In January of 1996 the tank barge, North Cape, struck ground off the coast of Rhode Island spilling approximately 828,000 gallons of No. 2 heating oil into Block Island Sound. The results of over 30 studies of potential resource injuries caused by the spill were reviewed and a variety of experts in relevant scientific and technical disciplines were consulted. Based on this work, it was believed that the spill caused significant injuries to biota in the offshore and salt pond environments and to a variety of birds. Under the natural resource damage assessment provisions of the Oil Pollution Act, a trustee council, made up of representatives of Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), was established to review, select, and oversee implementation of restoration actions for natural resources injured by the spill. A comprehensive restoration plan was developed and projects were implemented for birds, shellfish, and American lobster. Projects were also implemented to restore alewife runs in the salt pond watersheds as compensation for lost recreational fishing opportunities, and open space lands have been protected to compensate for losses to other marine and salt pond organisms. This particular case study focuses on the bird restoration project which was an effort to restore loons, sea ducks, and piping plover populations.
Over 2,000 birds, including numerous loons and sea ducks, were killed by the North Cape oil spill. The piping plover, a federally listed threatened species, was impacted by reductions to its food base. The goal of the restoration was to fully address the impacts to birds by returning injured natural resources to their pre-spill conditions as well as compensate for interim losses of the bird resources. This was attempted by replacing the quantity of bird-years (direct mortality plus foregone production) lost due to the spill. Aspects of the restoration included enhancing reproductive success of piping plover, loons and eiders through land purchase to protect nesting sites, nesting bird protection and management activities, and monitoring. These efforts have lead to the permanent protection of nearly 1.5 million acres of Maine forests and lakes that provide nesting habitat for at least 125 loon pairs, permanent protection of Flag Island, a 42 acre island in Casco Bay, Maine that is home to more than 600 pairs of nesting common eiders and an increase in nesting piping plovers from 35 pairs on nine beaches in 2000 to 56 pairs on 10 beaches in 2005. In addition, the results from the monitoring have aided in developing effective methods for restoration and management of these bird populations.