Comments On “Science And Technology For America’s Oceans: A Decadal Vision”

2018-10-23T17:07:32+00:00 August 10, 2018|

10 August 2018

Office of Science and Technology Policy
Eisenhower Executive Office Building
1650 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20504

To the Office of Science and Technology Policy:

On behalf of the Consortium for Ocean Leadership, which represents our nation’s leading ocean science, research, and technology organizations from academia, industry, and aquaria, I appreciate the opportunity to provide comment on Science and Technology for America’s Oceans: A Decadal Vision. The underlying idea conveyed in the draft — that “understanding the physical, chemical, biological, and geological changes in the ocean is vital to the survival and prosperity of humanity” is one with which I wholeheartedly agree. The foundational truth that robust ocean knowledge underpins our national, homeland, economic, food, water, and energy securities, ensuring the safety and survival of our nation and its people, is a concept I refer to as “ocean security.” I appreciate the committee’s recognition of this, as well as the understanding of its dependence upon a healthy ocean.

COL’s research goals are well aligned with those in the decadal plan, and I also support the cross-cutting topics of a modernized ocean infrastructure and an “educated, diverse, and dynamic ‘blue’ workforce,” as well as the five areas of immediate ocean research and technology opportunities. There are a few opportunities to strengthen these three categories to the benefit of our nation as a whole, which I address in more detail below.

Cross-Cutting Theme: Educated, Diverse, and Dynamic “Blue” Workforce
Increase opportunities for students to consider blue career options before they choose alternate career paths

As almost half of the nation’s geoscientists reach retirement age, it is vital that the next generation of ocean scientists be prepared to take their place. The draft plan’s encouragement of an ocean-literate society, in addition to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education (including through the technical workforce) is key. This vision could be strengthened by expanding to include support for K-12 STEM education, as some recommend teenagers choose a major before they even decide what college to attend. Supporting pre-college ocean-STEM (O-STEM) education, both inside and outside of the classroom, increases accessibility to ocean science and prepares the next generation of the blue workforce – particularly since most high schools don’t include O-STEM education in their curricula.

For example, the National Ocean Sciences Bowl (NOSB) is an extracurricular academic competition that engages high school students in ocean science and connects them with mentors and resources to help them pursue careers in the blue economy. Over its more than two-decade history, the NOSB has graduated more than 30,000 students, many of whom indicate that NOSB solidified their interest in science and in pursuing STEM degrees. It is important that the NOSB and other programs supporting O-STEM specifically work to include students of diverse backgrounds, such as women, people of color, and those from noncoastal areas, to promote ocean literacy and talent nationwide.

Goal II: Promote Economic Prosperity-Expand Domestic Seafood Production
More aquaculture research will ensure it becomes a science-based, environmentally responsible, financially viable, sustainable business

I thank the committee for recognizing the important role of aquaculture in expanding domestic seafood production. As the plan notes, the U.S. “leads the world” in science-based fishery management, and we should position ourselves to do the same for aquaculture. Successful, healthy, financially viable aquaculture hinges on supporting aquaculture science and technology. For example, improved and expanded research associated with environmental monitoring, in addition to promoting emerging aquaculture technologies, will help mitigate risks associated with land-based and open water practices and make it a financially feasible industry while ensuring the health of our ocean and its biodiversity. I would also encourage the committee to expand the language surrounding market success and research infrastructure to include federal partnerships and extramural research opportunities for academia and aquaria.

Goal III: Ensure Maritime Security
A top priority must be to maintain our Navy’s undersea advantage through superior ocean knowledge

Issues raised in this portion of the document rightfully call out maritime security concerns around topics such as understanding the Arctic and countering illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. However, what is not emphasized is the crucial need to maintain our Navy’s undersea advantage through superior knowledge of the ocean battlespace. The late Admiral James D. Watkins, former Chief of Naval Operations, regularly drove home the point that “oceanography won the Cold War” — the knowledge advantaged provided to our forward deployed maritime forces, especially our submarines, brought home the victory.

As indicated in the 2018 National Defense Strategy, the increasing threat of major power competitors and rogue states in the maritime and undersea environments cannot be ignored. Our nation’s investments in ocean observations, data management, and modeling and prediction (to include undersea acoustics and other underwater detection and avoidance technologies) must be applied to preserve and enhance the myriad strategic operational and tactical advantages for our armed forces in the maritime arena. The need to maintain this advantage must be called out in this vision as a top priority. The Navy has recognized and clearly articulated this in the Task Force Ocean initiative, which should be included in the maritime security portion of this decadal vision.

Areas of Immediate Ocean Research and Technology Opportunities: Support Ongoing Research and Technology Partnerships
Use existing structures, such as the National Oceanographic Partnership Program (NOPP) to maximize impact

Ongoing ocean research and technology partnerships are the backbone of the nation’s ocean prosperity, and I agree that “effective collaboration of all organizations involved in ocean science” is integral to the success of this effort to advance our ocean science and technology enterprise. The opportunity for collaboration is vast: within the U.S., there are 16 federal agencies involved in ocean science, technology, or marine research; in excess of 600 businesses engaged in ocean observation and forecasting; more than 400 postsecondary institutions that provide ocean-related certificates or degrees; and over 45,000 nonprofits focused on ocean and coastal activities.

Cross-sector and interagency collaboration facilitate the sharing of information, observations, technology, and best practices and allow the tens of thousands of organizations in the ocean science community to identify and address pressing research questions. An example of an existing mechanism to help advance the collaborative efforts of this vision is the National Oceanographic Partnership Program (NOPP), a congressionally-mandated program established in 1997. NOPP has been responsible for many successful ocean science initiatives since its inception, such as supporting the planning and implementation of the U.S. portion of the international Argo Project (a global array of 3,800 free-drifting floats measuring ocean temperature and salinity, improving our understanding and predictions of climate and weather). The existing legislation for this program makes it the ideal vehicle to facilitate the successes of projects with broad support from leaders in ocean science and innovation.

While the vision laid out in this document represents a strong and heartening commitment to ocean research and technology, it needs to be paired with federal investment to become a reality. Federal investments in ocean science should reflect the growth of the economy and track as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) growth. An analysis of data from the National Science Foundation’s Division of Ocean Sciences (OCE) shows funding levels for basic research tracked nearly at or above GDP growth from the 1970s to the 1990s. Since then, with a few exceptions, funding has fallen below what it could have been as a fixed percent of the GDP. The blue economy contributes significantly to the GDP but cannot continue to grow without support and commensurate funding.

Thank you for the opportunity to submit comments on Science and Technology for America’s Oceans. I hope my feedback, on behalf of COL’s membership, consisting of our nation’s leading ocean science, research, and technology organizations, will serve to strengthen the plan into a vision described by Watkins where “The oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes are clean, safe, prospering, and sustainably managed. They contribute significantly to the economy, supporting multiple, beneficial uses such as food production, development of energy and mineral resources, recreation and tourism, transportation of goods and people, and the discovery of novel medicines, while preserving a high level of biodiversity and a wide range of critical natural habitats.”

Respectfully,

Jonathan W. White, RADM (Ret.), USN
President and CEO
Consortium for Ocean Leadership

Read the full letter here.