NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management (OCM) works to keep the nation's coasts safe from storms, rich in natural resources, and economically strong. The office administers the National Coastal Zone Management Program, the Coral Reef Conservation Program, the Digital Coast, and the National Estuarine Research Reserve System.
In 2023, NOAA launched the Climate Resilience Regional Challenge, a new grant program, with funding through the Inflation Reduction Act. The grants will provide an opportunity to implement transformative resilience-building and climate adaptation projects within communities. The focus is on increasing resilience to extreme weather events such as hurricanes and storm surges and to longer-term, chronic hazards such as sea level rise, erosion, and heat stress. Funds will be used to implement regional adaptation actions and to initiate and advance collaborative regional efforts that will reduce risk in coastal areas, ensure federal and state resources are synchronized for maximum impact, and benefit disadvantaged communities.
NOAA’s OCM is administering $832 million from Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funds over the next five years, representing a historic investment in coastal protection and restoration. In FY 23, the office awarded $109 million, including funds leveraged from the Inflation Reduction Act, to support restoration and conservation projects through the National Coastal Zone Management Program and the National Estuarine Research Reserve System. At least eight projects will be carried out in partnership with or directly by tribes, including acquisition and conservation of significant ancestral lands. Using infrastructure law funds, the National Coastal Resilience Fund, a partnership between NOAA and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, invested approximately $144 million, along with their annual appropriation, for 96 projects that will help communities prepare for increasing coastal flooding and more intense storms while improving coastal habitats. And approximately $21 million in infrastructure law funds was awarded to support regional ocean partnership projects and data sharing, including four awards to tribes to enhance their ability to engage with regional ocean partnerships.
In Ohio and Virginia, a combined total of almost 1,000 acres was acquired for restoration and conservation, with Virginia’s efforts restoring the Upper Mattaponi Tribe’s role as environmental stewards of its ancestral homelands.
Each year, the Digital Coast Academy delivers its resources to users from across the country to help communities become better prepared for coastal hazards. In FY 23, almost 2,000 people participated in over 7,700 hours of instructor-led training, and online users viewed the academy’s guides, publications, and quick references almost 25,000 times.
One of the biggest challenges faced by coastal communities is knowing where to start when it comes to adapting to climate change. In response, NOAA’s new coastal adaptation guide gives beginners an easy-to-follow framework based on a popular OCM training. The guide helps practitioners acknowledge environmental and socioeconomic disparities in order to implement strategies based on community priorities and strengths. Another recent release, the Grant Proposal Development Resources, aims to demystify the federal grant process, especially as OCM administers Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act funding. The target audience is new grant writers; the intention is to increase the diversity of grant applicants and improve equity in funding. Finally, to better understand how NOAA can effectively serve residents in communities that are underserved and underrepresented in conversations about coastal hazards, the Digital Coast’s risk communication experts conducted a literature review, resulting in a report that explores effective approaches, barriers, and the types of information needed most by underserved and underrepresented communities. These new resources are representative of Digital Coast materials aimed at helping coastal communities; 95.7 percent of users of Digital Coast materials said they learned something of value that they can apply to their work or future decisions.
As data becomes more refined, so do the important decisions being made to better our nation’s coastal resilience. The Sea Level Rise Viewer added higher accuracy elevation data and flood risk maps, and several locations are represented in the tool for the first time. MarineCadastre.gov, the most comprehensive ocean GIS data resource available, added new aquaculture sites, military operating areas, submarine cables, wastewater outfalls and facilities, and vessel traffic, the most popular dataset on the platform. Now, land cover data is available at a one-meter resolution, including the first ever full-scale coverage of the state of Alaska, making this an invaluable tool suitable for local use, saving communities time and money.
Fellowship programs are an important part of NOAA’s efforts to increase diversity in its ranks. Of the five fellows chosen for the competitive Coastal Management Fellowship Program in 2023, three attended minority-serving institutions as undergraduates; three attended minority-serving institutions in graduate school; and three identified as Black, Indigenous, or People of Color. Fellows focused on coastal inundation, climate change, and community resilience projects, many of which involved underserved communities.
The agency’s National Estuarine Research Reserve System’s (NERRS) Science Collaborative uses a competitive process designed to fund the science that furthers the nation’s knowledge about the natural environment and human-made influences. This year, 17 projects that involve 27 research reserve sites and total more than $2 million for a single year were selected. These projects are tackling a range of practical, pressing coastal issues, including understanding the role salt marshes play in mitigating climate change, evaluating oyster reefs as habitats, exploring applications of Indigenous knowledge and management practices, and more. The Science Collaborative program disseminates the knowledge, processes, and key lessons learned to support coastal decision-making across NERRS and beyond.