The National Ocean Service (NOS) is one of five major line offices of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a federal scientific agency of the United States Department of Commerce. Other NOAA offices include the National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service (tentatively to be renamed the National Environmental Satellite Service), the National Marine Fisheries Service, the National Weather Service, and the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research. The FY 2012 budget proposed the creation of a new line office—Climate Service. The NOS specifies 23 areas of focus relating to oceans, coasts, and navigation/charting. NOS areas of responsibility include coral reef conservation, oil and chemical spill response, coastal monitoring, global positioning mapping, and the management of 13 national marine sanctuaries. The NOS also maintains the National Geodetic Survey.
A primary objective of the National Ocean Service (NOS) is the charting and mapping of the oceans and national coasts. In this respect, the NOS has roots dating back to 1807, when President Thomas Jefferson established the Survey of the Coast, the first civilian scientific agency in the country. The original Survey, founded and run by Ferdinand Hassler, was soon expanded to include the mapping of the country’s interior, as the national borders migrated west. The Coast Survey would eventually become the first government agency to develop mathematical models for predicting future states of geophysical phenomena, such as tides, currents, and geomagnetic declination. It was instrumental in the formation of the Smithsonian Institution and the National Academy of Sciences and the establishment of their early policies. It was also the first federal science agency to fight many of the political battles involving the place of science in a democratic society.
In 1871, a geodetic (defined as a measurement and representation of the Earth) connection between the Atlantic and Pacific coasts was officially authorized; the Survey’s name was changed to the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey (C&GS) in 1878.
In 1970 President Richard Nixon addressed Congress regarding the need “…for better protection of life and property from natural hazards…for a better understanding of the total environment … and for exploration and development leading to the intelligent use of our marine resources.” That same year, the NOAA was created and the National Ocean Survey became the line office responsible for the charting and mapping of coasts and waterways, absorbing the responsibilities of the C&GS. By 1982, the office’s responsibilities grew to include conservation and monitoring efforts, and it was renamed the National Ocean Service (NOS). Later that year, the importance of charting and geodetic research was again highlighted with the creation of the National Geodetic Survey as a special office within the NOS.
The National Ocean Service (NOS) is described in the NOAA budget as having three “sub-activities”: Navigation Services, Ocean Resources Conservation and Assessment, and Ocean and Coastal Management. Historically, 80% of the NOS budget is used for environmental data collection and analysis purposes. The NOS strategic plan (pdf) details the agency’s goals from 2005-2010.
NOS’s National Marine Sanctuary program maintains 15 designated and protected areas throughout the country. The sanctuaries include California’s Channel Islands, Cordell Bank, Gulf of the Farallones, and Monterey Bay; The Florida Keys; Washington’s Olympic Coast; The Hawaiian Island’s Humpback Whale; the Flower Garden Banks; Gray’s Reef in Georgia; Stellwagen Bank in Massachusetts; Michigan’s Thunder Bay; Papahānaumokuākea in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands; Fagatele Bay in American Samoa; Rose Atoll Marine National Monument in American Somoa; and the wreck of the USS Monitor off the coast of North Carolina.
Five of these sanctuaries are home to coral reefs, another focal point of the NOS. The NOS monitors and analyzes the condition of the reefs, and works to restore reef habitat.
The NOS’s Coral Reef Conservation Program.
A complete overview of the NOS work in the field of coral reef conservation is highlighted in the 2007 report, The State of Deep Coral Ecosystems of The United States.
Another NOS responsibility is the response, assessment, and cleanup of oil and chemical spills. These tasks are managed through NOS’s Office of Response and Restoration. A recent example of NOS work in this area was the November 7, 2007, accident in which the container ship Cosco Busan struck the Bay Bridge in San Francisco Bay. The crash caused an estimated 53,000 gallons of fuel oil to leak into the water, and NOA officials took the lead in damage assessment and recovery. For each spill incident, the NOS launches and maintains a command center Web site for public information, for example Cosco Busan Command Center.
The NOS also provides a wealth of educational resources for teachers through their Discovery Classroom programs. Detailed lesson plans on a variety of NOS topics.
Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services (CO-OPS)
National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS)
National Geodetic Survey (NGS)
National Marine Sanctuary Program (NMSP)
NOAA Coastal Services Center (CSC)
Office of Coast Survey (OCS)
Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management (OCRM)
Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R)
From the Web Site of the National Ocean Service
In a general sense, all United States citizens (and citizens of the world to some extent) have a stake in the state of the oceans and coasts and thus are National Ocean Service (NOS) “stakeholders.” More than half of the U.S. population lives within 50 miles of a coast. A Bush administration report predicted that 75% of Americans will live in coastal areas by 2025. More than 95% of U.S. overseas trade by volume is waterborne—contributing $740 billion annually to the gross domestic product and employing 13 million Americans. Coastal and marine waters support more than 28 million jobs, while providing tourist destinations for 189 million Americans each year. U.S. consumers spend more than $55 billion for fishery products annually. The Outer Continental Shelf generates 30% of the oil and 23% of the natural gas produced in this country. Oceans are the home of the majority of the world’s living organisms, and over the past two decades, thousands of marine biochemicals have been identified. One such compound, found in the blood of horseshoe crabs, is being used to test intravenous drugs for bacteria (*all statistics found in President Bush’s US Ocean Action Plan (pdf).
Congressional districts that are directly affected by the shipping and marine economy are also primary stakeholders. Senator Joseph Lieberman has been actively involved in legislature pertaining to ocean activities. Other stakeholders include commercial and recreational fishermen, ocean tourism business, and the shipping industry.
President Barack Obama’s National Ocean Council has established, and is formulating, an Ocean Data website to serve as a one-stop portal for people involved in the planning of the oceans’ future. The official ocean policy of the United States can be found at the government Web site for the National Ocean Policy.
NOS Supports Speed Limits on Vessels
Environmentalists called upon the National Ocean Service (NOS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in June 2011 to establish a speed limit of 10 knots for large ships traveling within Cordell Bank, the Gulf of the Farallones, Monterey Bay, and Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuaries.
The request, which came in the form of a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, Environmental Defense Center, and Pacific Environment, was intended to reduce the risk of large vessels (65 feet and longer) striking whales that inhabit the areas.
Conservationists said the speed limit would also mitigate underwater noise pollution and air pollution, including greenhouse gas emissions, from vessel traffic.
Federal officials declined to issue a 10-knot speed restriction, while claiming that they considered reducing the risk of ship strikes a priority issue.
In 2007, four blue whales were killed in the Santa Barbara Channel region by passing ships. Some 50 large whales have been killed in the past decade off the coast of California.
Reducing Ship Strikes on Large Whales (Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary)
Letter to Linda Krop (National Ocean Service)
Legal Petition Filed to Limit Ship Speeds, Protect Whales in California’s Marine Sanctuaries (Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, Environmental Defense Center, Pacific Environment)
Inaccurate Navigation Charts
As a predominantly research-focused agency, the NOS has managed to avoid a great deal of controversy. The few instances of controversy within the NOS seem to center around the accuracy of their marine navigation charts. As the primary source of nautical maps, most commercial and recreational boaters depend on the NOS for safe navigational maps, yet they sometimes find those charts inaccurate, outdated, and unsafe. For example, the owners of the Oregon-based vessel the New Carissa named the NOA as one of the defendants in a $96 million negligence claim filed in 2001. The complaint alleged that navigation chart published by the NOS incorrectly identified an area as safe for anchorage, leading to the grounding and eventual sinking of the New Carissa. The vessel broke anchor in strong winds, damaging the ship and spilling 70,000 gallons of fuel oil onto the shoreline and into the water. The government filed a counter complaint and the matter was settled privately, with the government conceding $4 million of the faulty charts claim.
The government began using sonar mapping in 1945. The prior “lead-lining” method resulted in charting gaps, which can lead to accidents. Complaints about inaccurate maps have been ongoing since the NOS’s creation, although the exact number or related accidents is unclear. As stated in The New York Times in 1992, this is partially because federal law only requires that commercial liners report accidents that cause $25,000 in damages, and recreational boaters do not have to report groundings.
