The land grant system of colleges and universities in the United States of America was created by the Morrill Act of 1862 under President Abraham Lincoln. The Morrill Act provided for the establishment of educational institutions by granting federally controlled land to the states to establish and endow "land-grant" colleges. The mission of these institutions as set forth in law is to focus on the teaching of applied agriculture, science, and engineering. Though a small number of land grant colleges remain private schools, most became large public universities that today offer a full spectrum of educational opportunities. The Morrill Act and the establishment of the Land Grant system of colleges and universities advanced what is widely regarded as one of the preeminent higher education systems worldwide.
During a meeting of the American Fisheries Society in 1963, a University of Minnesota professor, Athelstan Spilhaus, first suggested the establishment of Sea Grant colleges in universities that wished to develop oceanic work. The idea was to model this new program after the Land Grant college program and the name "Sea Grant" was chosen to illustrate this parallel. In support of the Sea Grant plan, an oceanographer, John A. Knauss, from the University of Rhode Island proposed the provision of leases of offshore parcels of ocean and seafloor to fund the program. This idea was supported by then Rhode Island Senator Claiborne Pell, but that course of action was eventually altered in favor of direct U.S. congressional appropriation for the Sea Grant program. The Sea Grant College and Program Act of 1966 sanctioned the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and later the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) authority to initiate and support education, research, and extension through development of Sea Grant colleges at public and private institutions of higher education. The aims of the Sea Grant colleges included supporting development of marine resources, research within the scientific community, and provision of information to the public and decision makers.
As a fundamental tenet of Sea Grant, university-based science and research is recognized as a critical source of unbiased technical support and advice for decision makers and stakeholders in the coastal communities that Sea Grant College Programs serve. The Sea Grant Marine Advisory Service, now known as Sea Grant Extension, was developed as a conduit for the provision of this technology transfer. Additionally, a bi-directional relationship was established between research and extension. Extension serves as a link between university-based research and stakeholders throughout coastal communities, providing and translating research findings while also informing the university on issues of importance to stakeholders, thus helping to guide and inform the research agenda. That many extension faculty live and work in the communities they serve contributes to the Sea Grant reputation of “honest brokers.” This approach to solving marine and coastal issues fulfills the Sea Grant mission to serve as a nexus of connectivity for all levels of government, industry, and communities to the University enterprise.
Sea Grant was launched with the establishment of five foundational programs, today there are 33 Sea Grant College Programs throughout the U.S. coastal and Great Lakes states and the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and Guam. From its inception and for approximately 30 years thereafter, the Sea Grant College Program focused its efforts heavily on fisheries and aquaculture. As additional programs were established throughout the U.S., Marine Advisory Services were prominent program elements.
The realization that, except perhaps for the direct extraction of resources from our oceans, our policies, practices, and behaviors on land are responsible for most of the issues we face in our oceans and on our coasts, resulted in novel approaches and focus areas for Sea Grant College programs throughout the U.S. For the last 20 years and continuing today, Sea Grant addresses issues such as “Smart Growth,” low impact development and transit oriented development in coastal communities; understanding climate impacts and preparation and response to hurricanes, coastal storms, and tsunamis; linkages among our environment, economy, and our coastal tourism industries; securing our water resources including understanding and informing watershed ecology, flood mitigation, and wastewater infrastructure; and understanding our interactions with the marine environment including fish and shellfish farming, seafood safety, and fisheries management.
With Sea Grant network contacts at over 300 universities and research institutes and the NOAA National Sea Grant Office (NSGO), individual Sea Grant programs maintain connections to issues at a national level while remaining responsive to local and regional needs. Sea Grant’s national network and associated partnerships at all levels are critical to the success of the Sea Grant College Program. In addition to core federal support and matching funds from their home state, each university Sea Grant program secures extramural support from a diverse mix of funding opportunities from local, state and national government agencies, foundations, non-profit organizations, and community groups. These partnerships and the leveraging of capacity from various sources allowed the Sea Grant network to convert a $68 million federal U.S. investment into an economic value of more than $575 million in 2015 alone.
Because the Sea Grant model is, by design, inherently flexible both culturally and administratively, there is substantial opportunity for other countries to adapt the model to their own needs while developing cooperative programs with international partners. Working closely with Sea Grant and NOAA in the U.S., in 2000 the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (MOMAF) in the Republic of Korea established the Korea Sea Grant Program with a network of seven programs based at national universities around the country. The Sea Grant vision for establishing programs internationally, "…is to establish a global network of committed nations which apply the Sea Grant model to build and sustain global coastal and marine resources…" as stated by Dr. Ron Baird, former director of the National Sea Grant College Program. Dr. Baird, further stated, "A connected global network whereby information and technical knowledge flow freely among national programs could contribute enormously to our capacity to address management issues at global and regional scales."
Directors from several Sea Grant programs in the U.S. and the Republic of Korea, along with representatives from the NOAA Oceanic and Atmospheric Research International Office, have been working with leadership and faculty from the Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology and others to host conferences and workshops and to conduct research to better understand pathways for the formation of a Japan Sea Grant Program. Together, these individuals have demonstrated their commitment toward the development of Japan Sea Grant to provide the highest level of excellence in scientific research to serve communities throughout Japan. Ultimately, what we, Sea Grant, do is focused on people. It is the human resources that we develop today that will serve the future needs of communities, resource managers, industries, and governments in protecting our coastal and ocean resources and economies. The formation of Japan Sea Grant will serve to connect University research excellence and education to communities, will provide science and technology to better inform policies on coastal and marine issues, and will encourage information exchange and foster international collaboration, all directed toward the ultimate goal of building sustainable and resilient communities and economies throughout Japan.