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NOAA updates Great Lakes coastline maps to aid oil spill response

Close-up of ESI map
A close-up of an Environmental Sensitivity Index (ESI) map

Environmental sensitivity index (ESI) maps were first produced over 40 years ago to chart US coastal regions.

The maps show sensitive habitats and human resources like airports or parks near coastlines - information that can help officials respond to an oil or chemical spill more quickly and efficiently.

But many of the Great Lakes coastlines haven’t been updated in decades.

Rachel Pryor is with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA. She said the maps are a planning tool that can be used by local, state, and federal agencies, as well as private responders.

“We all know that the cadence of the emergency response is unforgiving, so this is a great resource to have all of that information compiled in one place," Prior said, adding, "and again they serve a broader user community.”

So far, the Mackinac Straits, St. Mary’s River, and St. Clair/Detroit River System maps have been updated. Pryor said her office plans to update more coastlines with additional funding.

Pryor said Great Lakes coastline maps were some of the oldest in the country, but recent investment and collaboration is helping NOAA update the maps.

Teresa Homsi is an environmental reporter and Report for America Corp Member based in northern Michigan for WCMU. She is covering rural environmental issues, public health and Michigan commerce. Homsi has a bachelor’s from Central Michigan University in environmental studies, journalism and anthropology. During her undergraduate, she was a beat reporter for CMU’s student newspaper Central Michigan Life and interned for the Huron Daily Tribune. She has also interned for the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy in the superfund section. *Report for America is a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms, more info at