WASHINGTON The magnitude and depth of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill will require an unprecedented effort to determine the extent and severity of ecological damage and to develop restoration plans for affected areas in the Gulf of Mexico, says an interim report by the National Research Council. A broad approach that focuses on repairing ecosystem processes -- such as fisheries production -- in addition to replacing natural resources damaged by the spill could offer more options for restoring the Gulf region, says the congressionally mandated report.
"The Gulf of Mexico is a vast, complex ecosystem that provides a wealth of important ecological services -- from seafood to tourism to flood protection through its coastal wetlands," said Larry A. Mayer, chair of the committee that wrote the report, director of the Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping, and professor of earth science and ocean engineering at the University of New Hampshire. "It will be a challenge to assess the full scope of impacts from this spill -- the biggest in U.S. history -- and ensure that valuable services are fully restored for the region and ultimately the nation."
The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 establishes a formal legal framework for determining when an oil spill results in an "injury" -- defined as an observable or measurable adverse change or impairment in a natural resource. Through a process known as the Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA), representatives of federal and state governments, tribes, and other "trustees" of the affected ecosystem must attempt to quantify the extent of damages caused by a spill, develop and monitor restoration plans, and seek compensation from the parties deemed responsible.
Historically, NRDA has been used to measure losses in ecological terms, such as the number of fish killed or acres of marsh damaged. As a result, restoration projects usually focus on replacing specific resources. However, NRDA has gen
|Contact: Jennifer Walsh|
National Academy of Sciences