Last week, I wrote about what makes ocean water look a certain color. One of the big things that determines this is a very small thing – phytoplankton. These are the microscopic plants that form the basis of the food chain. They are so important that we monitor them from space using satellites. This helps us to understand the productivity of our oceans. But, this monitoring is not cheap. The monitoring comes via the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the federal agency in charge of studying our oceans and managing its resources. As you likely know, many government-funded activities have been interrupted because of the recent shutdown. That includes sorting out a budget for NOAA for the Fiscal year 2019. Writing a column about budgets could be exceptionally boring – except that the stuff that is in the budget is really cool and includes a lot of things that you might not otherwise know about.

You probably have never heard of IOOS. IOOS stands for “integrated ocean observing system” and is an amazing array of technology and people across the country collecting ocean-related information. Each region has its own group. Maine is part of NERACOOS, the Northeast Regional Association of Coastal Ocean Observing Systems, which stretches from Long Island Sound up to the Scotian Shelf in the Canadian Maritimes. It collects practical data on weather and ocean conditions used by those working on the ocean like fishermen and shipping companies. During last week’s winds, they recorded wind speeds close to 50 knots (that’s 55 miles per hour) and waves up to 35 feet. All of the information collected is available to the public on their website ( where you can view sea-surface temperatures or look at wind and wave conditions in a specific area. There’s a map of all the buoys along with the data sets you can look at on their website. You can even text a buoy to receive a current report. This is important stuff.
In addition to funding for ocean observation, the FY2019 budget includes a bunch of money for research. This includes research on climate change, funding for ocean exploration, ocean acidification, and for applied research offices like Sea Grant. In Maine, we are lucky to have a wonderful Sea Grant program that is active in fisheries, coastal resource management and education (
There are also places worth protecting in the ocean for a number of reasons – unique habitats, threatened populations of animals or plants, or prime nursery or breeding areas for species that are commercially valuable – to name a few. The NOAA budget includes funding for marine sanctuaries, MPAS (Marine Protected Areas) and the National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS) – places like the Wells Reserve, Maine’s one NERRS property. It is a lovely place dedicated to education and research (
And, then there are the fisheries. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS, often spoken as “nymphs”) is the branch of NOAA that manages fisheries. They have regional Fisheries Management Councils (FMCs) in each are of the country. These got a big (12%) boost in funding this year. Specific funding will go toward work on marine mammals and sea turtles as well as habitat conservation and restoration. There is also dedicated funding for each region’s FMC, including ours here in New England, which is always tackling thorny issues and trying to manage a complex ecosystem both for commercial and conservation purposes.
While national budgets may seemingly fall under the category of “boring but important,” all of this really is important – not just from a satellite-global view, but also from a local, boots in the mud, view. It is important to know what the winds and waves are doing and also to know that those managing our regional fisheries have all of the tools that they need to do a thorough job. And, it is just neat to look up at the sky on a clear winter’s night and think that some satellite up there is taking pictures of our frosty Gulf of Maine.

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