Conserving the Nature of America
Press Release
Draft Restoration Plan Available for Common Loon and Other Birds Killed by 2003 Oil Spill
Public Invited to Review & Attend September 12 Information Meeting

August 29, 2019



Meagan Racey, USFWS (413) 253-8558

Ed Coletta, MassDEP (617) 292-5737

Gail Mastrati, RIDEM (401) 222-4700, ext. 2402

Common loons

Biologists estimate that the 2003 oil spill in Buzzards Bay directly or indirectly killed 531 common loons. Credit: Gary J. Wege/USFWS
Higher Quality Version of Image

State and federal environmental agencies have released a draft plan to restore common loons and other birds that were killed by the 2003 Bouchard Barge No. 120 oil spill in Buzzards Bay in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. The plan is available for public comment through October 31, 2019. The agencies will hold an information meeting and webinar September 12 at 1 p.m. at the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife office at 1 Rabbit Hill Road in Westborough.

The draft plan is the first of two documents to address birds injured by the spill, both of which will be funded by a 2017 $13.3 million natural resource damages settlement from Bouchard Transportation Co., Inc. Of this total, $7.3 million is designated to plan, implement, oversee, and monitor common loon restoration while another $1 million will go toward other birds affected by the spill. Five million dollars from the settlement will address injuries to common and roseate terns through a separate future plan.

The draft plan describes the injuries resulting from the 98,000-gallon spill that oiled 100 miles of shoreline, including coastal habitats where birds feed, nest, and in some cases overwinter. An estimated 531 common loons and more than 500 other birds, including common eiders, black scoters, red-throated loons, grebes, cormorants and gulls were killed either through direct or indirect effects of the spill. Common loons winter in large numbers in Buzzards Bay. Common eiders experienced the highest mortality of all other bird species with 83 birds killed by the oiling. The ultimate goal of the natural resource damage assessment and restoration process is to replace, restore, rehabilitate, or acquire the equivalent of injured natural resources and resource services lost due to the release of hazardous substances — at no cost to the taxpayer.

“The trustees have carefully considered a number of options to restore birds killed by the 2003 oil spill, especially the common loons that are icons of our northern lakes,” said Tom Chapman, supervisor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s New England Field Office. “We invite people to learn about and provide feedback on these ideas, in hopes of soon starting restoration efforts benefiting birds throughout New England.”

“The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) looks forward to working with our state and federal colleagues to help restore common loons to their historic breeding areas, as well as permanently protecting habitat in Buzzards Bay,” said MassDEP Commissioner Martin Suuberg.

“Few images are as heartbreaking as those of seabirds saturated with oil after a spill,” said RI Department of Environmental Management Director Janet Coit. “Ten percent of the dead birds recovered after the 2003 spill were found in Rhode Island. Rhode Island looks forward to identifying a project that restores the habitats of common loons and other birds to protect marine biodiversity.”

The plan evaluates multiple restoration alternatives that were developed in coordination with loon and other bird experts. Based on factors to ensure successful restoration, as well as criteria established by federal regulations, the trustees recommend the following projects:

  • Release 63-84 common loon chicks from Maine and New York in historic Massachusetts breeding sites in Assawompset Pond Complex and October Mountain Reservoir, in hopes of returning this species to more areas in the state ($3,185,000). In Massachusetts, common loons disappeared for decades until 1975, and have since primarily returned to breed in Quabbin and Wachusetts reservoirs, migrating offshore to winter.

  • Increase survival of nesting loons at breeding sites across New England ($3,185,000) through:
    • Creating artificial nesting sites on rafts that withstand fluctuating water levels and reduce disturbance from predators and people,
    • Adding signs and wardens to watch over nests to reduce disturbance,
    • Preserving land to protect breeding habitat, and
    • Reducing exposure to lead tackle through outreach and tackle exchange programs.

The trustees’ preferred alternatives to restore other bird species are:

  • Permanently protect more than 300 acres of high-quality coastal habitats on Cuttyhunk Island off the coast of Massachusetts ($500,000),
  • Identify a similar habitat protection project in Rhode Island through a competitive grant process ($1,274,000), and
  • Use signage, nest monitoring and wardens to protect common eider nests in the Boston Harbor Islands and Cuttyhunk Island ($100,000).

To participate remotely in the September 12 meeting, sign up for the interactive webinar at:

To review the draft plan, please access the web link: Hardcopies of the draft plan are also available from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the following address, below.

Written comments will be accepted through October 31, 2019 by email to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service at, or mail:

US Fish & Wildlife Service
70 Commercial Street, Suite 300
Concord, NH 03301
Attn: Molly Sperduto
(603) 223-2541

The Trustee Council is composed of representatives from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, representing the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs; Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management; and United States Fish and Wildlife Service, representing the U.S Department of Interior. The spill also affected tribal resources, and the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head previously settled separately with Bouchard. In November 2010, the trustees negotiated a separate $6 million settlement for other categories of natural resource damages, including shoreline and aquatic resources, piping plovers, and lost natural resource uses. Other restoration plans addressed these resources.

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