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Marine Mammals and Endangered Species

With enactment of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (1972) and the Endangered Species Act (1973), NOAA was given specific responsibility for the conservation of marine mammals and endangered marine species. The Marine Mammal Protection Act charged the Department of Commerce/NOAA with federal functions required to ensure the protection of marine mammals and imposed a U.S. moratorium on the taking and importation of marine mammals. The NOAA Administrator serves as the U.S. representative to the International Whaling Commission and over the years has made significant progress in developing and implementing substantial reductions in worldwide whaling activities.

The Endangered Species Act charged the Departments of Commerce/NOAA and Interior with responsibility for the conservation, protection and propagation of species and subspecies of fish and wildlife that are presently threatened with extinction, which are endangered, or are likely to become endangered.

With enactment of the legislation in 1973, NOAA became responsible for most marine species of mammals and fish, reptiles, and invertebrates. Administering these responsibilities required the development and implementation of both: control measures (e.g., surveillance to stop illegal imports and exports of marine mammals and endangered species and regulation of the incidental take of marine mammals like porpoises in commercial fisheries); and strong supporting research programs. Since 1973, significant activities in this area have included:

• administration of the Pribilof Islands in the Bering Sea -- a special reservation for the conservation and management of a herd of North Pacific fur seals under a four-nation agreement supervised by the United States;

• major improvements in our understanding of the life history and behavior of sea turtles and cooperative efforts with industry to develop a "turtle excluder device" to help protect sea turtles from fish trawls;

• a collaborative effort with industry to design and implement an escape device which allows fishermen to rescue porpoises caught in tuna nets; and

• substantial improvements in our understanding of the nature and current status of whale stocks worldwide.

Ocean and Coastal Resources

In 1972, Congress recognized a pressing need to conserve the Nation's coastal lands and shorelines and passed the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA). With the President's signature, this Act established a significant partnership between the Federal Government and coastal states -- a partnership which recognized joint responsibility for a program to ensure the wise use of coastal resources.

Responsibility for the Federal share of this partnership was assigned to NOAA. Under the CZMA, states were encouraged to develop individual management plans for their coastal zones. The Federal Government, through NOAA, was to establish general guidelines for such plans and provide financial and technical assistance to the states as they developed and began implementing the resulting coastal zone management programs. Planning grants were provided to states through 1979. Once a plan was approved, the Act authorized NOAA to provide direct financial support, also in the form of grants, to assist states in administering their new programs. By 1979, all thirty coastal states and four of the five eligible territories had participated in the program and coastal programs in 19 states, covering 68% of the Nation's shoreline, had received Federal approval. [27] By 1986, ninety percent of the U.S. coastline would be covered by approved Federal plans in twenty-nine states and territories. Federal responsibility to encourage participation in this voluntary program has been successfully pursued.

In addition to direct financial assistance, NOAA has administered an additional incentive for state participation in the program. Known as the "consistency provisions," Section 312 of the Act requires that, once a program is approved, Federal actions directly affecting a state's coastal zone must be consistent with that approved program. NOAA remains responsible for continuous monitoring and evaluation of state programs to ensure their conformance to the CZMA and, therefore, the ability of the states to require Federal consistency.

The 1976 amendments to the CZMA established a ten-year, $1.2 billion Coastal Energy Impact Program to provide financial assistance to coastal states and communities affected by coastal energy activity. These amendments recognized the fact that the coastal zone provides an attractive site for much of the Nation's energy activities, including power plants, refineries and offshore oil and gas development. NOAA was responsible for administering this program which was designed to help states with approved coastal zone programs deal with the economic, social and environmental costs associated with energy development.

Section 315 of the CZMA authorized NOAA to participate with states in a 50/50 cost-sharing program to acquire and manage special, relatively undisturbed estuarine areas set aside to serve as natural field laboratories in which to study and gather data on the natural and human processes occurring within those critical environments. NOAA began immediately to establish a nationwide network of biologically and geographically unique estuarine "reserves" and, by September 30, 1980, nine such sanctuaries were already in operation in: Oregon, Georgia, Hawaii, Ohio, Florida, California, Washington, and Rhode Island.

