In the twenty years since the Exxon Valdez oil spill, it has become apparent that the ocean ecosystem can undergo profound changes and such changes likely preclude a return to pre-spill conditions. The 1994 Restoration Plan (Plan) recognized that recovery from the spill would likely take decades. A Restoration Reserve was created from the Plan in part to provide for long-term observation of injured resources and services and provide for appropriate restoration actions into the future. To further this effort, in 1999 the Council also supported the development of a long-term research and monitoring program.
Long-term monitoring has two components: monitoring the recovery of resources from the initial injury and monitoring how factors other than oil may inhibit full recovery or adversely impact recovered resources. This second type of monitoring collects data on environmental factors that drive ecosystem-level changes. The information that is produced from such monitoring may be used to manage individual injured species and resources. However, such data is increasingly valuable in illuminating the larger ecosystem shifts that impact and influence a broad variety of species and resources injured by the spill.
By monitoring these changes, agencies and interested parties may be able to adjust their own activities and management strategies to adapt to what may lie ahead and to further support injured resources in these quickly-shifting marine ecosystems. The Council has a history of supporting oceanographic monitoring by helping to establish and fund long-term data collections. In this initiative, the Council envisions seeking partnerships with scientific entities or consortiums able to maintain those collections and that can demonstrate an ability to leverage this support and develop science-based products to inform the public of changes in the environment and the impacts of these changes on injured resources and services. The Council proposes to fund this effort with approximately $25 million, to be spent over a twenty-year period.