This report is not intended as a review of the ongoing damage assessment. There is a tremendous amount of important work under way to support the NRDA for the DWH spill; hence a review of this effort would be premature and inappropriate at this time. Instead, the report provides options for expanding the current effort to include the analysis of ecosystem services to help address the unprecedented scale of this spill in U.S. waters and the challenges it presents to those charged with undertaking the damage assessment. The Statement of Task highlights “ecosystem services” as an approach for assessing impact and estimating the value of losses due to injury. Such an approach focuses not only on the restoration of damaged resources (as per NRDA practice) but also on reestablishing the value of those resources to the public. This broader view may be particularly useful in capturing the full spectrum of impacts from this event given the magnitude, duration, depth, and complexity of the DWH spill.
KEY FINDINGS OF INTERIM REPORT
Environmental Context for the Gulf of Mexico
The Gulf of Mexico is remarkably rich and complex and provides a wealth of ecosystem services including tourism worth an estimated $19.7 billion per year, storm surge protection by coastal wetlands, habitat for migrating waterfowl, cycling of nutrients from river discharges, and the unique cultural heritage of coastal communities. In 2008, the GoM accounted for approximately 25 percent of the seafood provided by the contiguous United States. The GoM also provides 29 percent of the oil and 13 percent of the natural gas produced in the United States. The impacts from these societal demands on these critical ecosystem services have often led to the degradation of the health and resilience of the GoM ecosystem.
The unprecedented depth, application of dispersants at the well head, and tremendous volume of oil in the DWH spill complicate the assessment of potential impacts on the deepwater ecosystems of the Gulf, a relatively unstudied realm of abundant marine life including bottom-dwelling fish, deepwater corals, and chemosynthetic communities. To fully quantify the impact of the oil spill thus requires a thorough understanding of the complex interactions and linkages between and among the various components and processes of these ecosystems.
Modification of the GoM ecosystem by a number of human activities makes it more difficult to isolate impacts associated with the DWH spill. In addition to the long-term impacts of the oil and gas industry, there has