Assistant Administrator of the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research: Who Is Craig McLean?

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Craig N. McLean was named January 21, 2015, to head the office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR) for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). He’s responsible for the agency’s research laboratories, climate program, National Sea Grant, and ocean exploration.


McLean was born August 21, 1957, and grew up on the Passaic River in Rutherford, New Jersey, at a time when the Passaic was too polluted to swim in. He began taking diving lessons at the age of 14 and soon performed decompression diving in order to explore deep-ocean shipwrecks. He worked on dive boats on weekends and when one client filmed the dumping of sewage, McLean took an underwater camera and recorded a sewage barge as it dumped a load on top of him.

He earned a B.A. degree in Zoology in 1979 from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. While at Rutgers, he gained his first experience with the NOAA, sailing on a ship that was investigating sludge dumping and its effect on public health.


After college, McLean worked for a diving company for two years and helped create a nonprofit marine education program for urban students. He then joined the NOAA Commissioned Corps. He began what was to become his almost 25-year association with the Corps as a deck officer and diving officer on a hydrographic survey ship, mapping nautical charts. He then worked at the National Marine Fisheries Service, specializing in developing sustainable fish harvesting strategies. He was executive officer on the Albatross and captain of the NOAA’s largest fisheries ship, the 225-foot Gordon Gunter. He was also deputy director of the National Marine Sanctuaries Program.


McLean returned school to become a lawyer, earning his Juris Doctor from the Quinnipiac College School of Law in Hamden, Connecticut, and did additional studying at George Washington University, the University of Maryland, and Georgetown University Law Center.

As an attorney, McLean practiced marine resource law for NOAA, and provided legal advice in the NOAA General Counsel’s office. He prosecuted violations of the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act. He was also the lawyer and deputy for the National Marine Sanctuary System.


In 2001, McLean was chosen to be the founding director of the NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration. In 2003 and 2004, he directed NOAA expeditions to study the sunken remains of the R.S.S. Titanic.


In 2006, McLean was named deputy assistant administrator for programs and administration of NOAA’s OAR. He subsequently served in NOAA as executive officer of the National Ocean Service. Beginning in April 2010, McLean was OAR’s acting assistant administrator.


McLean is a former chairman of the board of the Sea-Space Symposium. He is a fellow in the Explorer’s Club and the Marine Technology Society (MTS), and former chairman of MTS’s Marine Law and Policy Committee.


He is married to JoAnn McLean and lives in Maryland.

                                                                        -David Wallechinsky, Danny Biederman


To Learn More:

Official Bio

Interview with NOAA’s Craig McLean (Dive and Discover)


Dan Thompson 9 years ago
Thanks for sharing this biographical information about Craig McLean. I also grew up in NJ but in an area less polluted than Rutherford, along the upper Metedeconk in Howell. Funny wording for the sentence, "grew up on the Passaic River in Rutherford, New Jersey, at a time when the Passaic was too polluted to swim in." I think the Passaic River is still not safe for swimming.

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