Frequently Asked Questions for the Open Ocean Restoration Area

Injury and Programmatic Restoration Plan

  • Where can I find a summary of the programmatic restoration plan?
  • What was the injury? How are the restoration projects addressing the injury?
    • For a detailed account of the Trustees’ approach to and the findings resulting from the injury assessment please see Chapter 4 of the programmatic restoration plan. Sections 4.4 through 4.10 describe the injury assessment for specific resources, habitats, and services, as follows: water column resources (Section 4.4); benthic (i.e., bottom-dwelling) resources and habitats (Section 4.5); nearshore marine ecosystem (Section 4.6); birds (Section 4.7); sea turtles (Section 4.8); marine mammals (Section 4.9); and lost recreational use (Section 4.10). Section 4.11 (Injury Assessment: Summary and Synthesis of Findings) summarizes the Trustees’ injury assessment findings and synthesizes those conclusions in an ecosystem context.
    •  Specifically, sections 4.4 through 4.10 describe the injury assessment for specific resources, habitats, and services, as follows:
      • water column resources (Section 4.4);
      • benthic (i.e., bottom-dwelling) resources and habitats (Section 4.5);
      • nearshore marine ecosystem (Section 4.6);
      •  birds (Section 4.7);
      • sea turtles (Section 4.8);
      • marine mammals (Section 4.9); and
      • lost recreational use (Section 4.10).
      • Section 4.11 (Injury Assessment: Summary and Synthesis of Findings) summarizes the Trustees’ injury assessment findings and synthesizes those conclusions in an ecosystem context.
    • All restoration projects conducted under the Oil Pollution Act are intended to return injured natural resources and services to their baseline condition (primary restoration) and to compensate the public for losses from the time of the incident until the time resources and services recover to baseline conditions (compensatory restoration). To meet these goals, the restoration activities need to produce benefits that are related to or have a connection to natural resource injuries and service losses resulting from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. When the Trustees are evaluating project alternatives in a restoration plan, they will evaluate the extent to which each alternative is expected to meet their goals and objectives in returning the injured natural resources and services to baseline and/or compensating for interim losses.
  • What is the Open Ocean Trustee Implementation Group and what is its role in restoration?
    • The Open Ocean Trustee Implementation Group is made up of the four federal trustees. This group will work on restoration in the Open Ocean Restoration Area, which will focus on wide-ranging and migratory species, including water column and ocean-bottom fish and invertebrates, sea turtles, birds, marine mammals, sturgeon, and deep-sea coral reefs.
    • Many species that spend part of their lives in the Gulf of Mexico also migrate to other places—as far away as Canada and the Mediterranean Sea. The Open Ocean Restoration Area will address species throughout their life stages and throughout their geographic range by reducing bycatch, restoring habitat, and other activities.
    • The Trustees may use some of the Open Ocean Restoration Area funds for restoration outside of the Gulf of Mexico.
    • They will coordinate with appropriate state trustees when proposed projects overlap their jurisdictions.
  • Is coastal submerged aquatic vegetation/seagrass currently recognized as an important habitat for birds and marine mammals?
    • In the programmatic restoration plan, the Trustees recognize that submerged aquatic vegetation/seagrass is an important habitat for bird restoration as the "restore and enhance submerged aquatic vegetation" is listed as one of the possible restoration approaches that could be considered under the bird restoration type. Coastal submerged aquatic vegetation/seagrass are important habitats for marine mammals because they support nurseries and areas for potential prey. However, the restoration of submerged aquatic vegetation/seagrass for the benefit of marine mammals is not a priority at this time.

