Sea Grant found its roots in Rhode Island after the idea was first proposed in 1963 by Athelstan Spilhaus from Minnesota University. Dr. John A. Knauss, founding Dean of the Graduate School of Oceanography at the University of Rhode Island, and Senator Claiborne Pell helped Spilhaus make Sea Grant a reality.
“[Sea Grant] found fertile soil in Rhode Island where we believed we were already doing much of what Spilhaus was proposing,” said Knauss in the 2000 issue of Maritimes, reflecting on his beginnings of GSO. “The Sea Grant Act was passed in 1966. URI received one of the first grants in 1968 and became one of the first four Sea Grant Colleges in 1972.”
The idea of creating Sea Grant colleges was modeled after the Land Grant college program, which set the standard for utilizing the resources of the nation’s universities to address the needs of citizens regarding aspects of land use and agriculture, but with a focus on marine and coastal resources. At a time when America was excited about science, in general, especially the possibility of reaping sustained economic benefits from the vast resources of the seas, national enthusiasm for the Sea Grant College concept grew.
The 89th Congress of the United States passed the National Sea Grant College Act and established an academic/industry/government partnership in recognition that marine resources were an untapped asset to the nation for energy, development, and food resources.
Since its establishment 50 years ago, Sea Grant now has 33 programs based at universities and institutions in every coastal and Great Lakes state, Puerto Rico, and Guam working with communities to provide scientific research, education and training, and technical assistance utilizing the academic power of the nation’s universities with public and private sector partners to steer the nation toward the productive and sustainable use of coastal, marine, and Great Lakes resources.
“I believe the oceans and the 70 percent of the earth that is underwater will play an increasingly important role in providing a variety of resources, including energy and fresh water, to an increasing population. Perhaps even more important is that environmental stresses will also grow in next century,” said Knauss in Maritimes. “Many of these issues concern the ocean and our need to better understand its role: changing sea-level, coastal pollution, modifying the earth’s climate, maintaining the current atmospheric chemical balance, and much more.”