The Secret History of NOAA

The Surprising Evolution of the Agency

Ryan Taber

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Throughout our history in Cape Ann, fish has been the thing we worship. The Holy Grail for all fisherman looking for a career, or a good meal for the day. But in the past thirty or so years, organizations such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has pushed for the conservation of species deemed to be under threat through vast research and studies. The opinions on the organization go back and forth from everyone you ask, seeming either the great savior of an industry in danger of failing or the final straw for a broken horse. However, many have never been informed on how this organization truly came to be or what its actual goal is, and with information like that, opinions may always change.

As a new America was forming, one with new problems it never knew it would have, certain measures had to be taken. To truly look into the origins of NOAA, one must first look back to one of our most prominent founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson realized that to run a country, the people must first understand the country. This idea resulted in the founding of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey in 1807. Its purpose was to provide charts to the maritime community for safe passage into American ports and along our extensive coastline. The developments that were made inspired new programs. One such program was The Weather Bureau, founded in 1870, and a year later, the U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries was formed. Individually, these organizations were America’s first physical science agency, America’s first program dedicated specifically to the atmospheric sciences, and America’s first conservation agency. These three organizations would soon become a piece in a much larger picture, seen almost a hundred years later.

During President Nixon’s term in office, he was looking for ways to reorganize the executive office and reduce spending. One such method was to unify smaller agencies, so as to have one strong organization. One such organization was the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He believed that a more organized administration could handle certain issues in a substantially stronger way. Nixon cleared up this view when he was communicating with Congress. In these letters, he stated “Our national government today is not structured to make a coordinated attack on the pollutants which debase the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the land that grows our food. Indeed, the present governmental structure for dealing with environmental pollution often defies effective and concerted action,” and so under terms of Reorganization Plan No. 4, the programs of the following organizations were to be moved into NOAA:

–Elements of the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries.
–The marine sport fish program of the Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife.
–The Marine Minerals Technology Center of the Bureau of Mines.
–The Office of Sea Grant Programs.
–Elements of the United States Lake Survey.

And by executive order, these organizations were additionally added.

–The National Oceanographic Data Center.
–The National Oceanographic Instrumentation Center.
–The National Data Buoy Project.

Since that point, the organization has worked tirelessly to improve and protect not only the ecosystem but also the industries involved around said environments. Many may see the organization as the villain of their story due to the hard times they’ve faced through regulations and enforcement laws. But in the long-run, NOAA is just looking towards investing in a stronger future for the creatures of the sea, and the men and woman whose professions ride on how well these animals last. The regulations are put in place to keep a population strong and when a population is strong, there’s always more fish to be caught. However, the grand mess that is the modern fishing ecosystem wouldn’t be the organization’s only concern. NOAA also wishes to understand and predict changes in the weather, climate, oceans, and coastlines. Having a clearer understanding of the world around us allows NOAA to warn the populous of incoming weather dangers. It also clears the way for capturing a more informed vision of the future, seeing the dangers and effects we have on the ecosystem.

In the end, this knowledge may never convince others of the organization’s long history and importance. But one may hope that it paints a clearer picture, one that demonstrates a true purpose which the workers of NOAA strive for in their everyday lives–to show that they seek to follow the three ideals their organization has stood by since its founding: science, service, and stewardship.