A method for identifying and ranking biologically important geographic areas in spill response planning is described. Although this project was conducted to minimize environmental risks due to accidental spillage from the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP), the methodology is widely applicable. The method has three important characteristics: it is driven by the existing information base and easily updated, applicable to all coastal and aquatic environments, and capable of producing a list of priorities within a specific spill response planning area.

The rationale of selecting ranking units and ranking criteria is presented. Habitat was selected as the best available ranking unit for oil spill response planning. “Habitat” is defined, and the attributes of habitats that make them useful analytical units are described. The ranking criteria selected (habitat recovery, persistence of oil, cleanup damage, important species supported, and habitat rarity) are defined and their evaluation explained.

An application of the method is described for the LOOP spill response planning area. Habitats are identified and delineated, and values are assigned to the ranking criteria. The resultant habitat ranking is presented with recommendations for the incorporation of this analysis into a comprehensive oil spill contingency plan using a computerized geographic information system.

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