A similar program to protect unique areas of ocean waters was authorized by Title III of the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA) enacted in 1972. This legislation authorizes the Secretary of Commerce, with the approval of the President, to designate ocean waters as marine sanctuaries for the purpose of preserving or restoring their conservation, recreational, ecological or esthetic value. The first such marine sanctuary, was designated in 1975 in waters off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, to protect the wreckage of the Civil War iron-clad ship USS Monitor. As of September 30, 1980, two other sanctuaries had been designated:

• the Key Largo Coral Reef Marine Sanctuary near Miami, Florida which protects a 100-square mile coral reef area adjacent to the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park; and

• the Northern Channel Islands Marine Sanctuary off the California coast designated to protect an area vital to a number of species of marine birds and mammals.

Throughout the seventies and eighties, NOAA has continued to implement the marine sanctuaries program to provide long-term, comprehensive management for these special marine areas focused on resource protection, public education and research/assessment aimed at improving marine resources management decisions and encouraging maximum public use consistent with resource protection.

In the area of marine pollution, Congress enacted two principal pieces of legislation in the 1970's which guided NOAA activities in this area. The 1972 Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act, in addition to establishing the marine sanctuaries program, charged NOAA with monitoring and research on ocean dumping activities as well as research on the possible, long-range effects of pollution, overfishing, and man-induced changes in ocean ecosystems.

The Ocean Pollution Research and Development and Monitoring Planning Act of 1978 (known as the Ocean Pollution Planning Act) recognized the need for a national program to investigate the fates and effects of pollutants on the marine environment and charged NOAA with lead-agency responsibility for developing and implementing a continuous five-year plan for such a program. Throughout the seventies and into the eighties, NOAA responded to these charges with a number of activities including:

• dumpsite investigations and supporting laboratory research to determine the consequences of ocean dumping of dredged material and municipal and industrial wastes;

• a comprehensive program of research to detect man-made changes in the ocean and Great Lakes environments which may have long-term, adverse consequences;

• multi-disciplinary studies in selected coastal regions including the New York Bight, Puget Sound, Gulf of Mexico, and Great Lakes to improve understanding of the dynamics of these ecosystems and strengthen a capability to predict the effects of pollutants and other man-induced changes to those ecosystems;

• scientific support to the Coast Guard in the event of a spill of oil or other hazardous material in coastal waters;

• providing financial support for ocean pollution research development and monitoring projects under Section 6 of the National Ocean Pollution Planning Act; and

• developing, and updating biannually, the comprehensive five-year Federal Ocean Pollution Research, Development and Monitoring Plan and ensuring Federal agency compliance with that Plan.

Research and Development

Throughout the seventies NOAA strengthened its research and development programs aimed at improving our understanding of the oceanic and atmospheric environments and applying that knowledge to the solution of environmental problems. Highlights of activities in the seventies (in addition to the marine pollution research described previously) include:

• participation in the Global Weather Experiment conducted in 1978-1979; this "world's largest experiment" [28] involved 140 countries, five international organizations, 5,000 technicians, and satellites from the United States, U.S.S.R., Japan and the European Space Agency. The Experiment was designed to produce a better understanding of atmospheric conditions and processes in order to develop realistic extended range forecast models; assess the limits of predictability for weather systems; and design a global observing system for routine numerical prediction;

• accelerated research on hurricane intensity and movement, including Project STORMFURY - an experiment designed to determine whether destructive hurricane winds could be reduced by cloud seeding;

• the Florida Area Cumulus Experiment to test a hypothesis that stimulating cumulus cloud growth, through seeding, could produce significant increases in tropical rainfall;

• a Federal-state cooperative program to evaluate the effectiveness of weather modification in the States of Utah and North Dakota; in a related area, pursuant to the Weather Modification Reporting Act of 1972, NOAA assumed responsibility for recording all non-federally supported weather modification activities in the U.S.;

• accelerated research to determine the extent to which climate can be predicted and the extent of man's influence on climate. In addition to continuing activities like the Geophysical Monitoring for Climatic Change program, NOAA's involvement in climate-related activities was enhanced in 1978 with passage of the National Climate Program Act, which charged the Agency with developing a National Climate Program Plan and coordinating the work of Federal and non-Federal participants to estimate climate trends and predict future changes;

• expansion of participation in the National Sea Grant College Programs. By 1980, fourteen institutions had achieved Sea Grant College status and NOAA was supporting marine research, education and advisory services at over 100 institutions around the Nation.

