NOAA has worked with teams of state, tribal, and Federal trustees to generate more than $300 million since 1990 for restoration projects. This money has been used to improve wetlands, restore bird and other wildlife populations, create reefs for fish and lobster habitats, create and improve fishing access sites, and restore salmon streams.
While oil and hazardous substance releases can harm natural resources in a number of ways—the full impacts may not be readily apparent. The most immediate and visible impacts are typically oiled beaches and dead organisms—such as fish, lobsters, birds, wetland plants, and seagrasses. But other impacts may require time and study to fully assess. For example, nurseries for fish or nesting sites for birds and turtles may be destroyed, and birds and other wildlife may become ill from eating contaminated food. Some impacts may not show up for weeks, months, or even years and are challenging to assess. Wetlands may slowly be destroyed several months after an incident, coral reefs may continue to erode and become susceptible to disease, and birds may be unable to reproduce.
An incident may also diminish the services that natural resources provide, which include human services (e.g.fishing, boating, beach-going, and wildlife viewing) and ecological services (e.g. providing habitat, nutrient cycling, and energy transfer through food webs).
NOAA and co-trustees first identify the full range of injuries to coastal and marine resources and then determine the best restoration methods. NOAA and co-trustees implement two kinds of restoration projects.
Primary restoration returns the injured resources to the condition that would have existed if the incident had not occurred. Trustees often take actions that speed recovery of the injured resources, such as reconstructing physical habitat that was destroyed. Sometimes, however, no action or natural recovery is the best approach.
Compensatory restoration addresses losses from the date of injury until recovery is completed. While the resource is impaired, it is unable to provide services on which other parts of the ecosystem and the public rely (such as fish nursery habitat). Trustees ensure that restoration projects address the period from injury until recovery.
To address injuries to an oiled wetland, for example, Trustees may consider restoration projects that—
Accelerate the recovery of the marsh to the condition it would have been in had
the spill not occurred.
Compensate for lost recreational use of the marsh, such as hunting and fishing.
Compensate for lost ecological services from the time of the spill until
recovery, possibly by acquiring additional marshland.