NOAA Science Helps Restore Coastal Places


Thousands of oil spills happen every year, and most pollution cases don’t make the news.


Thousands of oil spills happen every year, and most pollution cases don’t make the news. But when there’s a major oil spill or pollutant found in the water, you hear about it. Local, state, and federal government agencies rush to clean up the mess. In many cases, after a few days or weeks, it’s out of the spotlight. This is just the beginning of the story, however. It can take years or decades for waterways to recover from pollution. NOAA is just one of the federal government agencies tasked with settling in for the long haul. Its role is to use science to figure out exactly what damage has been done so that ecosystems can be restored.

Protecting the health of the ocean often starts on land. Plastic trash and other garbage that isn’t properly disposed often makes its way to the ocean. Fertilizers, pesticides, and other chemicals can be released from industrial sites into rivers and the ocean. Pollution that starts on land can have significant and lasting impacts not only on the environment but also on the fish, wildlife, and people who live in and along affected waterways. Pollution makes humans less healthy, decreases their quality of life, lowers property values, and weakens local economies.

As an example, urban pollution in Baltimore, Maryland, has been tough on the Chesapeake Bay and on the humans who live nearby. One place in the Chesapeake Bay region where harmful debris and pollution comes from is a former landfill site outside of the city. From the 1950s to the 1970s, commercial and industrial waste, including solvents, paints, waste oils, and tires, were dumped in seven former landfills close to wetlands and streams in Rosedale, Maryland. These streams empty into rivers that end in the Chesapeake Bay.

Cleanup at the site started in 2008, and it’s still ongoing. NOAA research helped secure $3.1 million in a legal settlement to fund these projects. Scientists studied the site and helped develop projects to restore contaminated soil and water like racks that will collect trash floating downstream. Other initiatives include invasive species control, wetlands enhancement, and stream restoration.


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Image via NOAA.