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Proposed Cuts To NOAA Worry Scientists About Coastline Impact

Mar 10, 2017

Connecticut Sea Grant supports a wide range of environmental and educational activities in Connecticut, but could be eliminated under President Donald Trump's budget.

In 2016, Connecticut Sea Grant managed about $1.1 million in funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The money went through UConn's Avery Point campus to a variety of projects, including coastal research, resource management, and education.

But as The Washington Post reports, Trump's administration has proposed cutting NOAA's budget by nearly one-fifth and eliminating the Sea Grant program entirely.

Jennifer Mattei, a professor of biology at Sacred Heart University, said she's used Sea Grant money to study horseshoe crabs in Long Island Sound. The blood of horseshoe crabs can be used to test human vaccines for contamination.

"It's an interesting species in that it's important to our health, and it's important to the health of the Sound," Mattei said.

Mattei said Sea Grant money has been important for her research, but also for the links it builds between environmentalism and education.

"For me, personally, it would impact my undergraduate research program," she said. "Every year, I have between two and six students working with me, and Sea Grant has helped a lot with that."

Jennifer Mattei studies horseshoe crabs. Mattei said she's also applied to Sea Grant for a coastal resiliency project, which working with a graduate student, would look at how restored coastal marshes sequester carbon. "If we restore our marshes, it will help take that carbon out the atmosphere," she said.
Credit U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

According to UConn, Connecticut Sea Grants are currently capped at $75,000 a year in federal dollars. They are two-year grants, which get matched 50 percent by the state.

Nationwide, sea grants have helped train Alaskan fishermen, support oyster farms in Alabama, and develop the U.S.'s first ocean wind farm off the coast of Rhode Island.

In an emailed statement, Congressman Joe Courtney called Sea Grant "a proven job creation and innovation program," which he said he'll fight to protect from any budget cuts. Senators Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal also said they'd fight to preserve funding for the program, which employs a network of 32 other universities to carry out science research and education. 

Charles Yarish, a professor at UConn, said a Sea Grant he got about 30 years ago helped to kick off his basic research into seaweed in the 1980s. Eventually, he said, that science paved the way for the development of off-shore kelp farms.

Today, those farms can be found throughout the northeast, Alaska, and Washington state.

"Sea Grant makes investments. And these investments, eventually, will have economic implications for the United States," Yarish said. "Good science is the underpinning of applied science, and without a funding vehicle for basic science, I'm afraid the U.S. will lose its competitive edge."