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Bouchard Barge 120

Oil Spill | Massachusetts and Rhode Island | April 2003

What Happened?

On April 27, 2003, the tank barge Bouchard 120 hit a bedrock ledge in Buzzards Bay. The impact created a 12-foot rupture in the barge’s hull. An estimated 98,000 gallons of oil spilled into the coastal waters of Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

What Were the Impacts?

Nearly 100 miles of shoreline were oiled, impacting tidal marshes, mudflats, beaches, and rocky shorelines. A number of bird species were killed or injured, including piping plover and roseate tern, both federally protected species. The spill also injured fish, shellfish, and other aquatic life, and prompted restrictions on beach access, shellfishing, and boating.

What’s Happening Now?

In March 2024, the Final RP/EA was released to restore bird and shoreline habitat resources in Buzzards Bay.

On October 18, 2023 a Draft RP/EA was released for public comment through November 18, 2023. The Draft RP/EA addresses the injury to Ram Island caused by both the oil spill and ongoing coastal impacts. Public input on the document will be used to select a preferred project alternative for the $5.5 million in settlement funds for tern and Ram Island shoreline restoration. 

Celebrating Restoration Successes 20 Years Post-Spill

April 27, 2023 marked 20 years since the B-120 Buzzards Bay oil spill. With more than $19.3 million secured for restoration projects through a legal case settlement, Trustees have worked to complete the important natural resource restoration. With a diverse array of partners, the last two decards of work has helped to restore fish, wildlife and birds, and public uses impacted by the spill.

2020 Activities

In October 2020, NOAA and the natural resource Trustees released a final amendment to the previously approved 2014 Final Programmatic Restoration Plan. The selected project will use up to $400,000 in remaining funds for the Cuttyhunk Island Protection Project—a $7 million land acquisition in partnership with the Buzzards Bay Coalition that would permanently protect hundreds of acres of habitat on the island. The Trustees released a draft of the amendment in June 2020.

2019 Activities

In August 2019, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, and Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management released a draft plan to restore common loons and other birds that were killed and injured by the oil spill.

The final restoration plan, taking into consideration public comments on the draft plan, was released in June 2020, describing six projects selected using $8.2 million in bird restoration funding. Remaining bird injury restoration funds for terns will be addressed through a separate, forthcoming restoration plan.

Between 2013 and 2016, 28 projects were funded to protect nesting habitat for federally-listed piping plover to increase their populations at multiple beaches in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

2011 - 2018 Activities

In 2011, NOAA and the natural resource Trustees reached a partial settlement of more than $6 million with the Bouchard Transportation Company. The settlement fully addressed claims for injuries to aquatic and shoreline resources, as well as to piping plovers. It also accounted for losses to public coastal access, recreational shellfishing, and boating. The Trustees continue to work with the responsible party to compensate the public for injuries to loons, sea ducks and other coastal birds.

In September 2014, the Trustees allocated $4.25 million for implementing 19 aquatic and shoreline resource and lost public use restoration projects in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Projects in the 2014 final  programmatic restoration plan (PDF, 432 pages) addressing aquatic and shoreline resource restoration included:

  • Installation of a fishway on Factory Brook in Charlestown, RI to restore river herring passage – 2018 completion date.
  • Removal of the Horseshoe Mill dam for river herring and other migratory fish passage restoration in Wareham, MA – 2020 completion date.
  • Installation of conservation boat moorings for eelgrass restoration in West Falmouth Harbor in Falmouth, MA – 2021 completion date.

In 2018, a second, $13.3 million settlement was reached to address injuries to common loon and other birds impacted by the spill. 

Additional restoration projects completed or ongoing include:
Recreational Shellfishing and Shellfish Restoration
  • Oyster restoration projects, totaling of 3 acres, led by The Nature Conservancy with town collaboration, in Little Bay in Fairhaven, and Buttermilk Bay in Wareham and Bourne.
  • Bay scallop restoration in Squeteague Harbor, Bourne that was led by The Nature Conservancy and completed over a 3-year period.
  • Collection and relay of adult quahogs from waters closed due to bacterial contamination for transplant from the Assonet River into coastal waters in eight Buzzards Bay towns, with depuration, population recruitment, and managed recreational shellfisheries through Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries.
  • Purchase and grow-out of oyster and quahog seed and placement into municipal waters in multiple towns, with oversight by Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries.
Coastal Access and Boating Restoration
  • Protection of ~450 acres of land in Fairhaven and Mattapoisett for public access
  • Trail construction and improvements by Mass Audubon at Allens Pond Sanctuary in Dartmouth, and by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation at Nasketucket Bay Reservation in Mattapoisett
  • Installation of all-persons mobi-mats at state parks in Fairhaven, Dartmouth and Westport
  • Foot-access trail, picnic area, and other public use amenities on Palmers Island in New Bedford Harbor by the City of New Bedford
  • Reconstruction of the Onset boat ramp in Wareham and Clarks Cove ramp in Dartmouth, led by the respective towns


Cleanup workers collect oiled debris from sand beach, South Dartmouth, MA.
Cleanup workers collect oiled debris from sand beach, South Dartmouth, MA.

“The B-120 restoration funds will restore or enhance ecologically important bay habitats and improve access to Buzzards Bay and recreational shellfishing opportunities for the public.”  James TurekNOAA Restoration Ecologist


James TurekNOAA Restoration CenterNarragansett, RI(401)

Last updated March 28, 2024