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Katrina’s storm debris in northern Gulf of Mexico
Though the surface may look calm,
the near-shore waters of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama remain littered
with marine debris from Hurricane Katrina that poses a threat to vessels and
fishing gear. In response, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
established the Gulf of Mexico Marine Debris Project to conduct underwater
surveys off the coasts of the three states to locate obstructions. This data is
being used to create debris maps to assist boaters and fishermen and to guide
removal efforts, which will help restore the Gulf fishery. Information is
available free of charge at http://gulfofmexico.marinedebris.noaa.gov/.
The Web site includes maps that may
be downloaded and printed, as well as an interactive mapping server that allows
users to focus on a small area and to highlight unique data layers, such as
navigation aids and water depth. Downloadable GPS coordinates, images of some
obstructions, selected hazard notifications and news on the cleanup process
also are available online.
Work began in September 2006 in
Alabama with Congressional funding and moved westward. The survey employs side
scan sonar to image the sea floor, and measurements are taken to determine the
depth of each item and to gather information to update nautical charts.
Assessments in Alabama and Mississippi are now complete, and other agencies are
removing debris found by the program. Similar work began in Louisiana in Lake
Borgne in January and will soon be underway in waters south of Plaquemines
Parish. As of early June, nearly 5,000 obstructions had been identified in the
three states, and roughly half of these have a clearance depth of less than
five feet, according to Neal Parry of NOAA’s Marine Debris Program.
The Web site and maps are regularly
updated as new data are gathered. Additionally, the Gulf of Mexico Marine
Debris Project team will produce planning documents to aid in the aftermath of
future storms. The project is a joint effort between NOAA’s Office of Response
and Restoration and Office of Coast Survey. The Louisiana Sea Grant College
Program and Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium are conducting public
outreach to let boaters and fishermen know about the survey and Web site.
“The most important aspect of this
is the benefit to such a broad array of the public in terms of reestablishing
fishing grounds and reducing the risk of injury to people and damage to boats
and gear,” said Tim Osborn, regional manager with NOAA’s Office of Coast
Survey. “We’re establishing a template for the future when our coasts are
impacted by hurricanes or severe storms.”
“We are really grateful to contribute to the region’s recovery after
Katrina,” said project manager Nir Barnea with NOAA. “We are pleased that the
information is being used to assist with marine debris removal, as well as by fishers
and boaters. The cooperation from the states and Sea Grant has been tremendous.
We rely on Sea Grant experience and expertise, and are delighted to work with
these excellent programs.”
Boaters needing more information,
as well as those unable to print maps, may contact one of the following
NOAA Marine Debris Program
1305 East West Highway
Silver Spring, MD 20910
(301) 713-4248, Ext. 206
Louisiana Sea Grant College Program
106 Sea Grant Building
Louisiana State University
Baton Rouge, LA 70803
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Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium
703 East Beach Blvd.
Ocean Springs, MS 39564
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