Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Comprehensive inventory of habitat assessment and evaluation datasets to support Deepwater Horizon mesophotic and deep benthic communities

January 1, 2023

This report is part of the NOAA Mesophotic and Deep Benthic Communities (MDBC) Series of
publications that share the results of work conducted by the Deepwater Horizon MDBC restoration projects.  

The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill was an unprecedented event. Approximately 3.2 million barrels of oil were released into the deep ocean over nearly three months. The plume of oil moved throughout the water column, formed surface slicks that cumulatively covered an area the size of Virginia, and washed oil onto at least 1,300 miles of shoreline habitats. More than 770 square miles (2,000 square kilometers) of deep benthic habitat surrounding the Deepwater Horizon wellhead and 4-square miles of the Pinnacles mesophotic reef complex, located at the edge of the continental shelf, were injured by the oil spill.

Under the Oil Pollution Act, state and federal natural resource trustees conducted a Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA). The Trustees assessed damages, quantifying the unprecedented injuries to natural resources and lost services. They also developed a programmatic restoration plan to restore injured resources and compensate the public for lost services.

In April 2016, a settlement was finalized that included up to $8.8 billion in funding for the Deepwater Horizon Trustees to restore the natural resource injuries caused by the oil spill as described in their programmatic restoration plan, Final Programmatic Damage Assessment and Restoration Plan and Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement. The Deepwater Horizon Open Ocean Trustee Implementation Group is responsible for restoring natural resources and their services within the Open Ocean Restoration Area that were injured by the oil spill. The Open Ocean Trustees include NOAA, Department of the Interior, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In 2019, the Open Ocean Trustee Implementation Group committed more than $126 million to
implement four restoration projects to address the injury to MDBC. The MDBC projects are: mapping, Ground-truthing, and Predictive Habitat Modeling; Habitat Assessment and Evaluation; Coral Propagation Technique Development; and Active Management and Protection. NOAA and the Department of the Interior are implementing the projects, in cooperation with a range of partners, over eight years.

Together, the projects take a phased approach to meet the challenges involved in restoring deep-sea habitats. Challenges to restoration include a limited scientific understanding of these communities, limited experience with restoration at the depths at which these communities occur, and remote locations that limit accessibility.

More information about Deepwater Horizon restoration and the MDBC restoration projects is available at:

Publication Year 2023
Title Comprehensive inventory of habitat assessment and evaluation datasets to support Deepwater Horizon mesophotic and deep benthic communities
DOI 10.25923/kz7t-4674
Authors Rachel Bassett, Jennifer Herting, Janessy Frometa, Stephanie M. Sharuga, Jacob Howell, Laughlin Siceloff, Jill Bourque, Megan Cromwell, Kirstie Francis, Randy Clark, Amanda Demopoulos, Andy David, Kristopher Benson, Stacey L. Harter
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype Federal Government Series
Series Title DWH MDBC Data Report
Series Number DR-23-01
Index ID 70241524
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Wetland and Aquatic Research Center