NOAA is the lead agency for the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) process helping identify and quantify short- and long-term impacts to the Gulf of Mexico’s thriving ecosystems. NOAA continues to collaborate with various federal and state agencies, industry, and citizens to collect data in the Gulf of Mexico and across the affected states to determine which natural resources have been harmed, which remain in jeopardy and which human uses have been lost.
Quantifying these impacts is critical to ensuring that there is a true understanding of the extent of the damages. This information is used to inform the restoration planning process and ensure people are compensated appropriately for losses.
Scientists are collecting thousands of samples to establish baseline measurements in the region that will help provide a before-and-after comparison should the oil reach the coasts and important ecosystems.
Within the first week of the spill, NOAA convened co-trustees to organize collaborative teams to coordinate data collection activities in the Gulf of Mexico and across the five Gulf states. Co-trustees include the United State Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. The data collected in the early days, before oil reaches an area, provide a critical snapshot of what areas were like before they were impacted. Coordinating these collection efforts ensures the most efficient data collection.
By April 23, one day after the release was discovered, NOAA scientists began preassessment activities by identifying a range of potentially affected organisms, including fish, shellfish, bottom dwelling biota, birds, marine mammals and turtles. Sensitive habitats such as wetlands, submerged aquatic vegetation, beaches, mudflats, and deep and shallow corals were also categorized for further study. On any given day, more than 40 teams are in the field collecting data on these resources and their lost use.
As is the case across the federal government, NOAA will not rest until the oil is cleaned up, the environment is restored, and all those who have been harmed are compensated.
Multiple shoreline and submerged aquatic vegetation assessment teams have performed initial assessments of oiling at approximately 50 shoreline sites per day. To date, more than 1,800 linear miles of shoreline have been surveyed to assess habitat damages.
As of July 19, teams have collected more than 11,000 samples to assess where the oil is going and how the environment is being affected. The majority of these samples are from water and sediment with the remainder being from oil, tar balls, dispersants, and animal tissues. These data will contribute to the baseline analysis and damage assessment.
Natural resource economists play an important role in the NRDA work, quantifying the economic losses caused by the spill. Using flyovers to survey beach use and count the number of boats in the water in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, the economists will attempt to calculate the lost beach days, boat and shoreline fishing trips, and other valuable activities that have been hampered by the spill.
More than a dozen working groups of agency, trustee and responsible party scientists have worked together around the clock to gather historical and new information to establish pre-spill and post-spill impacts for marine life and habitats.
During the first weeks of the spill, three teams of scientists from NOAA’s Mussel Watch program led an effort collect pre-spill samples for water, sediment and oyster tissue from more than 50 sites from the Florida Keys to the Brazos River in Texas.
Because the effects of oil on estuaries can be particularly damaging, staff at the five Gulf Coast National Estuarine Research Reserves collected water and sediment samples to establish baseline measurements of contaminants, which will be useful to measure impacts should oil reach their bays and wetlands.
Driving thousands of miles throughout May and June, four teams of NOAA investigators and partners collected oyster, sediment, and water samples throughout coastal Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. In all, they sampled 60 sites to assess conditions in the region before any oil washed ashore. These data will provide critical background information to be used in the post-spill impact assessment phase.
NOAA staff in Florida and Texas, along with state and federal partners, are collecting data on the status of coral reefs in Florida Keys and Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuaries. No oil from the Deepwater Horizon Spill has yet been detected in either sanctuary, but the data collected will help NOAA assess any impacts in the event that oil does reach these important ecosystems at a later date.
As stewards of our nation’s coasts, oceans and marine wildlife, NOAA is extremely concerned about the short-term and long-term impacts of the oil spill on the ecological health of the Gulf of Mexico and the nation.
Since the first week of the spill, NOAA seagrass ecologists at NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science have been participating on the submerged aquatic vegetation workgroup, and another has been participating in the shallow-water corals workgroup (both Natural Resource Damage Assessment).
On June 23 and 24, NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration staff trained 22 personnel in Shoreline Assessment Cleanup Technique (SCAT) for the Deepwater Horizon/BP spill response. SCAT teams characterize oiled shorelines, make recommendations for cleanup, evaluate environmental sensitivities, monitor cleanup effectiveness and conduct final sign-off inspections. NOAA is responsible for supplying trained federal SCAT team members.
In mid-July, NOAA representatives began participating on a long term Gulf Coast restoration and recovery team led by the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Within this team effort, NOAA contributes to three subcommittees on science, governance, and project implementation by providing insight on available information and program infrastructure as well as gaps and barriers for Gulf restoration.