March 2016 marks the golden anniversary of Sea Grant. In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson signed the National Sea Grant College and Program Act, creating a university-based system dedicated to the responsible development of the nation’s coastal and marine resources through research, education and extension. For 50 years, Sea Grant has been putting science to work for America’s coastal communities by helping individuals and businesses in coastal and Great Lakes states and beyond.
Today, the National Sea Grant College Program is a network of 33 programs based at top universities in every coastal and Great Lakes state, Puerto Rico and Guam. These programs represent partnerships between universities and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, allowing Sea Grant to direct federal resources to pressing problems in local communities. Florida Sea Grant, which is housed at the University of Florida, was established in 1976.
The idea of the Sea Grant College Program was originally suggested by oceanographer, inventor and writer Athelstan Spilhaus at the 93rd meeting of the American Fisheries Society in 1963. Interest in the Sea Grant concept grew, much of it sparked by an editorial written by Spilhaus that appeared in a 1964 issue of Science.
“I have suggested the establishment of ‘sea-grant colleges’ in existing universities that wish to develop oceanic work . . . These would be modernized parallels of the great developments in agriculture and the mechanic arts which were occasioned by the Land-Grant Act of about a hundred years ago . . . Establishment of the land-grant colleges was one of the best investments this nation ever made. That same kind of imagination and foresight should be applied to exploitation of the sea,” the editorial read.
Congress approved the act to unite academic power of the nation’s universities with public and private sector partners in order to capture the economic and social benefits of the oceans, coasts and Great Lakes in a sustainable manner.
The program was inspired by the success of the Land Grant model, which set the standard for combining the resources of universities with the needs of citizens. At a time when America was excited about science, especially the possibility of reaping sustained economic benefits from the vast resources of the seas, national enthusiasm for the Sea Grant College concept grew.
Today, most of Sea Grant’s research, outreach and education is based on four main focus areas: healthy coastal ecosystems, resilient communities and economies, sustainable fisheries and aquaculture, and environmental literacy and workforce development. Nationwide, 350 extension agents share science and tools to help solve coastal issues in the counties and cities in which they reside.
One of Sea Grant’s most notable accomplishments is the ability it has to help coastal economies thrive. Sea Grant creates or sustains and average of 9,300 jobs and 2,285 businesses each year by growing innovative industries including aquaculture, recreation and tourism.
Sea Grant has also helped train the next generation of ocean scientists by providing more than 1,000 John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowships since the fellowship began. The program matches highly qualified graduate students with hosts in the legislative and executive branch of federal government in the Washington, D.C. area, for a one-year paid fellowship.
Sea Grant’s network of knowledge includes more than 3,000 scientists, engineers, law and policy specialists, public outreach experts, communication specialists and educators. In the next 50 years, Sea Grant’s expertise and place-based support will become even more vital as America’s coasts face new environmental challenges.
To learn more about the 50th Anniversary campaign, visit: http://seagrant.noaa.gov/50thAnniversary.aspx
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