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January 2017 Issue

Working Together for the Ocean

By Jon White
President and CEO
Consortium for Ocean Leadership

Not many will forget 2016. At the Consortium for Ocean Leadership (COL), we’re looking back on many successes and preparing for more in the future. I’d like to emphasize the word consortium, as it is central to this year’s accomplishments. In a world growing increasingly fragmented by differences of opinion and ideology, finding common ground and forming a group “to undertake an enterprise beyond the resources of any one member” grows in importance. I’ll add one phrase to Webster’s definition—that the whole (consortium) is made stronger by the sum of its parts (individual members and partners). COL is proud to serve as the voice of the ocean science and technology community, to represent fine institutions and to work with outstanding partners. Now, more than ever, these partnerships are needed to ensure a healthy, prosperous ocean.

2016 in Review
As a consortium, COL convenes diverse audiences to advance ocean science and technology priorities. At our industry forum, “Sound in the Sea” (http://bit.ly/2f0kMeD), ocean noise stakeholders, including representatives from academia, ocean industry, technological groups, environmental and scientific nonprofits, the military and other federal agencies, came together for frank, open dialog. The cross-sector consensus that was achieved will inform forthcoming recommendations and actions COL is developing to advance the understanding of sound in the sea, including collaborations needed for technology-based mitigations.

Likewise, our public policy forum, “Science and Solutions for a Resilient Ocean” (http://bit.ly/21jzG0v), brought together a broad spectrum of stakeholders: industry, Congress, federal agencies and academia. A theme echoed throughout was the need to expand ocean research and exploration to better understand changes in Earth systems, which will improve decision making and enhance resiliency of our oceanic planet and its inhabitants.

COL’s role extends to that of manager of programs with community-wide benefits. In 2016, the COL-managed, National Science Foundation-funded Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI, http://oceanobservatories.org) completed its construction phase. Seven arrays with 89 platforms, spanning the North and South Atlantic and Pacific, provide scientists and the public with more than 100,000 near-real-time oceanographic data products for free online (http://oceanobservatories.org/data-portal). As we move into the operations and management phase with our partners, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Oregon State University, University of Washington and Rutgers University, we will ensure this groundbreaking system addresses the critical science themes that will lead to better ocean understanding and management.

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI, http://gulfresearchinitiative.org), which is supported by COL, continued investigating impacts of oil, dispersed oil and dispersant on Gulf of Mexico ecosystems. During 2016, publications from GoMRI-funded research ranged from studies using spectrometry to assess organic species in marine sediments to examining the performance of the Navy’s RELO ocean prediction ensemble. The call for proposals (http://bit.ly/2f8xgRi) funding two-year awards for the final round of research is underway. Registration is open for the 2017 Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and Ecosystem Science Conference, “Ecosystem Approaches to Gulf Response and Restoration” (http://bit.ly/2g4PS6H).

The National Ocean Sciences Bowl (NOSB, http://nosb.org), which celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2017, continues to fill the ocean science void in high-school curricula, educating the next generation of scientists and expanding ocean literacy. The NOSB challenges students’ knowledge of ocean-related topics, which includes cross disciplines of biology, chemistry, policy, physics and geology. Last year’s theme, “Our Changing Ocean: Science for Strong Coastal Communities” (http://bit.ly/2g3fDDh), encouraged increased understanding of science needed to sustain strong communities.

Moving Ahead
In 2017, COL will advance five priorities on behalf of the ocean science and technology community. Without these, the U.S. falls behind in growing its understanding of our world and totters on the brink of losing its maritime security and economic competitiveness.

Enhance Abilities to Observe and Monitor Our Changing Ocean. Cutting-edge technology keeps us at the forefront of ocean monitoring (OOI arrays, oceanographic ships, U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System components, etc.), which provide data and information for science-based decision making. We must find and fill gaps in these capabilities, advocate for suitable budgets and ensure ocean observing infrastructure is included in the nation’s infrastructure portfolio. This will result in wide-ranging societal benefits, including improved prediction capabilities, increased maritime domain awareness, and better understanding of linkages to human health issues.

Advance Scientific Knowledge of the Ocean. Every marine study undertaken advances our understanding of the ocean and informs decision making. Nationwide benefits of expanding basic research and analysis include a safer homeland (improved understanding of and responses to extreme weather events), increased economic prosperity (growing the blue economy), and a more secure food source for our expanding population (advancing sustainable aquaculture).

Increase Ocean Science Education. An ocean-literate society is the base needed to develop the next generation of scientists and introduce marine perspectives across myriad topics. This is achieved by prioritizing ocean education, including informal education efforts (e.g., NOSB). Each of us has a role to play in this endeavor, which will keep the U.S. at the forefront of science and technology, grow the economy and maintain our global competitiveness.

Improve Access to the Ocean and Its Science. Marine advances require access to the ocean, data and information. In today’s fiscally constrained environment, the latter two are key. Novel technologies that improve and allow access are increasingly critical in an era dominated by fiscal restraint, secondary missions and experiments, and computer-controlled systems operating remotely.

Encourage Adequate and Sustained Federal Commitment to Ocean Science and Technology. Without federal commitment to the national scientific enterprise, our other priorities are wishful thinking. Budget prioritization needs to echo policy initiatives, and we must move beyond the status quo. Nationwide benefits from this investment range from enhanced maritime superiority and homeland security to increased collaborative and interdisciplinary solutions in the federal ocean science enterprise.

As the leading voice of the ocean science and technology community, we are ready to ensure all Americans (in concert with our international partners) understand the benefits of and take steps necessary to ensure a healthy, productive ocean.

Working together as a consortium will help us reach this common goal, and I look forward to achieving that success.

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