US Sea Grant College Program

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The US Sea Grant College Program was established in 1966 as a federal-state partnership designed to apply the capacities of universities to coastal resource use and conservation. It is the premiere US program for integrating across education, research and extension to address coastal and marine issues of local and national concern. Sea Grant, with its national network of 32 universities, serves as a model for how to link national topics of concern into sustained responses to those topics within the localized geographic areas where each university operates. The experiences of each member institution in turn nourish the network as a whole.

Figure 1:The Sea Grant Network


The National Sea Grant College and Program Act of 1966 established a partnership between government, academia and business. Before this program, the predominant model at universities was to focus on pure or basic sciences that were often detached from the needs of society and business. The structure and philosophy of the Sea Grant program is based on the time-tested paradigm of American “Land Grant Colleges” — a network of agricultural colleges that pioneered agricultural innovations resulting from applied research that was coupled with its transfer to farmers and other users through education and extension services. The first four universities joined the program in 1971. This coincided with the establishment of the national coastal zone management program, with which Sea Grant has maintained a close partnership over the years. A Sea Grant intern program was initiated in 1979 to bring graduate students to Washington D.C. to build their leadership skills in policy development and research.


The Sea Grant College Program operates on a simple premise, i.e. apply the intellect of universities and research institutions to the problems and opportunities associated with the use of coastal ecosystems. Sea Grant’s mission is: “to provide integrated research, extension and education activities that increase citizens’ understanding and responsible use of the nation’s ocean, coastal and Great Lakes resources and support the informed personal, policy and management decisions that are integral to realizing this vision”.[1] The Sea Grant network sustains programs in 32 universities with activities in over 300 affiliated universities that together involve several thousand researchers, educators, extension professionals and students [2]. In contrast to conventional university-based academic research, Sea Grant institutions are committed to making investments that allow researchers, educators, students and extension agents in the field to work towards collaborative solutions to coastal and marine problems of concern to society.


  • National

The National Sea Grant College Program is administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the Department of Commerce. It is supported by approximately US$62 million annually in federal funds that are distributed to member universities in coastal states. The National Sea Grant Office in NOAA provides administrative and programmatic support by developing national program initiatives, program monitoring and evaluation, and communicating program activities to other NOAA and federal offices.

The Sea Grant Association is a non-profit organization comprised of a representative from each Sea Grant institution. The Association provides the mechanism for state and national programs to coordinate their activities, set priorities at both the regional and national level, and provide a unified voice for on issues of importance to oceans and coasts. All state programs have Advisory Boards or Councils that provide programmatic advice and counsel. These advisory structures are composed of a wide variety of stakeholders. They play a pivotal role in identifying priority coastal and marine issues and actions that the Sea Grant programs can take to address those issues.

  • State-by-State

The Sea Grant structure is designed to allow for significant autonomy at the state level. Most programs are administered by a single university; a few programs are structured as consortiums. Each program maintains an administrative office, which manages the research, education, extension, and communication activities, and distributes funds on an annual or biannual basis to a wide range of institutions (i.e., it is not limited to participants at the host university) through a competitive grants process. Programs provide state university resources as matching funds to those disbursed by NOAA. Sea Grant is required to match every $2 of federal funding with $1 of non-federal funds [1].

Much of the strength of the Sea Grant program lies in its local, grass roots approach. Each of the participating universities or university networks has a staff of extension agents and educators that address the needs of their communities and their associated ecosystems. Sea Grant’s dedication to local service is supported by strong regional and national networks. A successful program that is developed in one community may be shared and modified for use in another community thousands of miles away. The national Sea Grant network has formed 10 national “theme teams” to address issues of national importance that have c manifestations at the state and local levels [3]. Thematic focus areas gather the intellectual resources from throughout the national network, sharing information and ideas, and acting as a well-informed voice for the responsible stewardship of coastal ecosystems.

  • Adaptive Management

The National Sea Grant Review Panel is an element of the original legislative structure of the Sea Grant program. The 15 appointed members of the panel advise on overall program policy, comment on strategic directions, and conduct regular four-year assessment reviews of each state Sea Grant Program. Informed by these reviews, each Sea Grant program revises their priorities based on evaluations of past performance and identification of the emerging best management practices.

The focus of individual Sea Grant College Programs must be both consistent with the overall vision and direction of the NOAA National Sea Grant Program, and attuned to the environmental, social and economic priorities and problems at the state level. State programs are designed to respond in a timely fashion to locally identified education, research and extension needs. This simultaneous “top-down” and “bottom-up” approach provides for focused long-term strategies for impacting national-level marine and coastal priorities, while allowing each program to tackle important local issues.

Core Elements of the Sea Grant Program

  • Applied Research –Sea Grant supports approximately 500 research projects annually
  • Extension – Transferring knowledge and good practices is a crucial component of Sea Grant. Sea Grant’s network of more than 300 outreach experts work with coastal community members and decision makers to provide informal education and transfer new technologies.
  • Education – Sea Grant works with elementary and secondary school teachers to engage students in environmental sciences. Sea Grant also supports undergraduate and graduate students through fellowships and other programs.
  • Communications – Each program within the Sea Grant network has a dedicated communications staff that works to deliver accurate, reliable, science-based information.

Priority Activities

Sea Grants current priority activities include [4]:

  • Improve Public Safety: initiating boating safety and improving seafood handling techniques
  • Develop Sustainable Fisheries and Aquaculture: to rebuild fish and shellfish populations and develop environmentally sustainable techniques to culture fresh and saltwater species
  • Work with Coastal Communities to Plan Growth: Sea Grant connects with coastal communities to foster sustainable growth and development.
  • Discover Marine-based Pharmaceutical Drugs
  • Combat Aquatic Nuisance Species (ANS)
  • Educate Thousands of Students Each Year

See also

Internal Links

External Links

Further Reading


The main authors of this article are Stephen Bloye Olsen and Glenn Ricci
Please note that others may also have edited the contents of this article.

Citation: Stephen Bloye Olsen; Glenn Ricci; (2020): US Sea Grant College Program. Available from [accessed on 23-04-2024]