Notice/Project Ideas

  • How much money will be allocated through the first restoration plan?
    • This will depend on the projects that are eventually selected for restoration. Up to $200 million is available within the Open Ocean Restoration Area over the next three years.
  • How do I submit a project? Is this my only chance to submit projects?
  • If our project is chosen, will we be funded to do it?
    • It is important to note that this process is not an application process or a request for proposals but a request for project ideas. The Open Ocean Trustee Implementation Group Trustees are responsible for using this input from the public to develop project alternatives that will best restore for the injured resources. They will include these project alternatives in a restoration plan that will be available for public comment. As part of the Trustees’ project development associated with drafting the plan and associated project-specific analysis in the plan, the Open Ocean TIG Trustees will determine the most feasible method to implement each project. We recognize that there is considerable local ecological knowledge from state partners, nonprofits, fishers, and local contractors that can facilitate project implementation. When developing restoration plans and evaluating the projects in these plans, each Trustee will consider the most efficient and effective means to implement each phase of a project; however, each Trustee must follow requirements established in their respective contracting and grant regulations. The Trustees will ensure that projects are implemented cost-effectively and in partnership with or contracted to the most suitable project teams on a project-specific basis.
  • How will you protect proprietary information associated with proposals that are evidently posted for public viewing on the website?
    • We do not protect any information contained in project ideas submitted to the Gulf Spill Restoration site (see language below). Project submissions submitted to the site are not funding proposals and should not contain proprietary information.  The website states: "Please note that your project suggestion and any associated attachments may be posted online. The information you submit will be retained as part of the Administrative Record for the NRDA. Please be advised that your project suggestion–including your name and contact information, if included–may be made publicly available at any time. While you can ask us to withhold this information from public review, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so."
  • Are other government agencies allowed to apply?
    • There are no limitations to whom can submit project ideas.
  • Can I account for indirect costs in the budget?
    • As these are just project ideas and not project proposals the budget can be a rough estimate of the cost of the project. Please feel free to account for any cost you think might be associated with the project idea in the estimated budget.
  • What if I have a project idea that doesn’t exactly fit within your priorities listed in the notice?
    • Project ideas will be maintained in the database, so they do not necessarily need to be just focused on short term-priorities.
    • The Open Ocean Restoration Area focuses on the following restoration types: water column fish and invertebrates; sea turtles; birds; marine mammals; sturgeon, and mesophotic and deep benthic communities. Please submit any project ideas that you feel may pertain to the restoration of these resource types. You may also want to review the other Restoration Areas to consider if your project idea may be applicable to other restoration areas. You can find links to all the Restoration Areas at http://www.gulfspillrestoration.noaa.gov/restoration-areas.
  • Will there be restoration outside the Gulf of Mexico?
    • Many species that spend part of their lives in the Gulf of Mexico also migrate to other places—as far away as Canada and the Mediterranean Sea. The Open Ocean Restoration Area will address species throughout their life stages and throughout their geographic range. We may use some of the Open Ocean Restoration Area funds for restoration outside of the Gulf of Mexico, as long as there is a link back to the injured species. There may be a project better suited outside the Gulf if there is a strong benefit to the injured species (e.g., nesting beach acquisition).
  • What kind of information is needed to submit a project idea? Are there guidelines? What happens if we need to submit a full proposal?
    • Please refer to the notice requesting public input for information about the TIG's restoration priorities and how to submit project ideas using the submission form online. The online form provides specific instructions for each entry field. We do not have an additional proposal submission process. The portal allows you to provide as much detail as you would like—from a general idea to a full proposal. We will not make a separate or follow up request for full proposals.
  • How will you decide which projects to include in the draft restoration plan based on what you receive from the public? How many projects do you envision including?
    • Restoration planning begins with organizing the project ideas in the portal. We will then apply screening criteria to evaluate the restoration project ideas. We will evaluate factors such as benefits to injured resources and technical feasibility.
    • The project ideas that rise to the top after screening will then be further developed and included as alternatives proposed in a draft restoration plan. This is where the National Environmental Policy Act comes in. We will seek public review and input on the draft restoration plan. If we determine an environmental impact statement is appropriate, we will provide a public scoping period before a draft restoration plan is released for public review and comment.
  • Please explain the screening criteria in more detail. Are there project criteria we should reference when we submit project ideas? What is the process of evaluating projects and who will be evaluating projects?
    • When developing your project ideas, please refer to the public notice and in Chapter 5 of the programmatic restoration plan for guidance on our goals, restoration strategies, and implementation considerations for each of these restoration types. Project ideas will be evaluated on their ability to meet the goals of the programmatic restoration plan and the Oil Pollution Act.
    • Project screening is an assessment of projects—either submitted to the Open Ocean TIG via the Trustee Council website or developed by the Open Ocean TIG trustees—to determine if they are consistent with our restoration goals and to determine the extent to which they meet Oil Pollution Act evaluation standards. The screening process helps us choose projects as part of a "reasonable range of alternatives" that are suitable to move forward for additional evaluation in the restoration plan.
    • We may also develop additional project selection criteria that further our restoration goals. We will describe the project screening we used in the draft restoration plan.
  • Do previously-submitted questions need to be re-submitted? If a restoration idea spans multiple restoration types, should it be submitted multiple times? Will projects submitted to state project portals (e.g., the Florida state project portal) be evaluated or only those in the Trustee portal?
    • You do not need to resubmit project ideas; we will re-evaluate all project ideas that are currently in the restoration project idea portal. You may also revise or update any past project ideas by using the confirmation number that was sent to you. Please note: if you previously submitted a project through a state portal ONLY, you will need to resubmit it to the Trustee portal.
    • Project ideas that span multiple restoration types do not need to be submitted multiple times. The project submission form allows you identify multiple restoration that will benefit from your project idea.

