|Our nation's coastal areas are in crisis,
and the nation's primary ocean agency plans to do something about it. The
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is leading a major effort
to identify the key coastal and marine ecosystem problems and solutions
with a project called the "State of the Coast Report."
"There is an urgent need to nail down the causes and extent of the problems that plague our coastal areas so solutions can be found," said NOAA Administrator Dr. D. James Baker. "It's a big job, and the State of the Coast Report is an important tool to help us get it done. I can't think of a better time to launch the effort than now -- during the Year of the Ocean -- while the attention of the nation and the world is focused on ocean and coastal issues."
NOAA's State of the Coast Report project will also feed into a broader national ecosystem "report card" initiative spearheaded by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. The OSTP project targets three major ecosystem areas: forest, agricultural, and coastal and marine.
"Ten or 20 years ago, fish kills and other problems from harmful algal blooms -- such as red tides or Pfiesteria -- were somewhat rare, and limited to a few areas of the country. Today, every single coastal state has either had such incidents, or is vulnerable," Baker said. "Significant levels of toxic contaminants are found throughout our coastal areas in sediments, shellfish and animals. In fact, some marine mammals contain among the highest known concentrations of organochlorine contaminants, e.g. PCBs, of any living forms. These are all symptoms of widespread, complex pressures and stresses on our ocean and Great Lakes coastal areas, and we must determine the extent and causes so further damage can be avoided, areas already harmed can be restored, and wise long-term management practices can be put in place," he said.
Baker said the success of the project depends on the involvement of all segments of what he called the "coastal stewardship community" -- government, industry, scientists, researchers and the public. The State of the Coast Report is actually an interactive system, based primarily on a World Wide Web site, that permits a dialogue between segments of the various "communities" involved in coastal issues. According to NOAA officials, this national dialogue is crucial to developing a valid status report on the overall environmental and economic health of coastal areas and resources.
"Everyone talks about noble concepts such as coastal stewardship and the need for a national dialogue on key issues and challenges facing our coastal resource managers," said Dr. Nancy Foster, director of NOAA's National Ocean Service, which developed the State of the Coast Report system. "The State of the Coast Report puts meat on the bones of those concepts, and gives us a central place to actually engage in a national dialogue on the key issues and challenges."
The "meat" of the State of the Coast Report is a series of essays on the condition of various coastal areas, pressures that impact the coastal and marine environment, and how damage in some areas has been prevented or repaired. The initial version of the report system includes 14 such essays.
NOAA's State of the Coast Report meshes nicely with the Office of Science and Technology Policy effort to produce an overall ecosystem report card, according to Baker. "I was pleased to hear the Vice President's call for a national report card on the health of our ecosystems," Baker said. "Monitoring and forecasting the environmental and economic health of our coastal areas and marine resources is a prime mission of NOAA and our National Ocean Service. When OSTP raised the report card challenge, we had already begun building our State of the Coast Report system to knit together many of our existing reports and monitoring programs into one comprehensive and useful tool," he said.
OSTP's final national report card on the health of the nation's ecosystems is slated to be complete in early 1999. The State of the Coast Report system, however, is designed as a long-term tool for coastal resource managers and decision makers.
In addition to essays and broad status reports, NOAA is also using the State of the Coast Report system to deliver technical reports and other information needed by people directly involved in the business of managing and studying coastal and marine resources. NOAA also recognizes the need for education and general public awareness about coastal issues, so educational information is also part of the State of the Coast Report system and is available through the World Wide Web site and in other forms such as CD-ROMs designed for museums and schools.
As one of the nation's premier science agencies, NOAA recognizes the scientific community as an important partner in the development of the State of the Coast Report. The agency plans to unveil the project this month at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Philadelphia.
Contact: Dan Dewell