Background and description of the Gulf of Mexico Marine Debris Project
During the 2005 hurricane season, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita inflicted severe damage on the Gulf of Mexico coastal region and deposited huge amounts of debris over large areas of the Gulf coast. This submerged marine debris posed a hazard to vessel traffic and threatened to adversely affect commercially viable fishing grounds. In response to these issues, Congress appropriated funding in 2006 and again in 2007 to NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey (OCS) and Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R) to survey traditional fishing grounds, map items found, disseminate survey information to assist with removal, and inform the public.
Survey work began in September 2006 in Alabama, Mississippi, and Eastern Louisiana. NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey and its contractors surveyed the area with side-scan sonar locating and marking submerged potential debris items, referred to as contacts. The sonar contacts were mapped and posted on the project website to advise boaters and assist with marine debris removal.
In 2008 these efforts continued in Louisiana. NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration and Office of Coast Survey cooperated closely with the United States Coast Guard (USCG), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and Louisiana Department of Natural Resources to survey offshore areas in Louisiana, mapping new sonar contacts and posting them on the project website. Contacts requiring additional investigation were further evaluated with multi-beam sonar, a technology that provides more accurate target depth and a multi-dimensional view of the item found. Items considered a danger to navigation (DTON) were first listed on this website and reported promptly to the USCG for notification to local mariners, then submitted for updates to navigational charts, where appropriate.
The website served as the primary source of information for stakeholders and the public during the project, and as a record of project activities now that the project is complete. The site provides both static maps and GPS coordinates which can easily be downloaded and printed, and an interactive mapping option where users can zoom into a specific area and select a contact icon to get more information. To encourage use of these products the project undertook a comprehensive outreach effort focused on raising awareness among local users to the survey and mapping efforts, as well as the survey contacts found.
Parallel to the NOAA offshore survey effort, the USCG was conducting a large-scale survey and removal effort of Katrina and Rita-related debris items within inshore waterways in cooperation with FEMA, NOAA, state agencies, and parishes. This effort integrated input from multiple stakeholders through a consistent process implemented in each affected parish. Following input provided by parishes on the impacted waterways, a survey was conducted and debris items posing a hazard to navigation in the waterway were located and mapped. After consultation with and evaluation by Federal and state agencies, the debris was passed to the debris removal process. Each debris removal action was evaluated to ensure it met all applicable best environmental practices. Waterway maps, photos, and other content generated by the USCG in support of this effort are also posted on NOAA project website, accessible through the inshore section.