NOAA lost a steadfast champion and strong voice in support of its mission this month. Former Senator Ernest “Fritz” Hollings passed away on April 6 at his home in South Carolina at the age of 97. Though perhaps more widely known for his work on social and fiscal issues, here at NOAA, we know him as one of the founding figures of our agency and a true ally of the NOS mission to preserve and protect our coastal and ocean special places while supporting economic prosperity.
Senator Hollings played a leading role in NOAA’s establishment as a federal agency, and he was instrumental to the passing of crucial legislation in the 1970s to protect our nation’s coasts and oceans, including the seminal Coastal Zone Management Act in 1972. He provided the resources that initiated the NOAA Coastal Services Center in 1994 as a national-in-scope leader for technical and management assistance to coastal communities. The Center was later integrated with the NOS Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management to create NOS’ Office for Coastal Management.
The Hollings Marine Laboratory in Charleston, South Carolina, a world-class science and technology facility, is named after the senator. He secured funding for its construction and envisioned the unique partnership that exists among its federal, state, and academic researchers. The laboratory is an invaluable resource that brings scientists together in a collaborative environment to improve our understanding of coastal ecosystems and the links between environmental condition and the health of marine organisms and humans. Senator Hollings’ leadership also fostered early development of the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System. And, he co-sponsored the Oceans Act of 2000, leading directly to the establishment of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, which continues to drive ocean governance and policy forward today.
Not only a cornerstone of NOAA’s past, but a key to its future, Senator Hollings’ legacy will continue to live on in the form of the Hollings Scholarship, established in his honor after his retirement in 2005. The scholarship gives two years of academic assistance and a 10-week summer internship with NOAA to help us train future ecologists, oceanographers, and others to ensure the continued advancement of these fields and access to a solid cadre of emerging professionals. More than 1,683 students have benefited from these scholarships over the past 14 years. One of these students is Leah Moore, a junior at the University of South Carolina studying environmental science and physical geography. She’ll be working at NOS' Office of Response and Restoration in Seattle this summer on a project focusing on the recovery of ecosystems after contamination caused by disasters. Another is Jory Fleming who worked at the Office for Coastal Management in 2016, creating data visualizations to study the economic impacts of sea level rise. Since birth, Jory learned to overcome various disabilities, including autism. His story was an inspiration to NOAA staff that interacted with him. He is currently a Rhodes Scholar pursuing a Masters of Philosophy in Environmental Change Management.
Again, in recognition of the efforts of the former senator, the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation grants the Ernest F. Hollings Ocean Awareness Award annually, which aims to increase stewardship of natural and cultural resources in America’s ocean and Great Lakes. To date, the Foundation has awarded nearly $2 million to more than 60 groups for research, conservation, education, and outreach projects supporting the National Marine Sanctuary System and a healthy ocean.
I am in awe of Senator Hollings and his achievements. His dedication to the cause of preserving and protecting our coastal and ocean special places is inspiring and has created an enduring legacy throughout NOS and NOAA. I hope that you all will take a moment with me to pause and reflect on the impact of Senator Hollings at this time of his passing. We may have lost an esteemed partner and champion, but his legacy lives on through our work. In this, his efforts will never be forgotten.