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A Review of the Accomplishments and Plans of the NOAA Coastal Ocean Program (1994) EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Since its inception in FY 1990, the Coastal Ocean Program (COP) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has filled a unique niche in the U.S. marine sciences community by supporting activities designed to improve our understanding of, and ability to manage, coastal fisheries ecosystems, coastal environmental quality, and coastal hazards (the three thematic foci of the program). In fisheries and environmental quality, COP has funded three major field programs, each lasting 5 years and focused on fundamental regional research that could contribute to the understanding of societally important issues. In coastal hazards, COP has added incremental funding that has made possible the development of new systems and products that probably would not have been developed without COP support. COP funding differs from that provided by other NOAA programs, such as Sea Grant and the National Marine Fisheries Service, in that it explicitly encourages NOAA-academic partnerships in coastal research. The synergistic effects of these partnerships are evident within NOAA and academia. Also, focusing a part of COP's budget on a few relatively large initiatives has enabled COP to apply a critical mass of effort on important problems. The Panel on the NOAA Coastal Ocean Program of the National Research Council's Ocean Studies Board has followed COP progress almost since the formation of the program. At the request of the COP Director, Dr. Donald Scavia, the panel conducted its second in-depth review of the program. The detailed findings of the panel are presented in this report. The panel found that COP funding has advanced understanding and created useful products in a number of areas. In many cases, however, because research is still in progress the utility of COP-supported research for addressing important coastal issues is uncertain. The greatest program-wide need is to develop a program that can be conducted under a situation of level funding, streamlining COP's management and advisory structures to reflect this probability. Other recommendations discussed throughout the report advise COP about other changes the panel believes COP and its components should adopt.
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A Review of the Accomplishments and Plans of the NOAA Coastal Ocean Program (1994) Coastal fisheries are important to the economy of the United States, ranging from the employment of individual fishermen in coastal towns to the national balance of trade in seafood products. Fisheries are regulated in the United States, yet many are still declining due to a variety of causes (NRC, 1994). COP is funding three programs focused on coastal fisheries ecosystems. These studies—targeting some of the most productive fisheries and U.S. fishing grounds—seek to understand the factors that control abundance of fish populations, including recruitment variability, compensatory mechanisms, and species interactions. Understanding these factors could lead to better management of U.S. fishery resources. The panel supports COP in its choice of research supported under the Coastal Fisheries Ecosystems (CFE) theme, carried out cooperatively by NOAA and academic scientists. It is too early for major breakthroughs to have been achieved, but the programs have advanced sampling technologies, conducted innovative modeling efforts, and applied new methods of molecular biology and biochemistry to fisheries research. The NOAA-academic partnerships and possibilities for long-term funding through CFE are providing opportunities to conduct fishery oceanography programs that promote fundamental science, but maintain regional, resource, and mission-oriented emphases. The CFE theme supports the NOAA Strategic Plan (NOAA, 1993) and is a positive step toward understanding coastal fisheries ecosystems that, if successful, will assist managers in attaining sustainable harvests of fish. The panel recommends that the CFE theme maintain its present goals and objectives through FY 1995. To develop plans for its next 5 years of research, CFE should convene workshops and planning meetings, taking into account related research programs, and perhaps in conjunction with professional meetings, to include a broad cross-section of fisheries scientists. The panel recommends that the CFE theme begin planning for the FY 1996 to 2000 period, with due consideration given to new programs and possible continuation of existing ones. It is important to communicate CFE's future plans to the scientific community as soon as possible. CFE should reconstitute its Program Management Committee (PMC) and Technical Advisory Committee (TAC).1 The membership of each should be balanced among member scientists from the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, and academia. The TAC should be of appropriate size and its members should not be involved in the constituent programs. The PMC and TAC are needed to plan, manage, and promote interactions and collaborations among CFE programs. The panel recommends that CFE standardize the processes by 1 See pp. 22 and 23 for a more detailed description of the responsibilities of the Program Management Committee and the Technical Advisory Committee.
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A Review of the Accomplishments and Plans of the NOAA Coastal Ocean Program (1994) which proposals are solicited and reviewed, at both the theme and program levels, and that the same processes be used for NOAA, academic, and joint NOAA-academic proposals. COP should encourage interactions on relevant issues between CFE and the Coastal Ecosystem Health (CEH) theme (e.g., to study the relationship between habitat quality and fisheries productivity) and between CFE and the Coastal Hazards theme (e.g., to study the relationships among coastal winds, ocean color, and fisheries). Collaborations between academic and NOAA scientists have contributed to progress in the Coastal Ecosystems Health (CEH) theme by bringing new perspectives to old problems and by helping to focus the attention of academic scientists on critical problems in the coastal zone. Examples of successful ventures include: a major field effort that addressed the impacts of the upper Mississippi floods on the lower Gulf watershed (the Nutrient Enhanced Coastal Ocean Productivity-Mississippi-Atchafalaya Rivers study); the recent evaluation of atmospheric nitrogen deposition to Great Waters;2 the development of bioindicators for assessing toxic contamination; new research on marsh restoration; improved procedures for assessing change in wetland habitats; and development of a data management system for coastal managers. CEH is the result of merging several themes that examined the effects of anthropogenic impacts such as nutrient enrichment, the discharge of toxins, and habitat loss, on coastal ecosystems. By merging these themes, COP hopes to be able to examine the integrated effects of both natural and anthropogenic stressors in the coastal zone. As COP further consolidates the new CEH theme, the major focus should continue to be on the processes and mechanisms by which these stressors act at a number of scales ranging from the individual animal, to the population, community, and whole ecosystem levels. The innovative nature of the new “multiple stressors” initiative will require close monitoring by COP to determine if this approach produces high quality research. As the theme evolves, its leaders (with the help of COP management) should also promote interactions with the CFE theme to design joint research to study relationships among environmental quality, secondary production, and fisheries recruitment. CEH should establish programs of pre-determined durations and should develop mechanisms to allow its mixture of programs to evolve over time as needs change. This will require the formation of an objective PMC and TAC consisting of individuals not directly involved in any of the research programs, who can recommend the 2 The Great Waters are a series of large bodies of water that the Environmental Protection Agency has designated for monitoring. The Great Waters originally included the Great Lakes, Lake Champlain, and Chesapeake Bay, but have been expanded to include many other lakes and all coastal waters.
