowly become removed from the natural resources we are charged to protect and restore. Fortunately, my personal connections with this office help me maintain this connection today and every other day.


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Sailing the Sea on World Oceans Day

Here's Blue, the Olson 911SE yacht I'll be sailing around Vancouver Island, Canada. Credit: VanIsle360.com

Here's Blue, the Olson 911SE yacht I'll be sailing around Vancouver Island, Canada. Credit: VanIsle360.com

June 8 is World Oceans Day. How will you be celebrating? Starting Saturday, June 4, I am participating in Van Isle 360, a sailing race around Vancouver Island, Canada. The 580-nautical-mile race (667.5 miles on land) stops in 10 communities around Vancouver Island. The race starts and ends in Nanaimo, British Columbia, and will take about two weeks. I’m sailing on the nearly 30-foot-long yacht Blue, and we’ll have a satellite transponder so you can track how I’m doing during the race at http://www.vanisle360.com/.

On World Oceans Day, in particular, I’ll be racing from Hardwicke Island to Telegraph Cove. There is not much of a town at Hardwicke Island, but we’ll tie up for the night at a salmon processing plant. The town of Telegraph Cove, population 20, is near the northern end of Vancouver Island, and much of the town is built on stilts, with buildings raised above the water on pilings and linked by historic wooden boardwalks. Even when I am ashore that night I will still be surrounded by water.

Vancouver Island and the route I'll be taking through Johnstone Strait. Credit: Google Maps.

Vancouver Island and the route I'll be taking through Johnstone Strait. Credit: Google Maps.

Johnstone Strait, along the northeast coast of Vancouver Island, is also famous for wildlife, and hopefully we’ll see whales during the day.

Vancouver Island and the City of Vancouver (which is actually not located on Vancouver Island) are named for Captain George Vancouver, the captain of the 1792 British expedition that explored this region. He is also known for developing the first nautical charts of the region, such as this one of Vancouver Island. While I’m thankful for his work, I’m glad I’ll have up-to-date charts on the boat.

So what is the connection to my work on oil spills and this blog? For one thing, even though this is a remote part of Canada, it is very much part of our marine transportation system between the lower 48 states and Alaska. The race follows the “inside passage” between Vancouver Island and mainland Canada, which is the route that cruise ships and commercial vessels take to avoid the rougher open ocean route on the outer edge of the island. That means I’ll be sharing the “road” with big ships as they travel through the same maze of islands I’ll be navigating.

I’m also hoping all those oceanography skills we use to forecast how oil drifts with tides and winds will come in handy when trying to sail through some of the toughest tidal currents in the world. The currents at Seymour Narrows near Campbell River, British Columbia, can exceed 15 knots—that is 17 miles per hour!

Keep an eye on this blog because I’ll try to upload some pictures and updates here during the race. Let me know in the comments how you hope to be celebrating the ocean on World Oceans Day, whether you’ll be sailing in a remote corner of the sea or showing your appreciation thousands of miles from the ocean.