A new NOAA administrator can help America build back bluer

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On Thursday, the Senate will begin considering the nomination of Dr. Rick Spinrad to be the next administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). I urge our senators to confirm him swiftly. It’s been seven years since this important agency has had a confirmed presidential appointee at the helm. 

Spinrad’s nomination is an important step in President Biden’s pledge to address the climate crisis and restore the role of science in federal decision-making. With 35 years of experience in government and academia, including service as NOAA’s chief scientist and as a senior executive in the U.S. Navy, Spinrad is the committed, competent leader we need to meet these challenges. 

I know firsthand that he is the right person to rebuild bipartisan ocean leadership, address the climate crisis and steer our country toward a robust blue economy — one that values ocean ecosystem services and deploys data and technology to guide decisions that benefit the environment and society.  

For two decades, the U.S. has enacted bipartisan policies to better conserve, manage and understand our ocean. By collaborating across the aisle, we’ve worked to reform U.S. fishery management, crack down on illegal fishing and protect special places and critical habitats, while expanding our knowledge of the ocean with scientific research and the use of new technology. That history established the United States as a global leader in ocean science and management. 

Biden has set forth an ambitious vision to “build back better.” Starting with that foundation of international ocean leadership, with Spinrad leading NOAA, we’re in a position to do even more: We can build back bluer. 

Building back bluer means investing in science to understand current and future ocean conditions in a changing climate. Offshore observation networks, weather satellites and eDNA technology can provide information to improve everything from weather forecasts to climate models to shipping routes. This will make us more responsive and adaptive, particularly in the face of increasingly extreme weather. 

We can create jobs when we sustainably manage fisheries, invest in new, renewable resources like wind and wave energy, keep our coasts clean by reducing plastic pollution, and conserve ocean habitats. The breathtaking coastlines and abundance of marine life here in Monterey Bay, Calif., is the foundation of a multi-billion dollar tourism industry.   

The ocean has generated more than half our planet’s oxygen. It provides seafood that nourishes billions of people around the world, and it protects us from the most severe impacts of climate change — both of which support our economy and national security. Spinrad understands that these invaluable ecosystem services must be protected. To build back bluer, we also must use science to reduce the ocean impacts of fossil fuel and mineral extraction, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, shipping and waste disposal.

I worked with Spinrad as counsel in the U.S. Senate and proudly served with him during the Obama administration. I was honored to contribute to a forthcoming book about the blue economy, which he edited prior to his nomination. He understands the necessary blueprint for the science, innovations and partnerships that can move us into a modern, sustainable and technology-forward era.  

I’m optimistic about our progress, with Spinrad at the helm of NOAA and the continued commitment from the administration, which has proposed a 50 percent budget increase for this premier science agency. The agency is back on track to benefit all Americans — from farmers in landlocked states, who depend on reliable weather predictions, to coastal communities and island territories facing the highest risk from severe floods and hurricanes. 

A healthy ocean provides us with life-giving resources. We deserve leadership that will invest in science and in science-based solutions to sustain those resources for generations to come. It’s an investment in our future that is long overdue. It’s the right time for Rick Spinrad to lead NOAA.

Margaret Spring is chief conservation and science officer at Monterey Bay Aquarium and contributor to the new book, “Preparing a Workforce for the New Blue Economy.” She previously served as counsel in the U.S. Senate and NOAA appointee in the Obama administration.

Tags Climate change climate crisis Fisheries illegal fishing Joe Biden National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration NOAA ocean conservation oceans Rick Spinrad

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