Research Reserve Plays Key Role in Disaster Prevention and Response

The Takeaway: The Padilla Bay Research Reserve’s expertise and data inform a plan to protect natural resources from oil-spill disasters.

On two sides of Padilla Bay sit oil refineries, oil and natural gas pipelines, a railroad that transports oil, and a highway taking refinery products to the rest of the state. Coordinated oil-spill prevention and response is vital to protect wildlife, waterfowl, fish, and shellfish. A disaster-response initiative that is relying on know-how from the Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve already has convinced the state to start revising some oil-spill response plans.

The partnership includes the research reserve, tribal partners, oil-industry experts, disaster responders, and other government agencies.

The reserve’s data, infrastructure, and intricate bay knowledge are pushing response capabilities to a higher level. For example, a digitized navigation map, uploadable to GPS boat units, will help responders wind their way through the bay’s sinuous channels and avoid grounding, or damaging the propellers. The map’s tide-level information will help responders access shallow flats and habitat-protection sites, too.

Reserve staffers hosted a land-based tour of all places where oil-spill equipment, collection, and strategizing are planned. This event and others helped planning partners understand how different times of year, tides, wind directions, and water-level conditions can affect spill-response landing sites and boat operations.

NOAA’s Office for Response and Restoration played an important role in the effort, too, explaining how to assess damages, follow oil-spill protocols, and aid incident responses. Later, at tabletop exercises led by oil-industry experts, the group role-played disaster scenarios and practiced using a data system for reporting and documenting emergency incidents.

The Padilla Bay region features the second-largest eelgrass meadow on North America’s Pacific Coast, and tribal fishing and hunting areas depend upon its health. The initial workshop of this multi-partner effort was funded by NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management. (2019)

More Information: Workshop

Partners: Marathon’s Shell and Andeavor refineries, NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management and Office of Response and Restoration, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Samish Indian Nation, Swinomish Tribe, U.S.Coast Guard, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Washington Department of Ecology