Scott, G.I.; Fulton, M.H.; DeLorenzo, M.E.; Wirth, E.F.; Key, P.B.; Pennington, P.L.; Kennedy, D.M.; Porter, D.; Chandler, G.T.; Scott, C.H., and Ferry, J.L., 2013. The environmental sensitivity index and oil and hazardous materials impact assessments: linking prespill contingency planning and ecological risk assessment.

The oil spill Environmental Sensitivity Index (ESI) was developed by Miles O. Hayes and researchers at Research Planning Institute and at the University of South Carolina during the 1970s and has been used by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to assess, forecast, and mitigate oil spill impacts throughout coastal regions of the United States. The ESI delineates different habitats types within coastal ecosystems and prioritizes their vulnerability to oil spills based on the persistence of oil and the ecological sensitivity of marine animals and plants within each habitat type. More physically exposed habitats (e.g., rock headlands), have shorter oil spill persistence and are less vulnerable than more sheltered habitats (e.g., tidal flats and salt marshes), where oil persists longer. Salt marshes are generally the most vulnerable habitats identified in most coastal regions of the United States using the ESI. To further assess impacts of oil and hazardous materials on salt marsh ecosystems, NOAA has developed a salt marsh mesocosm testing system that uses a modular approach to predict pollution impacts in the different marsh subhabitats, which are useful in defining multiple species toxicity and sensitivity to petroleum hydrocarbons and other chemical contaminants among the different salt marsh faunal taxa. The modular approach allows taxa in different salt marsh subhabitats, including Spartina alterniflora, Salicornia bigelovii, and Juncus roemerianus marsh communities, to be both individually and simultaneously compared and assessed. These mesocosms are also useful in predicting fate and effects, food web bioaccumulation, acute or chronic toxicity, and sublethal bioeffects for a number of pollutants. Results from these mesocosm studies indicate the utility of this integrated risk assessment method for predicting the fate and bioeffects of chemical contaminants on the estuarine salt marsh community and provide a direct link with the ESI, thus connecting prespill contingency planning and predictive ecological risk assessment.

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