National Ocean Exploration Act Reintroduced in Congress

Legislation to update national priorities for ocean mapping, exploration and characterization is included in the National Ocean Exploration Act, which has been reintroduced by five U.S. Senators from both sides of the aisle.

The legislation would authorize and improve the National Ocean Mapping, Exploration and Characterization Council, and reauthorize the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s existing Ocean Exploration, Ocean and Coastal Mapping, and Hydrographic Services programs from fiscal years 2021 to 2030. It would also establish a system to enhance public access to the National Environmental Policy Act documents and the geo-referenced data included in them.

It is sponsored in the current Congress by Senators Roger Wicker, R-MS, Maria Cantwell, D-WA, Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI, and Brian Schatz, D-HI. Cantwell notes that the bill would renew a focus on mapping and ocean research and allow for innovative partnerships and cooperative agreements to expand ocean exploration efforts.

“NOAA’s Ocean Exploration Program supports Pacific Northwest research from mapping the Arctic of facilitate shipping, tourism and commerce to exporting the biological and cultural importance of the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary,” Cantwell said.

“Given Alaska’s vast coastline and our changing climate, responsible exploration, stewardship and development of the nation’s oceans is as important as ever,” Murkowski added. “For a state as under-mapped as Alaska, sustained federal attention and investment into ocean mapping will be absolutely imperative to close the charting backlog in the Arctic and bring spatial datasets into the 21st century,” she said.

The legislation was introduced during the last Congress by Cantwell, Schatz and Wicker.

A bill can only become law during the congressional session where it is proposed. When the National Ocean Exploration Act was not signed into law during the 116th Congress, it had to be reintroduced in the 117th Congress. The reintroduced bill was minimally modified from the version introduced in the last Congress, Murkowski’s staff said.

The full bill can be seen online at