Implementation of Projects

  • What is the target time frame for implementation of the first set of projects?
    • The restoration planning process is a multi-step process that will incorporate public engagement and opportunities for public comments under the National Environmental Policy Act. The time required to complete the process will depend upon the number and level of complexity of the projects that are selected through the restoration planning process. Implementation of the first set of projects cannot begin until the restoration planning process is completed. For more information, please see Chapter 7 of the programmatic restoration plan.
  • Ultimately, what will be the mechanisms used to compete and award funds and under which agency's direction?
    • TIGs identify, develop, and evaluate project alternatives; propose projects in draft restoration plans; engage the public for comment on restoration plans; and select projects in final restoration plans. Individual Trustee agencies will be designated as Implementing Trustees for selected restoration projects. The individual Trustee agency is responsible for all implementation tasks such as contracting to complete implementation phases, conducting project-specific monitoring and adaptive management, and maintaining projects in the long term. For more information, please see Chapter 7 of the programmatic restoration plan.

Restoration Planning/Timeline

  • Can you talk about the difference between Region-wide and Open Ocean projects? Will the Trustees follow this same process for region-wide projects?
    • The Region-wide Restoration Area is made up of trustees from each Gulf state and all the federal trustees. The Region-wide Restoration Area has allocations to restore for birds, marine mammals, sea turtles, and oysters. Wildlife affected by the spill often live and migrate across jurisdictional boundaries—so Region-wide Restoration Area projects will be implemented across these jurisdictional boundaries as well.
    • The Open Ocean Restoration Area is made up of the four federal Trustees. The federal trustees will work together on restoration for oceanic and wide-ranging migratory species. This will include water column and ocean bottom fish and invertebrates, sea turtles, birds, marine mammals, sturgeon, and deep-sea coral reefs. They will coordinate with appropriate state trustees when proposed projects overlap their jurisdictions. All TIGs will follow the restoration planning process described in the programmatic restoration plan (see Chapter 7) and in the Trustee Council Standard Operating Procedures.
  • What is the expected timeline for the first Open Ocean Restoration Plan?
    • The restoration planning process is a multi-step process that will incorporate public engagement and opportunities for public comments under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). However, the time required to complete the process will depend upon the number and level of complexity of the projects that are selected through the restoration planning process. For more information, please see Chapter 7 of the Programmatic Restoration Plan. The length of individual projects within the Open Ocean Restoration Plan will be dependent on available funds and the project specific goals and activities. At this time, it is too early to establish a timeline as we do not have a sense of the types of projects and locations that we will consider in this first restoration plan. 
  • Do you have any idea how long restoration funding will be available for Open Ocean projects? Will available funds be evenly distributed over the next 15 years?
    • Funds will be evenly distributed over the next 15 years, with the exception of the second year.  The first post-settlement payment was provided just a few weeks ago. We will develop project-specific restoration plans for consistent with the restoration type funding allocations. Over the full time period of restoration, we will ensure all restoration type goals are supported via the series of restoration plans.
  • How will decisions be made to select projects? Does this require majority or unanimous TIG-member support?
    • Consensus is used. Each TIG identifies, develops, and evaluates project alternatives; proposes projects in draft restoration plans; engages the public for comment on restoration plans; and select projects in final restoration plans (15 CFR 990.55). Each TIG will develop projects in accordance with the Oil Pollution Act regulations and other applicable requirements, including consistency with the Programmatic Restoration Plan. Each TIG will make all restoration decisions for the funding allocated to its restoration area on a consensus basis. For the Open Ocean Restoration Area, consensus requires that a proposed restoration action be supported by all non-abstaining federal Trustees. For more information, please see Chapter 7 of the programmatic restoration plan.
  • If a project's goals include some restoration objectives of the OO TIG and some other Deepwater Horizon funding source, will you work with other TIGs to leverage investment?
    • We will consider opportunities to leverage investments made by other Deepwater Horizon funding sources and will seek opportunities to coordinate with programs such as RESTORE and NFWF. Additionally, during project planning, we will coordinate with the other TIGs, especially when proposed projects overlap their restoration area boundaries.

Monitoring and Adaptive Management

  • Are you going to monitor and adaptively manage your restoration projects?
    • Yes. We are committed to adaptive management, the process of fine-tuning the restoration program over time, based on monitoring and evolving scientific understanding. We monitor and evaluate restoration projects, which will help us adapt current projects and inform the planning, design, and implementation of future projects.

