History of the National Ocean Economics Program


The National Ocean Economics Program (NOEP) was conceived in 1999 by Dr. Judith T. Kildow (then a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) for the purpose of providing policymakers with reliable and consistent data on the value of the oceans and coasts of the U.S.

The inspiration for the project had come from an economic study done for the California coast in 1997 (at the suggestion of Congressman Sam Farr of Monterey, CA) that was released at the California and the World Oceans Meeting in San Diego that year. Dr. Kildow was determined to turn that valuable state study into an ongoing national program. She worked with NOAA to include the idea as one of President Bill Clinton's 10 priorities that he announced at an historic conference commemorating "The Year of the Ocean" in 1998. The President's speech was delivered in a small park overlooking Monterey Bay, California, and the Congress embraced his priorities when it passed the Ocean Act of 2000.


NOEP began with a seed grant from the National Ocean Service of NOAA, which was then directed by economist Dr. Nancy Foster. It was the first attempt to provide social and economic time-series data for valuing the oceans and coastal zones. NOEP tracked economic and demographic trends along the coast and coastal oceans, providing a scientific foundation for studying coastal management and marine policy. These fields had until then been focused primarily on "one off" case studies and anecdotal information that failed to provide the connections and coherence necessary to build larger theories and research agendas.

Phase I: Focus on the U.S.

As the project got underway, Dr. Kildow recruited Dr. Charles S. Colgan, a professor and regional economist at the University of Southern Maine. Dr. Colgan is a well-regarded resource economist who launched the market data section of NOEP. He developed the unique ocean economy methodology for which NOEP has become known.

To assure the project would meet the requirements of President Clinton's mandate for ocean accounts, Dr. Kildow recruited a distinguished and diverse Board of Advisors, setting a high standard for the work of NOEP. The original board consisted of three MIT economists, Lester Thurow, Karen Polenske, and Nobel Laureate Robert Solow; University of California economists Charles Kolstad of UC Santa Barbara and Michael Hanemann of UC Berkeley; Columbia University economist Giulio Pontecorvo; a lawyer from the University of Washington, Mark Hershman; and Karen Garrison from the Natural Resources Defense Council. Over the twelve years of its life, many other distinguished individuals also served on the board.

In 2000, Dr. Kildow took early retirement from MIT and moved NOEP to the University of Southern California's Wrigley Institute, where it remained for three and a half years. At USC, the Wrigley Institute and USC Sea Grant tripled the original funding from the National Ocean Service. At this point in its evolution, NOEP transitioned from an academic exercise into a dynamic web-based platform. Assistance from USC computer science students and a former colleague at MIT quickly brought the new site up to speed.

On the research faculty at Wrigley was Dr. Linwood Pendleton, who had expertise in non-market economics. He was recruited to launch the non-market economics section on the NOEP site, and he refined and expanded it for the next five years.

From USC, Dr. Kildow took NOEP to the University of Vermont Gund Institute. The National Ocean Service, then under the direction of economist and lawyer Margaret Davidson, began a three-year cooperative funding agreement to develop NOEP into a larger and more robust program. The funding agreement followed Davidson to NOAA's Coastal Services Center when she returned there as its director.

From the outset, NOEP has been an independent, academic-based program to ensure that the public services provided to users were apolitical and objective. This was the unwavering policy of Davidson during the more than six years that she guided NOAA's portion of NOEP's funding.

In 2003, Dr. Kildow accepted a distinguished professorship at California State University, Monterey Bay, and took the NOEP there with her. With support from the California State University system, NOEP hired its first program manager, Bonnie Lockwood, and first IT director, Pat Johnston, allowing NOEP to expand to include coastal economy market data and offshore natural resources production and values for fisheries and oil and gas. NOEP also developed a non-market annotated bibliography and tracked federal expenditures along the coasts and in the coastal oceans.

At CSUMB, NOEP created research opportunities for dozens of students who produced senior and master's level theses based on NOEP data. The data also became an increasing source of information for various U.S. NGOs and government agencies as well as researchers around the world.

While at CSUMB, Dr. Jason Scorse, a professor of resource economics at the nearby Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, replaced Dr. Pendleton, assuming responsibility for the non-market aspects of the NOEP.

Three years after joining CSUMB, in 2006, Dr. Kildow moved with the NOEP a few miles away to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), in Moss Landing, where it ultimately became fully funded by the Packard Foundation, with some support from the Moore Foundation and the states of California and Florida. At this point it no longer received NOAA funding.

Phase II: The international NOEP

At MBARI, NOEP produced its most important document to date: a national report on the status and trends of the U.S. ocean and coastal economies, with summaries for each coastal state. The effort was welcomed and applauded by members of the U.S. Congress, many federal and state agencies, as well as NGOs, corporations, and academics.

Dr. Kildow left MBARI in 2009, retiring once again, and for two years the program transitioned while she negotiated to find a new, permanent home for the NOEP. NOEP is now part of the Center for the Blue Economy (CBE) at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. The CBE is under the direction of Dr. Scorse, who from the outset realized NOEP was an ideal focal point for his new center. The Middlebury Institute and its parent Middlebury College are raising funds to assure an enduring future for the CBE and NOEP.

Over the course of its life, NOEP has received about half of its funds from NOAA and the other half from universities, foundations, and state governments. NOEP has also received nearly a million dollars in funding from states for which the NOEP research staff produced customized studies, most notably for California and Florida.

Dr. Kildow remains director of the NOEP, and Professor Colgan remains the chief market economist. Monica Galligan is the new program manager for the CBE. Galligan had worked with NOEP while it was at CSUMB and retained a working relationship with Dr. Kildow. Pat Johnston, who had been the NOEP IT manager at CSUMB and moved with the program to MBARI, signed on with the CBE, assuring continuity of the databases and website. Dr. Scorse has brought on board new master's candidates from the Monterey Institute's Ocean and Coastal Resource Management concentration as research assistants to help with the planned expansion of NOEP into a much more research-focused and international platform. The Center for the Blue Economy has formulated plans to launch an online Journal of Ocean and Coastal Economics in 2013. Dr. Colgan will serve as the founding Editor in Chief.

From its humble beginnings at MIT in 1999, NOEP has become an essential part of contemporary ocean and coastal economics — a pillar for examining and measuring the world's blue economy. From 1999 until 2010, NOEP researchers compiled all of the data. Since 2010, NOAA has taken on the task of compiling the Ocean Economy data and shares them with the NOEP. By 2012, the NOEP website was receiving nearly 100,000 visits each year. The NOEP methodologies have become the standard for ocean and coastal accounts in many nations.

Soon NOEP will become a truly international resource, by incorporating data from around the world and helping to build international capacity for ocean and coastal economic analysis. A new section on ports and cargo was added in 2012 and there are plans to expand into new areas of emerging offshore technologies and other policy relevant data. This transition reflects the global outlook of the Monterey Institute, and Dr. Scorse's Center for the Blue Economy.

NOEP's relevance has been demonstrated over the years by the many requests for assistance that have come from the federal government at key moments. Notably, NOEP responded to requests from U.S. agencies and the Congress for the economic impacts of Hurricane Katrina, and from many sources for the data to gauge the effects of the BP Oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Requests are also received regularly from academics, local citizens, and consulting companies. Regular users include many environmental advocacy organizations, state agencies, and Congressional leaders.

Judy Kildow
October 2012

updated 8-Jan-2015