Can You Guess the Average Grade for the U.S. on Our Oceans?

Last week the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative (JOCI) released its 2012 U.S. Ocean Policy Report Card (PDF).  JOCI is a bipartisan, collaborative group “to encourage action and monitor progress toward meaningful ocean policy reform.”  The group has an interesting origin beginning both with the Pew Oceans Commission and the United States Commission on Ocean Policy created by the Oceans Act of 2000.  Simply, JOCI is team comprised of former leaders in government and current leaders in ocean conservation and industry.

Last year JOCI released a report, America’s Ocean Future, that provided ten recommendations for actions needed to support implementation of the National Ocean Policy. This serves as the baseline for this year’s report card.  Overall JOCI found and not supringly,

“For the period from July 2010 to June 2012, while a number of laudable efforts laid the foundation for advancement of the national ocean policy, overall implementation of the policy fell short of expectations.”

The scores in 5 areas are

 C National Support and Leadership: Good groundwork laid but need for better communication, expanded stakeholder engagement, and tangible results

A- Regional, state, and local leadership and implementation: Regional ocean partnerships continue to make progress but need more support from states and federal agencies

C Research, science, and education: Some progress but funding and program cuts, as well as delayed implementation of critical tools, weakened ocean science, research, and education

D- Funding: Ocean programs continue to be chronically underfunded, highlighting the need for a dedicated ocean investment fund

F Law of the Sea Convention: Strong support from Administration and private sector leaders but no successful Senate vote yet

The Joint Initiative identified three areas as the most significant shortcomings:

• Implementation of the policy has been slow and ineffective communication about the need for and intent of the policy has led to misunderstandings by stakeholders.

• Ocean management, science, and education programs remain severely underfunded, hindering them from effectively supporting our national security and economic interests and undermining the health of ocean resources.

• Inaction by the Senate to provide its advice and consent to the President to join the Law of the Sea Convention continues to jeopardize our nation’s national security interests and opportunities to benefit from and effectively manage global ocean resources of economic and ecological importance.

I will not speak at length about each of these but encourage DSN readers to download the freely available and read the extremely accessible report for themselves.

Obviously, the D- in funding is the one I have the most concern for.  In March, I spoke of the loss of deep-sea science in the U.S.. Last week at Capitol Hill Ocean Week, I was also privileged to meet and converse with Captain and Dr. Don Walsh (post forth coming) .  We spoke of the current loss of infrastructure for deep-sea science both in the U.S. and abroad.  While Walsh understood the political decisions  and the balancing act that budgets require (“People will always be envious of big pots of money and most institutions see it as either/or scenario), he expressed concerns about our continued ability to explore and understand the deep oceans.

Thus, it simultaneously relieving and alarming that JOCI confirms my and Walsh’s observations.

“Maintaining a commitment to ocean science, management, and education is critical to preventing erosion of our nation’s leadership position on a wide range of global ocean issues, including political, environmental, jurisdictional, scientific, and economic concerns. Unfortunately, ocean management, science, and education programs have been chronically underfunded. This jeopardizes our capacity to understand, manage, and address existing and emerging needs, such as evaluating ocean energy and transportation priorities, strengthening fisheries science, responding to global changes, and providing assistance to regional, state, and local decision makers in their important efforts to address regional ocean challenges.”

With this lack of funding is it now surprise that research, science, and education received a C grade.  Indeed the continued lack of funding is likely to lead to a reduction of this grade in years to come. And not suprisinlgy, JOSI recommendation to improve the grade for research, science, and education is for greater investment into these areas.

Not everything is dire. As the JOCI report notes

“While federal ocean agencies continued to struggle to support science and observing programs overall, the Joint Initiative commends the National Science Foundation (NSF) for funding the Ocean Observatories Initiative to provide 25 to 30 years of sustained ocean measurements to study ocean circulation and ecosystem dynamics, air-sea exchange, climate variability, seafloor processes, and plate-scale geodynamics”

So what do we do?  I encourage every one of you including scientists, conservationists, and those of you who come here just because you are passionate about and fascinated by the oceans to contact your U.S. Representatives and Senators.  Send an email, send a letter, or better yet when they return to your district after the current session arrange for a personal meeting.  The latter is amazingly easy to do and is your right as a citizen.  I spoke with my representative,  (D-NC) David Price, and his staff about these issues in a meeting in D.C. last Friday.  They were extremely receptive to both meeting with me and to listening to my concerns.  These face-to-face conversations are vital to reversing this trends.

Dr. M (1729 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Assistant Director of Science for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, a National Science Foundation supported initiative. He has conducted deep-sea research for 20 years and published over 50 papers in the area. He has participated in and led dozens of oceanographic expeditions taken him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses on how energy drives the biology of marine invertebrates from individuals to ecosystems, specifically, seeking to uncover how organisms are adapted to different levels of carbon availability, i.e. food, and how this determines the kinds and number of species in different parts of the oceans. Craig’s research has been featured on National Public Radio, Discovery Channel, Fox News, National Geographic and ABC News. In addition to his scientific research, Craig also advocates the need for scientists to connect with the public and is the founder and chief editor of the acclaimed Deep-Sea News (, a popular ocean-themed blog that has won numerous awards. His writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web. His forthcoming book, Science of the South (, connects cultural icons of South such as pecan pie with the science behind them.

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3 comments on “Can You Guess the Average Grade for the U.S. on Our Oceans?
  1. Thanks Craig for this post / analysis. I am not optimistic about the funding situation. In fact, I think academic research (and life as an academic ocean scientists) is changing radically for the worse. It has become nearly impossibly to even partially fund a vigorous marine science lab (meaning a PI-run lab group, not a facility). 19 out of 20 marine scientists are under- or not funded to do the science they were trained to do. The exceptions are subfields with current deep pockets like ocean acidification and molecular microbial ecology.

    The extreme difficulty in getting federal funding has made working as an academic scientists that much harder and somewhat bewildering. You real job is to do science, yet you have vitally no way to pay for it. My colleagues are responding in lots of ways: doing meta-analyses for which funding is less important, writing review articles, blogging, not training PhD students anymore (we can’t afford to fund their research and why train a new generation that will be even more underfunded?), moving to countries like Australia with much stronger science funding, etc.

    Personally, I don’t think the answer is in writing your congress person. Instead, I think we need to transform NGO science. Many medium-sized ocean NGOs have science budgets that dwarf that of NSF. At least in regard to biological science. Yet few NGOs do serious science (for several reasons). Peter Kareiva has written about the need to greatly increase the science underlying NGO actions in support of conservation. Some of this could come from changing NGO culture, e.g., rewarding science, but also from partnering with underutilized academic scientist and/or by drawing them away from academia.

  2. PS – are you coming to the Bahamas with us in late July? Abaco tweet up? I was thinking maybe we could stop in Miami and go shark tagging with the Hammerslagies?

    • When would this be, John? I’m out of town for 2 weeks starting on July 29th…. and we currently have no trips scheduled in July, but that might change and we might be able to arrange something just for y’all…

      I can also host people at my place, it’s a big 3-bedroom apartment. We’ve slept four guests comfortably before and could probably do more.

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