Public comments sought on RESTORE Act draft NOAA science plan

Bon Secour
Long-term priorities for Gulf of Mexico ecosystem research detailed

Today, NOAA released for public comment the draft science plan for the NOAA RESTORE Act Science Program, which supports research in the Gulf of Mexico on long-term sustainability of the ecosystem and its fisheries.

The draft plan, of which notice to be published appears online today at the Federal Register, outlines 10 long-term research priorities to guide how the program will invest its funds and explains how these priorities were determined. The program will review the comments received and anticipates releasing a final version of the science plan early next year.

“The priorities in the draft plan were developed after discussions with stakeholders and partners and continued input from stakeholders is important to the success of this plan,” said Becky Allee, Ph.D., acting director of the NOAA RESTORE Act Science Program. “We look forward to continued dialogue with those who care about the Gulf of Mexico and the impact this program can have on the region.”

In making its selection of long-term research priorities, NOAA considered specific management or restoration needs in the Gulf of Mexico region that fit within the requirements for the science program outlined in the RESTORE Act, also known as the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act.

NOAA also sought to avoid duplicating the priorities of other Gulf of Mexico science programs especially those created in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, such as the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative, the National Academy of Sciences Gulf Research Program and those funded through the on-going Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment.

Among the key research priorities:

Addressing the needs of fisheries and other natural resource managers with ready to use models, decision support tools  and new monitoring technologies;

Focusing on developing a more complete understanding of how the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, its natural resources, including fisheries, and its coastal communities are connected;

Seeking to improve the capacity to predict the impact of climate change and severe weather on the Gulf of Mexico and its natural resources; and

Recognizing the importance of developing indicators for measuring the long-term status and health of the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem including fisheries.

The plan also provides information on how the program will be administered and work with partners. Once finalized, the science plan will serve as the basis for any future federal funding opportunities administered through NOAA. NOAA anticipates that the final science plan and its long-term research priorities will be evaluated and updated every five years.

Anyone may submit comments, including individuals and organizations with a particular interest in Gulf of Mexico ecosystem restoration and related science, observations, monitoring and technology, and the impact this program will have on the region. Comments on the draft science plan can be submitted via email to, or by mail to Becky Allee at NOAA Office for Coastal Management, Gulf of Mexico Division, Bldg. 1100, Room 232, Stennis Space Center, MS 39529. All comments are due no later than December 15.

NOAA will also be hosting virtual engagement sessions to answer questions about the plan. The details on how to join these sessions will be announced on the program’s website. Following the comment period, NOAA will assess the input received and release a final version of the science plan, likely in early 2015.

The RESTORE Act authorized NOAA to establish and administer the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Science, Observation, Monitoring, and Technology Program, also known as the NOAA RESTORE Act Science Program.

The NOAA program will be funded by 2.5 percent of the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund, established by the RESTORE Act, which comprises 80 percent of Clean Water Act civil penalties recovered from parties responsible for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. On February 19, 2013, a federal judge approved a $1 billion civil settlement with Transocean, as a responsible party for the oil spill. This settlement will provide the NOAA Restore Act Science Program with $20 million plus 25 percent of any interest accrued from the portion of the settlement deposited into the Trust Fund.

Additional funding may become available from settlements with or judgments against other parties deemed responsible by the courts for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The mission of the NOAA RESTORE Act Science Program is to increase understanding of the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem, including its fisheries, and to support its restoration and sustainability through research, observation, monitoring, and technology development.