Outdated U.S. Charts Trouble Navigators (New York Times)
According to Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, “If ever there was a bipartisan issue, this is it. We need to save our oceans. We can say all the things we want to say, but if we don't really show that we mean it by investing the resources … then it is useless.” In 2004, President George W. Bush called for increased oceanic leadership, research, and protection in his US Ocean Action Plan (pdf), yet many argue that he failed to provide the NOS with necessary funding to complete the plan goals. Under President Barack Obama, total NOAA funding request for 2012 is $11.9 million over the FY 2012 estimated budget. This includes a $6.6 million increase for the Integrated Ocean Observing System, a $2 million increase for the enhancement of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment Capacity, an $8 million cut resulting in the termination of Procurement, Acquisition and Construction projects, and a $2.7 million cut for the National Estuarine Research Reserve System.
The National Ocean Service (NOS) has been criticized for a slow response to the need for updated, modernized navigational charts. Both political advocates and the nautical crews who depend on accurate mapping have voiced the need for reform in charting practices. In particular, many recreational boaters feel overlooked by the NOS. A summary of reforms suggested by the nautical community was presented in the 2001 BoatUS Magazine article, Charts Lag Behind Technology (by Elaine Dickinson, BNET). This need for reform was reiterated with the Ocean and Coastal Mapping Integration Act, which passed the House in July 2007. The bill calls for $260 million between 2008 and 2015 to develop a federal ocean and coasting mapping plan. The bill was introduced by Rep. Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam), who told Government Computer News Magazine, “Much of the world’s oceans are imprecisely mapped and that there exists opportunity for improvement in updating incomplete and outdated nautical charts, for example, through greater coordination and an integrated mapping program.”
House bill calls on NOAA to coordinate coastal mapping (by Patrick Marshall, GCN)
Many also feel that NOS needs to reform its business relationships with the public sector. The Federal Register published comments on NOS contracting policies and stated that a “clear commitment to the private sector, in order to assure continued private investment in such new technologies, must be articulated by NOS.” The report encourages several reforms to utilize private research and labor.
Other suggested NOS policy reforms come from the Gerard J. Mangone Center for Marine Policy at the University of Delaware. The Mangone Center conducts studies and hosts a variety of workshop sand roundtable discussions. NOS policy analysis and reform suggestions can be found on the Mangone Center Web site.
The Ocean Studies Board and the National Research Council collaborated on a report entitled “Challenges in Ocean Policy,” which can be read via the National Academies Press.
John Dunnigan was named Assistant Administrator of the National Ocean Service (NOS) in January 2006. He earned an undergraduate degree in communications from Cal State Fullerton, and JD and LLM degrees in law from the University of Washington. Dunnigan began his career with the NOAA as a congressional affairs intern in 1972. From 1984 through 1991 he served in a variety of NOAA positions including Congressional and constituent affairs and to promote the productivity and competitiveness of the U.S. fishing industry. His early career included a stint at the Office of General Counsel, as staff attorney and regional counsel in Gloucester, Massachusetts, St. Petersburg, Florida, and Seattle, Washington. He also served as deputy executive director of the New England Fishery Management Council from 1981 to 1983, and was a self-employed business consultant for a year before returning to NOAA in 1984.
Between 1991 and 2002, Dunnigan served as the executive director of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), an interstate organization responsible for cooperative planning for fisheries conservation, management, scientific research, habitat and sport fish restoration and law enforcement. Under his stewardship, the ASMFC and its state members forged a partnership for conserving and managing coastal fisheries, including the enactment and implementation of the Atlantic Coastal Fisheries Cooperative Management Act.
Beginning in 2002, Dunnigan served as director of the NOAA’s Office of Sustainable Fisheries, leading efforts to promote fishery conservation and management programs aimed at achieving the optimum sustainable annual yield from U.S. fisheries. During this time, Dunnigan was also named as director of the NOAA Ecosystem Goal Team, one of the four mission goals in the agency.
John Dunnigan was named Assistant Administrator of the NOA in January 2006. He earned an undergraduate degree in communications from Cal State Fullerton, and J.D and L.L.M. degrees in law from the University of Washington. Dunnigan began his career with the NOAA as a Congressional affairs intern in 1972. From 1984 through 1991 he served in a variety of NOAA positions including Congressional and constituent affairs and to promote the productivity and competitiveness of the U.S. fishing industry. His early career included a stint at the Office of General Counsel, as staff attorney and regional counsel in Gloucester, MA, St. Petersburg, FL and Seattle, WA. He also served as deputy executive director of the New England Fishery Management Council from 1981 to 1983, and was a self-employed business consultant for a year before returning to NOAA in 1984.