Students in Alaska take a field trip to a local salmon stream. An artificial reef is built off the coast of Florida. A duck hunter cleans his gear in Wisconsin. A lifeguard in Delaware explains rip currents to a family on their beach vacation. Even though these differing coastal activities take place over the entire continental U.S., they all have the National Sea Grant College Program (Sea Grant), in common. Sea Grant is comprised of a network of 33 programs along the nation’s coasts that support “research, education, outreach, and extension activities that provide communities with the tools to increase their resiliency capacities.” Sea Grant and the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held a briefing on the necessity of economic resiliency in coastal communities in the U.S. and featured three speakers who attested to the importance of resiliency and of Sea Grant’s support.
Mr. Jim Sharrow (Director of Port Planning and Resiliency; Duluth, Minnesota Seaway Port Authority) provided examples to underline the essentiality of maintaining resilience in ecosystems, economies, and communities. Mr. Sharrow directs the Great Lakes’ largest commercial port in Duluth, Minnesota, which provides the surrounding community with eleven thousand jobs and $1.5 billion in total revenue. Mr. Sharrow spoke of how the Minnesota Sea Grant offered expertise and advice that led to the Port Authority repairing steel docks suffering from freshwater corrosion rather than replacing them, saving millions of dollars in the process. Mr. Sharrow also shared another sustainable practice that the Minnesota Sea Grant program helped apply in local coastal areas. Clean and contaminated dredged material can be separated and then recycled and reused for other projects, such as creating wetlands or building up creek mouths, instead of being disposed of.
Mr. Herb Malone (President and CEO, Alabama Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau) conveyed how Sea Grant assisted his communities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama in improving coastal resiliency. The Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium helped to put an emphasis on sustainability, including by creating a clean marina program to ensure marinas and boaters are more conscious of what they are discharging into marina waters, adopting a DolphinSMART program that encourages commercial dolphin-viewing tours to apply practices to ensure the safety of the wildlife, and supplying beach safety signs to provide beachgoers with information about safety issues such as rip tides.
These coastal Alabama communities see over five million visitors per year and four billion dollars in revenue, but they also suffer from devastating storms and hurricanes and were severely impacted by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. Mr. Malone emphasized that sustainable practices lead to resiliency. He stated that when the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill impacted their coastline six years ago, “nothing was as traumatic.” They had not yet encountered an environmental disaster of this kind, but with the help of the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, city officials were able to use the same recovery and resilience practices from hurricanes and apply them to the oil spill disaster, which Mr. Malone said “helped tremendously.” The Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium was able to help city officials understand the science behind the impacts of the oil spill to be able to understand how it was going to affect their communities and how to deal with such effects.
Mr. Ian Jeffords (Owner and General Manager, Penn Cove Shellfish, Washington) expressed his support of Sea Grant by reporting how its applied science programs help the Washington shellfish farming industry, which is the largest in the country. Sea Grant universities, such as University of Washington and Oregon State University, have assisted shellfish farmers with their hatcheries — training and teaching farmers to understand environmental challenges, such as the effect of ocean acidification on shellfish survival. Mr. Jeffords explained that with the decline of fish stocks and the increasing dependence on aquaculture, there is a need for more research on safe and sustainable aquaculture practices. He stated that in his industry, “we depend on the science to help us figure out how to do things efficiently, how to do them sustainably, and to help us continue long-term in our communities.” Sea Grant helps support the applied research that the shellfish industry needs to be sustainable for the long haul.
The speakers at the hearing hailed from across the country — from the West to the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes — and worked in very different fields — port authority, tourism, and aquaculture. This variety of locale and industry served as a testament to the extensive network that Sea Grant programs provide funds, training, and support for, and provided the audience with a first-hand look at how Sea Grant is helping improving coastal resiliency on the ground, in the sand, and amongst the waters today.