Lophelia II 2012: Deepwater Platform Corals

The Value of Partnership

By Marjorie Weisskohl - Bureau of Ocean Energy Management

The current Lophelia II cruise is facilitated through a federal partnership involving the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), NOAA, and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) under the National Oceanographic Partnership Program (NOPP). This program encourages the use of pooled federal resources – funding, ships and/or equipment, and personnel – to meet agency and national priorities in ocean stewardship.

While there is plenty of talk these days about partnering, the NOPP has existed for nearly 15 years. The partnerships leverage talent, funding, and physical assets, resulting in a far more significant outcome than any individual agency could do on its own.  NOPP was established by the U.S. Congress in Fiscal Year 1998 for two general purposes:

  1. To promote the national goals of assuring national security, advancing economic development, protecting quality of life, and strengthening science education and communication through improved knowledge of the ocean; and
  2. To coordinate and strengthen oceanographic efforts in support of those goals by identifying and carrying out partnerships among federal agencies, academia, industry, and other members of the oceanographic scientific community in the areas of data, resources, education, and communication and reporting annually to Congress on the program.

Since 2004, BOEM and NOAA’s Office of Exploration and Research have partnered, with support from USGS, on a series of novel multi-disciplinary ocean research expeditions to explore and characterize poorly known ecosystems in both the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic.  This partnership has led to increased avoidance distances for oil and gas operations in the Gulf of Mexico; provided invaluable baseline information about deep communities in the Gulf; and led to the discovery of new reef habitats, shipwrecks, and data on habitat range expansion of certain species of deep corals.

The unique nature of the partnerships enables each agency to bring its expertise and resources to create a successful and effective model for exploration.  The partnership also provides a unique opportunity for partners to increase public knowledge and awareness of these sensitive and fairly unknown habitats through education and outreach.  In 2011, BOEM and NOAA signed a landmark Memorandum of Understanding to increase their coordination and collaboration to ensure environmentally sound offshore energy development.

In addition to the Lophelia II study, three other noteworthy NOPP collaborations between BOEM, NOAA, and  USGS have been the:

  • Exploration and Research of Mid-Atlantic Deepwater Hard Bottom Habitats and Shipwrecks with Emphasis on Canyons and Coral Communities 
  • Investigations of Chemosynthetic Communities on the Lower Continental Slope of the Gulf of Mexico (1) (2)
  • Archaeological and Biological Analysis of World War II Deepwater Shipwrecks in the Gulf of Mexico

NOPP Research

NOPP research encompasses numerous areas, including oceanographic research and exploration, technology development, resource management, and ocean education.

NOPP focuses on ocean-related objectives which are too large for single agencies to undertake, but satisfy multiple agency missions and would benefit from partnerships between government, private industry, and academia.

NOPP Proposal Solicitation

Using a peer-review process, NOPP identifies and funds the most scientifically and technically meritorious research that clearly demonstrates public/private sector partnerships in the areas of interest each year. For information on how NOPP funding announcements are created and FAQ’s about the NOPP review process, please review this document  the NOPP office has produced to outline the NOPP announcement and review process.

Descriptions of NOPP-funded projects can be found under Funded Projects and Investment Areas .

Educational Outreach

Educational outreach – from K-12 through publication of study results in peer-reviewed journals – is an important partnership principle. It was a required and integrated component for the current study and will help to boost the nation's educational potential.

Materials for the public will include extensive lesson plans for teachers that integrate the discoveries and scientific processes for this project. Ocean Explorer Expedition Education Modules will help to share excitement of at-sea discoveries and the science behind them. Classroom modules with multimedia are accessible through the Signature Expedition web pages and a documentary video will be released close to the time of the final study report.