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The National Sea Grant College Program is a program of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) within the U.S. Department of Commerce. It is a national network of 33 Sea Grant Colleges and universities involved in scientific research, education, training, and extension projects geared toward the conservation and practical use of the coasts, Great Lakes, and other marine areas. The program is administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and is based in Silver Spring, Maryland. No sea rights have actually been granted (though this was considered), only money.
There are 33 programs consisting of many more member institutions, called Sea Grant colleges, many but not all of which are located along the coast. The program was instituted in 1966 when Congress passed the National Sea Grant College Program Act.
Sea Grant colleges are not to be confused with land-grant colleges (a program instituted in 1862), space-grant colleges (instituted in 1988), or sun-grant colleges (instituted in 2003), although an institution may also be in one or more of the other programs concurrently with being a Sea Grant institution.
At a 1963 meeting of the American Fisheries Society, a University of Minnesota professor, Athelstan Spilhaus, first suggested the establishment of Sea Grant colleges in universities that wished to develop oceanic work. The name "Sea Grant" was chosen to draw a parallel with the land grant college program that was funded by grants of western lands to the states by the 1862 Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862. Early in the legislative process, there was consideration of leases of offshore parcels of ocean and sea bottom to fund the program by John A. Knauss and bill sponsor Claiborne Pell much like the 1862 land grants, but that plan was eventually scrapped in favor of direct congressional appropriation for the program. The 1966 Act allowed the National Science Foundation (NSF) authority to initiate and support education, research, and extension by:
Encouraging and developing programs consisting of instruction, practical demonstrations, publications, and otherwise, by sea grant colleges and other suitable institutes, laboratories, and public and private agencies through marine advisory programs with the object of imparting useful information to person currently employed or interested in the various fields related to the development of marine resources, the scientific community, and the general public.
Signing of the 1966 Sea Grant College and Program Act into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson was on October 15, 1966, as Public Law 89-688. The only major subsequent change to the Sea Grant Act was with a 1970 Reorganization Plan, whereby the Office of Sea Grant was transferred from the National Science Foundation to the newly organized National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, where the program has resided ever since.
A map showing the locations of and links to the institutions involved with the program is available from the NOAA.