Fish

  • Your target for populations is highly migratory species other than sharks (e.g., tunas, billfish, swordfish). Why are sharks not included?
    • For the 2017-2020 planning years, we will focus on reducing bycatch and bycatch mortality of targeted reef fish, highly migratory species, and coastal migratory pelagics. There was less injury assessed for sharks than for other groups of fish, so they will not be addressed in this initial effort.
  • Will projects focusing on blue crabs be considered under this announcement?
    • The notice requesting public input on project ideas prioritized restoration focus on reducing bycatch and bycatch mortality of targeted reef fish, highly migratory species, and coastal migratory pelagics. However, we welcome any project ideas. Please refer to the notice for further information about our restoration priorities and how to submit project ideas using an online form.
  • Inshore (bay) and nearshore "artificial reefs" in the Sarasota Bay area are specifically designed to produce gag grouper (as staging areas off of seagrass beds). These fish ultimately provide the spawning stock in the northern Gulf. Would expansion of this reef system be considered as eligible?
    • For the 2017-2020 planning years, we will focus on reducing bycatch and bycatch mortality of targeted reef fish, highly migratory species, and coastal migratory pelagic (open ocean) fish. However, we welcome any project ideas. Please refer to the notice for further information about  our restoration priorities and how to submit project ideas using an online form.

Birds

  • One goal for birds is to restore or protect habitats on which injured birds rely. For a project with a restoration objective to restore or protect habitats on which injured birds rely, would it be sufficient to report acres restored or acres conserved as performance criteria? Or are we required to assess bird population criteria for every restoration goal?
    • Any project restoring injured living coastal and marine resources (including birds) will need to demonstrate a nexus to that injury-meaning a connection between how that project restores the injury. Specific performance criteria for projects will be determined on a project specific basis. However, if the restoration objective is to restore or protect habitats in order to benefit birds that were injured, it is most likely that a project will monitor some aspect of the utilization of this area by birds but not necessarily an entire assessment of the bird population. In addition, the trustees are currently working on establishing monitoring standards for each restoration type and those would be considered for that restoration type to ensure the trustees can look across all projects to evaluate the success of the restoration actions.
  • For the bird priority area, is there a document where we can find the number and species of birds that need to be restored?
    • For a detailed account of the Trustees’ approach to and the findings resulting from the injury assessment please see Chapter 4 of the programmatic restoration plan. Section 4.7 provides details specific to bird injury. Section 4.11 Injury Assessment: Summary and Synthesis of Findings summarizes the Trustees’ injury assessment findings and synthesizes those conclusions in an ecosystem context.

Mesophotic and Deep Benthic

  • Can you elaborate on what exactly is meant by "Place hard-ground substrate and transplant coral"? Artificial or natural and from what source? What is the goal?
    • The trustees' programmatic restoration plan, in Chapter 5 Appendix D, further describes the restoration approach "Place hard-ground substrate and transplant coral." The restoration approach implementation strategy would be to strategically place hard substrate in ideal locations and conditions for coral colonization and coral transplant survival. Coral fragments would then be attached to the hard substrate.
    • The trustees have not determined any specific artificial or natural materials or source of materials to use as this could be decided upon on a project specific basis.  As identified in the programmatic restoration plan, this restoration approach is part of the trustees' strategy to achieve the goal to "Restore mesophotic and deep benthic invertebrate and fish abundance and biomass for injured species, focusing on high-density mesophotic and deep water coral sites and other priority hard-ground areas to provide a continuum of healthy habitats from the coast to offshore.
  • There are extensive hard bottom or rock reefs on the edge of the continental shelf. Why would one consider adding hard substrate?
    • The restoration approach of adding hard bottom substrate is not only intended to be implemented along the edge of the continental shelf. Water depths along the edge of the continental shelf are appropriate for mesophotic corals (i.e., depths between ~150 feet and ~1000 feet) but do not include depths sufficient to support species that make up deep water coral communities (i.e., depths greater than ~1000 feet). Inclusive of the continental shelf, the continental slope, and the abyssal plain, U.S. federal waters encompass approximately 243,926 square miles. Of this, about five percent, or roughly 12,131 square miles is estimated to have hard bottom substrate. While there are extensive areas of hard substrates across the continental shelf, slope, and abyssal plain in the northern Gulf of Mexico, it is unclear what proportion of these substrates are present in areas with water depths, physical oceanographic, biological use, or other characteristics that are conducive to the recruitment, growth, and reproduction of the mesophotic or deep water coral species and associated communities that are the target for restoration under the trustees' programmatic restoration plan. The goal of this restoration approach is to restore the injured mesophotic and deep benthic communities so the intent of adding hard substrate would be to ensure benefits to those injured resources.