Our Ocean Economy

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An inch of water. What's it worth?

Our nation’s ports are the lifelines of our economy. In 2016, foreign trades through U.S. ports were valued at $1.5 trillion—$475 billion exports and $1.0 trillion imports were moved by vessels. When goods travel through ports, it means they are traveling via ship. See how an extra inch of water depth in a port means millions of dollars worth of additional cargo.

Economics: National Ocean Watch

The Economics: National Ocean Watch (ENOW) data set features time-series data focused on the six economic sectors that are dependent on the ocean and Great Lakes. ENOW is available for counties, states, regions, and the nation in a wide variety of formats.

Trading Route for the Planet

Our marine transportation system includes 500,000 square nautical miles of navigationally significant waters. Over 1.34 billion metric tons of cargo, valued at $1.73 trillion, shipped in and out of U.S. ports in foreign trade in 2011. Those ports support, directly and indirectly, more than 13 million American jobs.

2014 Economy Report

The nation's ocean and Great Lakes continue to fuel economic growth across the U.S. The latest economic figures available show that inflation-adjusted gross domestic product (GDP) from the ocean economy grew 15.6 percent from pre-recession levels of 2007, outpacing the U.S. economy as a whole.

Coral Reef Economy

Healthy coral reef ecosystems do everything from supporting millions of jobs to protecting lives and valuable coastal infrastructure, like hotels and roads, from storms and waves. In fact, each year, coral reefs pump more than $3.4 billion into the U.S. economy. And that’s a conservative estimate!

Economic Basics

Coastal and ocean resources are productive drivers for the nation’s economy. Did you know that we provide tools and data sets to quantify these impacts? Communities use this information to make informed decisions about the future. Head to NOAA's Digital Coast to explore basics of our coastal and ocean economy, how to use our data and information products, and more.


Explore the advent of the modern-day shipping container, a key component in the exponential growth of global maritime transportation. Modern shipping containers provide a way to quickly move products from trucks and trains to ships bound for international ports. As container ships continue to grow in size and ports grow more congested by the year, NOAA plays an increasingly critical role in U.S. marine transportation.

Sanctuary Socioeconomics

Learn how NOAA's National marine sanctuaries are centers for strong local economies. Across all national marine sanctuaries, about $8 billion annually is generated in local coastal and ocean dependent economies from diverse activities like commercial fishing, research, and tourism/recreation activities. From restaurants and hotels, to aquariums and kayak operators, the success of many businesses, millions of dollars in sales and thousands of jobs, directly depend on thriving sanctuaries.

Corals and Humans

Coral reefs are under intense pressure from climate change, pollution, and unsustainable use. So what can we do about it? To answer that question, we need to better understand the main threat to our reefs. Humans. In this audio podcast, learn about the NOAA national coral reef monitoring program and how NOAA scientists are closely studying the interaction between reefs and humans across all of our national coral reef jurisdictions.

The Ocean Enterprise

See how the ocean enterprise—for-profit and not-for-profit businesses which support ocean measurement, observation, and forecasting—is a critical component of maritime commerce and the Ocean economy. These businesses develop the infrastructure necessary to generate new data and to work with publicly available data to deliver value-added products and services to ensure the safe, responsible, and successful running of maritime commerce.

Fast Facts: Tourism and Recreation

Tourism and recreation support a wide range of businesses in the nation’s shore-adjacent zip codes, from restaurants, hotels, aquariums, and marinas to boat manufacturers and sporting goods stores. This sector employs more Americans than the entire real estate industry, as well as more people than building construction and telecommunications combined. The industry added 79,000 jobs (3.5 percent growth) from 2014 to 2015—growing significantly faster than the U.S. economy grew as a whole (2.1 percent growth).

Our Role in our Coastal and Ocean Economy

The National Ocean Service provides data, tools, and services that support coastal economies and their contribution to the national economy:

Safe and efficient transportation and commerce.

Ships move $1.5 trillion worth of products in and out of U.S. ports every year. Every ship moving in and out of U.S. ports relies on navigation charts and water level information that NOS alone provides. All mapping, charting, and transportation activities and infrastructure are founded on a reliable, accurate national coordinate system. NOS is solely responsible for maintaining that system, which provides more than $2.4 billion in potential annual benefits to the U.S. economy. Businesses in the maritime community rely on NOS for a range of decisions, from how much cargo to load to choosing the safest and most efficient route between two points. They use NOS data, tools, and services to plan seasonally for ship schedules to service global trade more safely and efficiently as significantly larger vessels transit through U.S. ports as a result of the Panama Canal expansion.

Preparedness and risk reduction

Preparedness and risk reduction.

Coastal communities represent a major economic engine for the United States. Immediate and potentially life-threatening events such as hurricanes, as well as long-term issues like high tide flooding, are real challenges to coastal communities. NOS brings a unique range of information and capabilities to help communities prepare for, respond to, and recover from these events. For example, NOS maintains the nation's network of coastal tide and water level sensors to provide real-time data that supports accurate weather forecasts, coastal storm and flood predictions, and tsunami warnings. NOS provides data and tools that enable businesses and coastal communities to better plan for and mitigate risk from changing conditions. The agency provides information and data to protect human health and coastal economies with early warnings of harmful algal blooms and other threats. Every year, NOS responds to natural disasters and more than 150 oil and chemical spills in U.S. and state waters, which damage environments and disrupt economies. As the authoritative resource for science related to marine debris, oil, and chemical spills, NOS provides responders with the information they need to understand the severity of a spill and where it will travel.

Stewardship, recreation, and tourism

Stewardship, recreation, and tourism.

The United States boasts some of the most important natural, cultural, and historical resources in the world—not just on land but under the water as well. The value of the U.S. coastal tourism and recreation industry in 2009 was $62 billion. NOS plays a critical role in protecting and promoting access to these special coastal and marine places. NOS is entrusted with the responsibility to manage a network of underwater parks encompassing more than 600,000 square miles of coastal, marine, and Great Lakes waters. Across all national marine sanctuaries, about $8 billion annually is generated in local economies from activities like commercial fishing, tourism, and recreation. NOS also partners with states to manage national estuarine research reserves, a network of 29 coastal sites designated to protect and study estuarine systems. The reserves reflect the rich diversity of environments along our coasts and Great Lakes, and provide places for education, recreation, and boosting local economies.