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A Review of the Accomplishments and Plans of the NOAA Coastal Ocean Program (1994) elimination of programs when necessary. The panel recommends that CEH continue to work with related programs, such as NOAA's National Status and Trends Program and the Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program of the Environmental Protection Agency. COP should play a role in developing new ways to assess and inventory the health of the coastal zone but should not undertake routine monitoring activities once these techniques have been developed. Significant scientific and technical progress has been achieved by programs under the Coastal Hazards theme. These include: (1) development of an operational demonstration data acquisition and distribution system in the CoastWatch program; (2) derivation and testing, as part of the Coastal Winds program, of refinements that will significantly improve the accuracy of operational coastal wind products; (3) acquisition by the Tsunami program of bottom pressure data in key regions needed to improve physical understanding of tsunami processes; and (4) the first successful demonstration of a regional Great Lakes Forecast System utilizing inputs from CoastWatch, the NOAA National Ocean Service, and National Weather Service operational models, and providing products to a wide variety of users. The panel recommends that the Coastal Hazards theme should adopt as its overall goal the development of a scientifically valid, operationally useful, and programmatically relevant coastal forecast and analysis system that combines the various activities of the theme. The operational portions of programs that have moved beyond the demonstration stage (e.g., CoastWatch) should be transferred to NOAA line offices, with responsibilities for further research and development retained by the Coastal Hazards theme. This is in keeping with recommendations of a previous Ocean Studies Board report that highlighted the need for academia and federal agencies to work together to ensure the development of mechanisms “to provide smooth transition from research activities to operational measurements” (NRC, 1992). COP must support the acquisition of SeaWiFS ocean color data for the Alaska coastal region, to prevent significant data gaps and to contribute to the goals of other studies, such as the Bering Sea Fisheries Oceanography Coordinated Investigations program. The panel recommends that formal technical review and advisory procedures be incorporated as soon as possible at the theme planning level and, when appropriate, within individual programs. After 5 years, COP's budget is lower than expected by program managers. At its inception, COP formulated ambitious plans to address a wide range of topics in coastal ocean science that are relevant to societal needs. As budget increases failed to materialize, many of the multi-year activities have been scaled back. COP has responded with a program-wide process of consolidating and integrating many of its activities. Some programs, particularly in CEH, still have not incorporated realistic budget expectations into their plans. COP needs to improve its long-range planning,
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A Review of the Accomplishments and Plans of the NOAA Coastal Ocean Program (1994) taking into account funding uncertainties and requiring its themes to react more quickly and realistically to budget shortfalls. Given the future budget limitations that may be faced by COP, program managers must define COP's role in the national research effort carefully. Part of this process should include an examination of COP's review and advisory structure with the goal of streamlining it, and developing effective mechanisms to transfer monitoring and prediction activities out of COP when they pass from research to operational status. The panel also noted the serious effect of congressional earmarks on COP funding decisions. Congress has required COP to spend an increasing portion of its appropriations on congressionally-mandated projects. This short-circuits COP's normal planning and peer-review processes, and does not result in the most important and scientifically defensible projects. COP should continue to articulate the negative consequences of earmarking, and at the same time make a greater effort to communicate its successes. The panel endorses the present three COP themes and believes that the program should maintain a multi-theme approach. The panel also endorses the decision that consolidated the former seven themes into the present three themes; it is likely that increased coordination of programs within the new themes will yield new approaches and insight into coastal fisheries ecosystems, coastal environmental quality, and coastal hazards. In addition, COP should develop clearer communication and integration among its three themes. Developing cross-theme connections will promote coherence in COP activities. Effective technical advisory groups should be formed now for each of the themes and should begin planning now for COP's next five years. These advisory groups should be composed of individuals who do not have a stake in the outcome of the advice, so that they can make objective recommendations about changing or eliminating programs and projects within a theme and can avoid conflicts of interest. Finally, the panel recommends that the procedures for proposal solicitation and review, as well as advisory structures, should be standardized among themes and programs so that investigators supported by each program are treated similarly and program management is streamlined. All themes should maintain a significant NOAA-academic partnership, even when funding levels are lower than expected because of the benefits that result from the sharing of intellectual and physical resources. NOAA should continue to use its resources—personnel, research vessel support, computer time, and equipment—to help COP conduct its programs. The panel recommends that COP management continue to stress the benefits of NOAA-academic collaboration in all aspects of COP research and development. Timely publication of results in the open literature is important for evaluating the quality and significance of COP-supported research and to publicize COP research activities. The recommendations
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A Review of the Accomplishments and Plans of the NOAA Coastal Ocean Program (1994) contained herein should be implemented expeditiously (beginning in FY 1996 budgets where possible) to have maximum impact. References National Research Council. 1994. Improving the Management of U.S. Marine Fisheries. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 62 pp. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 1993. NOAA 1995-2005 Strategic Plan. Department of Commerce, Washington, D.C. National Research Council. 1992. Oceanography in the Next Decade: Building New Partnerships. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 202 pp.
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