National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

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A organizational summary by the ENVS 560/L Watershed Systems class at CSUMB.

This page is an introduction to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) with specific emphasis on the Central Coast of California.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration logo. Retrieved from NOAA.[1]


The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is a United States federal scientific agency within the US Department of Commerce. NOAA carries out a variety of duties that monitor, manage, and protect the nation's oceans, major waterways, and atmosphere. In the California Central Coast Region, NOAA plays a large role in marine management and regulation in conjunction with many cooperating institutions such as Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC Santa Cruz, Moss Landing Marine Labs, and CSUMB [1]


NOAA's overarching mission is "Science, Service, and Stewardship." [2] NOAA operations strive to study the structure and function of the ocean, atmosphere, and other connected systems in order to understand patterns and predict changes in weather, climate, and ocean processes. NOAA also seeks to share their data and effectively communicate this information to the public and other agencies. A large part of NOAA's mission is to act as responsible stewards of the earth by managing and conserving coastal and marine ecosystems and the services they provide. Together, these three principles drive NOAA research and management to be the foundation for future ecosystem, cultural, and economic resilience. [2]

Legal Status / Authority

NOAA was established by an Executive Order from President Richard Nixon in 1970 as part of a government reorganization plan with the goal of creating a government structure that could "make a coordinated attack on the pollutants...[in] the air we breath, the water we drink, and the land that grows our food."[3] The order transferred all oceanic, aquatic, and fisheries-related functions within the Department of the Interior and the National Science Foundation/Sea Grant Program to NOAA and the Department of Commerce, as well as any Department of Defense surveying and charting duties in the Great Lakes and other major interior bodies of water. The new administration would also absorb the personnel, property, and funds of the Environmental Sciences Services Administration.[4]

NOAA holds a large number of responsibilities as the nation's steward of the atmosphere and oceans. Most of the statutes establishing NOAA's authority relate to the National Marine Fisheries Service. Many statutes task NOAA with implementing regulations set by U.S. treaty and convention requirements. A large amount of authority is directed towards the protection of marine species and resources via major legislation such as the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, as well as other measures that authorize oceanic and atmospheric research and education.[5] In addition to monitoring and other research activities, NOAA actively protects marine resources via their Office of Law Enforcement. NOAA special agents and enforcement officers have jurisdiction between 3 and 100 miles offshore, an area known as the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).[6]


NOAA governs the oceans and atmosphere within seven main jurisdictional regions across the US. Regional teams in the Alaska, Central, Great Lakes, Gulf of Mexico, North Atlantic, Pacific Islands, Southeast & Caribbean, and Western Regions manage the day to day operations for most of NOAA's offices and services.[7]

NOAA Fisheries are broken into six regions: Alaska, New England/Mid-Atlantic, Pacific Islands, Southeast, West Coast, and International. Each region has its own Strategic Plan that details current and future fisheries regulations and management. All regions coordinate their actions with Regional Fishery Management Councils, the Marine Fishery Advisory Committee, and many other federal, state, tribal, and NGO partners.[8]

National Marine Sanctuaries are grouped into the Southeast, Northeast, Pacific Islands, and West Coast Regions. Sanctuaries are managed by a regional director, who is typically a marine scientist, and an administrative superintendent. Sanctuary Advisory Councils composed community members from local interest groups, businesses, government agencies, and the general public provide management guidance to their respective superintendent. These advisory councils facilitate communication throughout the region and provides an outlet for citizen inputs.[9]

Although NOAA has a large amount of autonomy and many of its decisions are based on the scientific research it produces, the presidentially-appointed US Secretary of Commerce (SecCom) has the ultimate authority over agency actions. As a statutory member of the presidential cabinet, SecCom reports directly to the president.[10]

Organizational Structure

The top executive leadership position within NOAA is the Administrator. The Administrator is nominated by the President of the United States and then must be approved by the US Senate.[11]

NOAA operates six major line offices that carry out the majority of its scientific functions, as well as several staff and corporate offices and the NOAA Commissioned Officers Corps. NOAA's major offices include:

Central Coast Context

Much of NOAA's operations on the Central Coast of California are through the National Marine Sanctuary Program. Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS) and Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary span over 7,500 square miles of protected coastal and marine ecosystems along the Central Coast.[12] In addition to ecosystem and resource conservation, these Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) conduct large-scale monitoring and research programs, provide educational outreach and community engagement, and support local economies by generating jobs, tourism and recreational revenue, and academic funding. [13] Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve (ESNERR), a 1,400 acre reserve within MBNMS, also hosts large-scale research activities related to coastal processes.[14]

NOAA also influences environmental management within coastal watersheds. The NMFS oversees permitting related to the Endangered Species Act and designates the allowable "takes" for any project that might disturb local fisheries. NMFS has been involved in Steelhead Management in the Monterey Bay Region and is responsible for approving any Habitat Conservation Plans (HCPs) that involve marine, anadromous, or catadromous fishes.

Because of their heavy involvement with Central Coast conservation and management, NOAA is a potential partner for the Range of the Condor National Heritage Area, which would promote further environmental stewardship and outreach for the region.



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This page may contain student work completed as part of assigned coursework. It may not be accurate. It does not necessary reflect the opinion or policy of CSUMB, its staff, or students.