Assessing Damage to Natural Resources

Soil check: examining porosity of sediment

Soil check: examining porosity of sediment

The next stage of shoreline survey on the Saudi Gulf coast will be a Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA), the process of assigning a dollar value to the estimated ecological losses. The aim of the NRDA process is two-fold: to restore natural habitats to the condition they were in before the incident occurred, and to compensate the appropriate party for the lost use of their resources and ecological "services"--valuable functions that a natural system or habitat provides for humanity. For example, wetlands provide flood protection; dunes and coral reefs buffer coastal areas from storms.

Part of my job as a team biologist was to document the size and location of any large areas of dead salt marsh. Salt marshes are among the most productive of coastal habitats, providing nutrients and nurseries for commercially important species of fish and shellfish. The destruction of salt-marsh habitats likely results in a decline in fisheries production, making salt-marsh habitats particularly important to the NRDA process.

According to legal precedent, a natural-resource trustee, who represents the interests of the affected party, is responsible for assessing damages, obtaining compensation from the responsible party, and developing a plan for restoration. The designation of a natural-resource trustee is rooted in the Public Trust Doctrine--a principle of governance that can be traced to ancient Rome.

In the U.S., the Oil Pollution Act, passed by Congress in 1990 in response to the Exxon Valdez oil spill, is the piece of legislation that most directly addresses the issue of liability in cases of oil damage to natural resources. National governmental agencies, such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the Saudi Presidency of Meteorology and the Environment, usually serve as the environmental trustee in cases of public claims.

Share your comments

Have an account?

Sign in to comment

No Account?

Email the editor