The National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) released the Strategic Plan for Federal Research and Monitoring of Ocean Acidification (Strategic Research Plan) in 2014 as part of the Federal government’s fulfillment of the Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act of 2009 (FOARAM Act, P.L. 111-11, Subtitle D). The Strategic Research Plan, which was prepared by the Interagency Working Group on Ocean Acidification (IWG-OA) under the NSTC Subcommittee on Ocean Science and Technology, outlines what research and information dissemination efforts the Federal government should undertake to guide its response to ocean acidification (OA). Federal agency members of the IWG-OA work to align agency activities with the research activities outlined in the Strategic Research Plan and achieve complementarity among agencies, with the aim of meeting all of the goals of the Strategic Research Plan. To aid this process, the IWG-OA developed this informal Implementation Plan for the Strategic Research Plan.
This document has three primary objectives: 1) identify the needs and activities described in the Strategic Research Plan that are currently being addressed by Federal agencies; 2) coordinate future Federal activities that are guided by and align with the goals of the Strategic Research Plan; and 3) communicate Federal actions on ocean acidification to the public. Implementation of the Strategic Research Plan will be an ongoing, long-term, iterative process to ensure that Federal ocean acidification activities address goals outlined in the Strategic Research Plan. In this ongoing work, the IWG-OA will be vigilant about identifying parts of the Strategic Research Plan not currently being addressed and, when gaps exist, Federal agency members of the IWG-OA will work to address the needs that fulfill their mission.
Federal agencies will use the Strategic Research Plan as a guide for future Federal investment addressing ocean acidification, but agencies are not limited by the goals outlined in the Strategic Research Plan. For example, the FOARAM Act calls for Federal agencies to develop adaptation and mitigation strategies for ocean acidification. Specific research activities addressing this topic, however, are not captured by the goals of the Strategic Research Plan. Similarly, while the need for analyses to assess vulnerability to various scenarios of ocean acidification is emphasized in the Strategic Research Plan, the goals of the Strategic Research Plan do not capture this activity well. The IWG-OA expects that agencies will engage on these lines of work, and the group will capture those activities in its reporting, as required.
This Implementation Plan represents a summary of current, planned, and prioritized Federal activities. In general, each agency should focus on mission-related goals, which results in complementarity among agencies. Particular focus will be on activities in the Strategic Research Plan that are currently not being addressed by the agencies, or will not be addressed in the near future. One challenge with ensuring future coverage of the Strategic Research Plan goals is that the agencies that fund ocean acidification work through peer-reviewed, competitive processes are often unable to dictate the exact goals that this future work will address because projects are awarded by merit, not topic.
Questions often arise regarding what level of effort on a certain goal is sufficient and when work on a goal will be complete. Given that ocean acidification is a recently recognized phenomenon, research on the process of acidification, how it will influence ecological and human communities, and how human communities could successfully adapt to these changes is in its infancy. Thus, it is premature to determine how much work and investment is sufficient on a given topic. The IWG-OA will not set quantitative, numerical metrics for each goal for the foreseeable future. Instead, both expenditures and implementation reporting can be used to track the relative amount of Federal activity on each theme in the Strategic Research Plan (see Figures 1 and 2 and the Appendix). This reporting is also a requirement in the FOARAM Act. It is expected that the IWG-OA will revise the Strategic Research Plan every five years. Accordingly, the Implementation Plan will be revised as necessary. The IWG-OA will also work over the long term to identify future metrics to measure and track success.
Coordination of Federal Activities for Meeting Strategic Research Plan Priorities
The IWG-OA has no authority to control individual agency priorities or agendas on ocean acidification. The IWG-OA tracks Federal progress on the goals outlined in the Strategic Research Plan and helps focus Federal activities on ocean acidification in a way that a single agency could not due to agency-specific mission, authorities, and mandates. Biennial reports from each IWG-OA member agency will provide an update on the progress made in addressing the goals of the Strategic Research Plan during the previous 2 years and communicate near-term plans (see the 2014 tracking document in the Appendix). In addition and as required by the FOARAM Act, the IWG-OA will complete a biennial narrative summary of Federal ocean acidification activities that will be submitted to Congress and made publically accessible. The reports for fiscal years (FY) 2009–2013 are currently available on the IWG-OA website.
The IWG-OA has regular meetings to share information on activities related to the seven thematic areas of the Strategic Research Plan:
- Theme Research to understand responses to ocean acidification
- Theme Monitoring of ocean chemistry and biological impacts
- Theme Modeling to predict changes in the ocean carbon cycle and impacts on marine ecosystems and organisms
- Theme Technology development and standardization of measurements
- Theme Assessment of socioeconomic impacts and development of strategies to conserve marine organisms and ecosystems
- Theme Education, outreach, and engagement strategy on ocean acidification
- Theme Data management and integration
At these meetings, the IWG-OA records activities related to the Strategic Research Plan themes, explores opportunities for collaboration on activities related to the themes, identifies ways to address gaps between Federal activities and the goals outlined in the Strategic Research Plan, and discusses potential ways to prioritize efforts to fill these gaps. In addition, the IWG-OA works to increase awareness of agency activities on ocean acidification and how agencies can work together. For example, in FY 2014, the IWG- ocean acidification participated in a formal review of the FY 2015–2017 work plans submitted to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Ocean Acidification Program by NOAA laboratories and science centers to assess their alignment with the Strategic Research Plan. Other activities to increase coordination and awareness may include developing joint requests-for-proposals on ocean acidification research; fostering interaction between the IWG-OA and the NSTC Interagency Working Group on Aquaculture (IWG-A)1; and collaborating and coordinating on monitoring activities, fleet operations, and online portals for ocean acidification-related data.
Establishing the National Ocean Acidification Program and Program Office
The Strategic Research Plan calls for establishment of a National Ocean Acidification Program and associated Program Office to coordinate ocean acidification activities among interested Federal and non-Federal stakeholders nationwide. This Program would advise the IWG-OA on Federal implementation of the Strategic Research Plan and galvanize the stakeholder community to support and complement Federal ocean acidification activities. The effort would complement the work of Federal agencies in fulfilling their missions. NOAA’s Ocean Acidification Program and the IWG-OA provide some coordination and stakeholder engagement. NOAA’s work, however, is primarily directed toward specific NOAA-priority activities. Conversations on the feasibility and interest in establishing a national program and a dedicated Program Office are ongoing.
National Ocean Acidification Information Exchange
The Government Accountability Office report on Federal efforts to address ocean acidification highlighted, among other items, that the Federal government had not yet established an ocean acidification “information exchange” as called for in the FOARAM Act. The legislation mandates that an ocean acidification information exchange be established to provide a coordination function for all entities involved in ocean acidification research, response, and information dissemination (Federal, tribal, and state agencies, industry, nongovernmental organizations, foundations, international coordination bodies, etc.). It could be a component of the National Ocean Acidification Program Office described above. Conversations on establishing an information exchange are ongoing.
Future Federal funding levels for ocean acidification-related activities are unknown at this time, presenting a challenge for establishing an agency-specific, long-term plan for implementation of the IWG-OA Strategic Research Plan. Within this uncertainty, however, agencies can outline an expected plan of action and commit to some specific activities under level-funding scenarios as described in the agency chapters outlined below.