The National Ocean Service (NOS) strives to ensure that America’s oceans and coasts are safe, healthy, and productive. This year, NOS was hard at work protecting coastal communities, supporting safe and efficient marine transportation, increasing our understanding of changes in coastal and marine environments, reducing ocean and coastal health risks, and conserving the coastal and marine places that so many Americans value.
Our coastal regions are home to more than half of the American population, and this number continues to increase. In 2008, we worked to keep coastal communities safe, responding to nearly 180 hazardous spill incidents, restoring damaged resources, and delivering the tools, information, and training needed to help coastal managers do their jobs better. We continued to assess the effects of natural hazards on coastal areas, and along the Gulf Coast, NOS installed four hurricane-hardened structures to maintain essential water-level data collection during extreme coastal storm events.
We continued to refine the NOAA Integrated Ocean Observing System Program, part of NOS, by providing new tools and resources to develop standards for data management and communications. These data standards are a critical piece to ensuring that ocean observations collected from different sources are compatible. We are ultimately working to build a national system to better understand and forecast ocean and coastal changes and their impacts. Observing is the foundation of understanding, and as we learn more about our oceans and coasts, we will be better prepared to respond to changes such as sea-level rise and habitat loss.
Our waterways form the backbone of our national commerce system, generating more than a trillion dollars in commerce annually. In 2008, we took initial steps to upgrade and modernize NOS’s hydrographic data collection fleet. The increased speed and capability of these vessels will allow us to collect hydrographic data to produce the Nation’s nautical charts. In addition, the Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System® was expanded to four new locations in the Gulf of Mexcio, helping to further ensure smooth traveling along our Nation’s marine highway.
All Americans are connected to ocean and coastal areas, and what happens in these areas can have a direct bearing on the health and well-being of every citizen. To this end, in 2008, we conducted research on increased occurrences of bacteria and disease in coastal areas and explored techniques to address problems such as coastal pollution. We funded research to predict both the larger-than-normal harmful algal bloom in the Gulf of Maine and the largest “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico in the summer of 2008. These predictions helped local communities prepare for these events, reduce economic losses, protect human health, and overall serve as the scientific foundation for management efforts.
NOS is working on innovative science and technology solutions to solve coastal problems. In 2008, NOS scientists released a major report assessing the condition of coral reef ecosystems, showing that nearly half of the Nation’s coral reefs are now considered to be in “poor” or “fair” condition. NOS commemorated the designation of the Papah?naumoku?kea Marine National Monument in Hawaii as a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area to support conservation of this nearly 4,500-square-mile pristine coral reef habitat, and we worked with nations around the world to protect other sensitive marine ecosystems.
America’s continued demand on our fragile oceans and coasts present many challenges and threats. We need to manage our vast ocean and coastal resources in the face of mounting problems such as climate change, sea-level rise, storms, marine debris, pollution, port congestion, and population growth.
In the pages that follow, we recount some of the ways that we are seeking solutions to these challenges, to continue to grow our Nation’s coastal economy while sustaining a healthy and productive environment. The dedicated people at the National Ocean Service are working to understand, predict, and respond to the challenges facing America’s 95,000 miles of shoreline and 3.5 million square miles of coastal, Great Lakes, and deep-ocean waters.
We all have a stake in ensuring we keep our oceans and coasts safe, healthy, and productive—not just now, but for future generations.
John H. Dunnigan
National Ocean Service