Protecting Marine Species during Disaster Response
Natural or man-made disasters could result in mass mortalities, injuries or illnesses to marine animal populations; damage to marine habitats; or affect food safety and public health. NOAA Fisheries Protected Resources experts nationwide monitor threats to protected marine species under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act.
Natural or man-made disasters could result in mass mortalities, injuries or illnesses to marine animal populations; damage to marine habitats; or affect food safety and public health.
NOAA Fisheries Protected Resources experts nationwide continuously monitor threats to marine species protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act. They oversee and coordinate a large volunteer response network along the coastal states and U.S. territories, positioning them to detect, respond to, and investigate disaster events threatening marine animals. Investigating these events gives us important information on the health of our oceans and coasts, including populations of important marine species.
Our programs employ scalable and tailored incident command structures during national, regional, or local emergencies. We operate with interagency coordination, typically under Emergency Support Functions #10 (Oil and HAZMAT Response) and #11 (Agriculture and Natural Resources).
Natural disasters increase risks to marine animals and require coordinated emergency response by NOAA Fisheries teams into the overall response. Some examples include:
- Environmental phenomena – at large scales can be disastrous for a population or species
- Temperature extremes – can increase sea turtle stranding due to cold-stun events, cause illness or death of marine mammals, and prolonged periods of high sea surface temperatures can cause mass bleaching of corals
- El Niño or La Niña – can lead to malnourished marine mammals due to shifts in prey availability
- Drought – dropping water levels in rivers can prevent salmon from reaching the ocean
- Disease epidemics or Biotoxicosis – outbreaks may create a disaster event for species at risk and require interagency coordination and risk communication about possible effects to people
- Disease: Examples of epidemics include morbilivirus in marine mammals; abalone withering syndrome; sea turtle fibropapilloma; white plague, black band and other diseases in corals; and avian influenza in seals. Some diseases have the potential to infect humans as well.
- Biotoxicosis: Harmful Algal Blooms have implications for public health and seafood safety; they can be detected in marine mammals and sea turtles.
Mitigation or prevention of human-caused injuries following a man-made disaster can help safeguard marine species. Some examples of these disasters include:
- Release of oil or hazardous materials – these releases in the nearshore environment put marine animals at high risk due to toxicity of the spilled material and the cleanup activities
- Marine debris release - many animals can become entangled in marine debris or be injured through ingestion of microplastics; important habitats can also be degraded and prey affected.
- Invasive species - populations may be threatened by invasive species carried on marine debris or by maritime transportation.