[Coral-List] History and Lessons of the SEAKEYS Program

John Ogden jogden at usf.edu
Fri Mar 9 13:26:39 EST 2012

Hello Everyone,

It might be time to weigh in to this discussion with a little history of
the SEAKEYS program and a few comments.  SEAKEYS was established
following a 1989 NOAA-sponsored workshop of local scientists in the
Florida Keys organized by the Florida Institute of Oceanography (FIO) at
which the question was asked: "What would be most useful to support
science in the Keys for the next 20 years."  Recall the era-- climate
change was coming into prominence, global warming was the issue of the
day and coral reefs were the canary in the mine.  The top recommendation
was a system of automated sensors across the whole of the Florida Keys
with a long shopping list attached and temperature monitoring at the top.

The FIO went to NOAA with a proposal which was immediately turned away.
By accident, we had just made contact with the new MacArthur Foundation
which was looking for projects.  They bought the idea with a substantial
grant.  This was great, but how to proceed?  Cash in hand, the FIO
established a partnership with the NOAA National Oceanographic Data
Center (NODC) and they adapted 6 of their standard C-MAN weather
monitoring stations for our list of sensors in addition to their usual
C-MAN suite with additional ports for expansion and sensor
experimentation.  Importantly, NODC also provided heavy, elegant,
expensive custom-made stainless brackets to attach the equipment to the
historic Keys lighthouses from Fowey Rocks to the Dry Tortugas.

So far so good, but shortly firehoses of data were streaming into in the
SEAKEYS base of operations at the Keys Marine Laboratory and we found
ourselves way out of our depth.  Another bit of luck was making contact
with Jim Hendee and colleagues at the NOAA AOML laboratory in Miami, who
offered to take in the data, organize it and make it accessible via a
new web site.   We were discovering that if it costs X to set up an
observing system, it will cost at least X to deal with the data.

The new system and its data streams rapidly helped science make progress
in the brand new Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and was used by
local citizens and businesses, but funding, now transitioned from the
MacArthur Foundation to the Sanctuary budget, was always a problem.  On
one occasion, the intervention of the Key West Harbor Pilots saved the
program funding within the Sanctuary budget.   There was no interest in
funding the program within the Florida legislature, they didn't
understand it.  Even after their own Florida Ocean and Coastal Council,
created under the Oceans Act of 2004 to provide priorities for spending,
made ocean observing a top priority, the legislature still ignored it.

Meanwhile (almost done!) ocean observing was coming into its own with
virtually everyone beginning to speak with one voice about the need for
it.   We all hope that the demonstrable needs and the unanimity of our
sometime fractious community will finally make ocean observing a basic
activity for our ocean future.  As for SEAKEYS, it had a good run and
will prove something of a model as new systems are set up.  I can't help
but recall a discussion with then-Senator Lowell Weicker the key
congressional supporter for the NOAA Hydrolab program at West Indies
Laboratory on St. Croix in the 1980s.  The funding was drying up after
almost 10 years and he said: "Nobody wants to fund an old program, no
matter how good it is;  we must do something new.".


CHANGE EMAIL ADDRESS TO: jogden at usf.edu
John C. Ogden
USF Professor Emeritus, Integrative Biology
190 18th Avenue North
St. Petersburg, FL 33704 USA
Home office: 727-894-5940
Cell: 727-641-4673
Email: jogden at usf.edu

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