One of the most exciting aspects of NOAA's research in the seventies involved undersea science. NOAA support for undersea research to address the Agency's scientific responsibilities began in 1971 with the establishment of the Manned Undersea Science and Technology Office (MUS&T). From 1971 to 1980, MUS&T conducted a program of support for submersible and habitat-based research designed to address three principal objectives (MUS&T Annual Report, FY 1972):

• provide manned underwater and operational support for NOAA investigations involving marine resources and environmental problems which require human subsurface observations and data collection;

• foster and coordinate manned undersea science projects with other federal and state agencies, industry, research institutions, and universities; and

• develop scientific and technical criteria for civilian undersea facilities and platforms through the experience gained by using available habitats and submersibles.

Pursuant to this third objective, and with a fiscal year 1976 appropriation of $1.5 million, MUS&T concentrated its efforts on completion of a feasibility study and conceptual design for OCEANLAB - a proposed large, mobile saturation submersible that could operate autonomously in a variety of underwater environments. The potentially high cost of such a multi-purpose facility, however, forced MUS&T, in consultation with the Department of Commerce, the Office of Management and Budget, Congress and the undersea research community, to re-evaluate the OCEANLAB concept. Pursuant to this 1978 review, which included an analysis of the scientific needs and requirements of the research community conducted by the National Research Council's Ocean Science Board, NOAA re-directed the MUS&T/OCEANLAB program. Instead of constructing a single, government-owned laboratory, NOAA's program, in cooperation with university-based research institutions, was to increase the use of existing habitats and to encourage scientists to use additional underwater tools and techniques such as saturation diving, submersibles and remotely operated vehicles. The policy guidance for this new direction was described in a 1980 document entitled "The Undersea Research Program of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration." [29]

In 1977, NOAA established the first regional underwater research facility. The underwater habitat, HYDROLAB, located in St. Croix, which had recently been acquired and refurbished by NOAA from the Perry Foundation, became the focal point of undersea research in the Caribbean. By the 1980's, NOAA was supporting a three-tiered undersea research program composed of:

• five National Undersea Research Cooperative Programs including the St. Croix program;

• NOAA's share of support for the deep submersible ALVIN (jointly funded with the Navy and the National Science Foundation) and a cooperative program to provide scientists with access to shallow-water submersibles and remotely-operated vehicles; and

• pursuant to section 21(e) of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act Amendments of 1978, a program of research and development related to diver safety.

Operational Weather Satellites

NOAA's operational meteorological satellite program became a reality during the 1970's. The geostationary satellite experiment begun in 1966 was established as a continuous, operational program in 1974/75 with the launch of NASA's Synchronous Meteorological Satellites (SMS) 1 and 2; these satellites were the prototype for NOAA's Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES). GOES-1, the first NOAA-owned and operated geostationary satellite, was launched on October 16, 1975. The first NOAA-funded satellite in the NOAA system of polar-orbiting environmental satellites was launched in June 1979. Throughout the seventies NOAA began to establish itself as a world leader in application of space-based observing systems to operational environmental forecasting and related services.

In November 1979, a Presidential directive assigned NOAA with responsibility for the development of an operational earth remote sensing program. LANDSAT, an experimental earth sensing satellite system, was initiated in 1972 with the launch of LANDSAT-1 by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration as a research and development program. NOAA was directed to assume operational responsibility for the system beginning in 1983. With enactment of the Land Remote Sensing Commercialization Act of 1984, the Secretary of Commerce was authorized to commercialize the LANDSAT system and, in September 1985, a contract was signed with the Earth Observation Satellite Company (EOSAT). EOSAT's original objective is to establish LANDSAT as a commercially unable [Ed. viable] civil remote sensing industry in ten years. EOSAT took responsibility for the operation of the current LANDSAT system October 18, 1985.


All of these examples illustrate the breadth and excitement of NOAA's experience during the seventies. This experience was preparing the new organization to emerge as a mature, cohesive agency focused on the science and services associated with predicting and responding to changes in the global earth environment.

Publication of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NOAA Central Library.

Last Updated: June 8, 2006 9:24 AM

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