Fiscal Year 2012 Annual Report:
Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management

The Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management (OCRM) provides the national policy leadership, science, and expertise needed to maintain our nation's coastal resources. OCRM administers the Coastal Zone Management Act and assists states in managing the National Estuarine Research Reserve System, provides science and information for the management of the nation's system of marine protected areas, and supports effective management and sound science to protect coral reef ecosystems.



Illinois Joins National Coastal Zone Management Program

NOS Administrator David Kennedy

NOS Administrator David Kennedy signs document approving the Illinois Coastal Management Program, with NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco and Illinois Governor Pat Quinn looking on. (Image courtesy of Harvey Tillis)

On Jan. 31, 2012, NOAA approved the Illinois Coastal Management Program, making Illinois eligible for approximately $2 million in annual grants to help manage its Great Lakes resources. Staff from the Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management (OCRM) worked closely with Illinois for nearly eight years to develop a program that meets the requirements of the Coastal Zone Management Act.

With the Illinois approval, 34 of the 35 eligible coastal states and territories now participate in the National Coastal Zone Management (CZM) Program, a voluntary partnership between OCRM and coastal states that balances development and natural resource protection along the coast. Through the National CZM Program partnership, NOAA and Illinois will be able to effectively leverage each other’s expertise and resources to address critical coastal management issues of national and state importance along Illinois’s Lake Michigan shoreline.

Advancing Stewardship of U.S. Coral Reefs

Close up of coral polyps

Close up of coral polyps

In 2012, NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program did much to advance the stewardship of coral reefs in the United States.

In support of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s U.S. Coral Triangle Initiative, the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program addressed climate-related risks to coral reefs by deploying ocean acidification monitoring equipment in one-third of the six Coral Triangle countries. Additionally, the program improved near-real-time satellite monitoring of ocean temperatures to more accurately predict mass coral bleaching events and track thermal stress at scales specific to coral reefs.

To improve the management of marine protected areas (MPAs) that contain coral reefs, NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program responded to a request from Puerto Rico’s Coastal Zone Management Program and partnered with the Caribbean Fisheries Management Council, the U.S. Coast Guard, and academia to map coral reefs in Puerto Rico’s Northeast Great Reserve, a recently established marine protected area. The program also launched NOAA Reef Smart in Puerto Rico, an education initiative designed to engage students, stakeholders, and policy makers and increase their awareness of NOAA’s coral reef ecosystem research. The Reef Smart Initiative also helped foster discussions about ways NOAA’s existing technology, data, and expertise can be leveraged to support the needs of local managers in priority coral reef areas.

Estuarine Research Reserves Use Science to Improve Habitat Conservation and Restoration

Sentinel site monitoring in place at one of five National Estuarine Research Reserves.

Sentinel site monitoring in place at one of five National Estuarine Research Reserves.

The National Estuarine Research Reserve System currently protects over 1.3 million acres of estuarine lands and waters at 28 reserves around the country. Research and monitoring in the reserves enables the Reserve System to support national, regional, and local efforts to protect and conserve estuarine habitats.

To that end, the Reserve System has now completed a comprehensive environmental characterization of 93 percent of the system. Additionally, five reserves have completed high resolution maps of their habitats using a common classification scheme. All of this information provides an important baseline from which to measure how reserve ecosystems are changing as a result of different environmental stressors.

To better understand and prepare for the impacts of sea level change, reserves are installing “sentinel” stations that measure and disseminate real-time water level and weather observations. This year a fifth reserve will become a fully operating sentinel site. In the coming years, more reserves will join this sentinel site network, which is expected to become an essential tool in the nation’s efforts to monitor and respond to the effects of climate change in coastal and estuarine areas.

Sentinel site information can also inform habitat restoration, as it did at the Elkhorn Slough Reserve. This reserve used sentinel site monitoring data to guide the design and construction of a major water control structure that reduces salt marsh loss and erosion of soft subtidal habitats in the 460-acre Parsons Slough. The structure, built with funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, was completed in 2011.

New Analysis Shows Eight Percent of U.S. Marine Waters are Protected

MPAs are defined areas where natural and/or cultural resources are given greater protection than the surrounding waters.

MPAs are defined areas where natural and/or cultural resources are given greater protection than the surrounding waters.

An analysis of the recently updated U.S. Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) Inventory shows that eight percent of U.S. marine waters are currently designated as MPAs. The majority of these areas are open to some human uses, such as swimming, kayaking, and recreational fishing.

The eight percent figure does not include MPAs specifically established to sustain fisheries production, which often have specific restrictions on fishing gear over large ocean areas. Other inventory analyses including these fishery MPAs, however, show that 92 percent of the area within U.S. MPAs allows some type of activity, and 85 percent is open to fishing.

The MPAs Inventory shows that more than two-thirds of all U.S. MPAs were created, at least in part, to conserve natural heritage values, such as biodiversity, ecosystems, or protected species. About a quarter of sites focus on sustainable production, such as those established to recover overfished stocks, protect species readily taken as bycatch, or preserve essential fish habitats. The remaining MPAs (approximately ten percent) were established to conserve our nation’s cultural heritage. 

Developed with extensive input from state and federal MPA programs and drawn from other publically available data, the MPAs Inventory contains information on more than 1,700 U.S. sites and is the only such comprehensive data set in the nation. Information in the inventory is current as of March 2012. Data in the updated MPAs Inventory can be viewed online through an interactive MPA mapping tool.