Unsupported Browser Detected

Internet Explorer lacks support for the features of this website. For the best experience, please use a modern browser such as Chrome, Firefox, or Edge.

Celebrating Earth Day 2024: Accelerating Our Response to Rapidly Changing Oceans

April 22, 2024

Janet Coit, Assistant Administrator for NOAA Fisheries, discusses how NOAA Fisheries is accelerating our response to climate impacts on marine resources thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act.


Each Earth Day, we pause to appreciate all that our planet gives us. We also think about what we can do to better conserve and restore it. Our oceans, wild places, and the creatures big and small that inhabit our natural world, all elicit wonder and deserve our protection. 

After all, “those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts,” said writer and conservationist Rachel Carson. “The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.”

Since the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, much has changed. Unfortunately, in the decades since, climate change has had an alarming effect on Earth and its inhabitants. At NOAA Fisheries, we work every day to conserve and recover our planet’s marine life and ecosystems and to confront climate change. 

Climate Change: The Issue of Our Time

Across the country, we are witnessing real impacts on our marine species and the communities that depend on them due to a rapidly changing climate. From shifting and expanding fish distribution to putting endangered species at even greater risk, there is much at stake. 

Marine heatwaves are just one impact having cascading effects in our ocean. In Alaska’s Bering Sea, unprecedented marine heat waves in 2018 and 2019 contributed to the collapse of the snow crab population to historical lows in 2021. Using survey data and laboratory studies, NOAA Fisheries scientists identified starvation as the most likely cause of the mass mortality event during the eastern Bering Sea marine heatwave. This was due to a combination of increased caloric requirements from increased heat and the lack of available food. 

Photo of a snow crab.
Snow crab. Credit: NOAA Fisheries.

Preparing for Climate Change: Inflation Reduction Act

In 2023, NOAA received historic funding under the Inflation Reduction Act—the largest investment in climate action ever and a significant boost to NOAA Fisheries’ science-based management mission. It has allowed us to prioritize and tackle several critical areas impacted by climate change, including accelerating our response to swiftly changing oceans.

Advanced Technology Leads the Way

With the boost from Inflation Reduction Act funding, we’re investing $145 million in cutting-edge technology, modern data systems, and infrastructure, allowing us to surge ahead with essential data collection and rapid data sharing. From satellites to track whales and really cool unmanned systems that expand our survey coverage over larger, harder-to-reach areas, we’ll not only share data quickly and widely with resource managers, we can be more efficient and effective with our science-based management decisions. We’re already using camera technology surveys and artificial intelligence/machine learning in the field. With the new use of ‘omics, environmental DNA, remote sensing, and other strategic initiatives, we are well on our way. It’s very exciting!

It’s fitting to share a recent example of harnessing the power of advanced technology and citizen science during April’s Citizen Science Month. Using A.I., scientists sorted  thousands of whale photographs submitted by researchers and the public over 20 years. This data helped them find that recovering humpback whales in the North Pacific are responding to shifts in food availability affected by climate change. It’s amazing to see how technology is furthering our knowledge of whale populations today, and helping track future changes as well.  

Photo showing tail fluke of humpback whale named "Frosty."
Photographs of humpback whale tails, identified through artificial intelligence-based image recognition much like facial recognition, allow researchers to track individual whales across oceans, revealing population growth recovering from industrial whaling — and more recently, decline from a major marine heatwave. This whale is known as “Frosty” CRC-12492, named for the snowman-shaped barnacle scars on the tail. Photo: Ted Cheeseman.

Tackling Marine Debris

Earth Day 2024’s theme is Planet vs. Plastics. The focus is on working to eliminate plastic usage "for the sake of human and planetary health" and to decrease plastic production by 60 percent by 2040. Today, marine debris and microplastics are a growing concern, negatively affecting coastal communities, marine ecosystems, human health, and the economy. Our oceans are filled with items that do not belong there. Almost every waterway and shoreline is impacted by marine debris, even in areas as remote as the protected Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Learn how our team surveys and cleans up derelict fishing nets and ocean plastics from the reef and shoreline habitats of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands

The marine debris team transports derelict fishing nets removed from the shorelines of Midway Atoll in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (Photo: NOAA Fisheries/Ryan Tabata).

Marine debris such as consumer plastics and derelict fishing gear can harm marine animals when they get entangled in or ingest them. Because they easily float away on winds and currents, balloons can be a particularly pervasive form of marine debris. 

Find out how fishermen are going the extra “nautical mile” to tackle marine debris, one balloon at a time

Our Earth, Our Ocean, Our Mission

At NOAA Fisheries, we continue working with our many partners to respond to climate change, adapt to impacts, and do our part to tackle marine debris. We all need to be better stewards of the Earth and take care of our home planet. We do so to make it a better place—for people, for ocean wildlife, and for a more sustainable future. 

Aerial photo of the mouth of the Klamath River
Mouth of the Klamath River. (Photo: Thomas Dunklin)
AA Coit enjoys a hike through Arcata Community Forest
Coit enjoys a hike through Arcata Community Forest. NOAA Fisheries and partners are working to restore the Klamath River watershed, conserve salmon, and preserve the strong connections between forests, rivers, and fish.

This year, I’m spending Earth Week on the West Coast reviewing progress on dam removal and restoration along the Klamath River Basin. The restoration of the Klamath watershed, spanning 15,000 miles of California and Oregon, is the largest dam removal project in history! Restoration of this scale takes a "village" and it could not be done without the help of tribes, states, and other amazing partners. 

When completed, the dam removal will reopen access to more than 400 miles of habitat for threatened coho salmon, Chinook salmon, steelhead trout, and other threatened native fish. It is the end result of decades of effort by citizens and government entities alike, and perhaps most consequentially, by the tribal nations who first inhabited the area and who relied on the Klamath River for salmon. 

I can’t wait to see the restoration already underway! Visit our website to find out more about this incredible and enormous endeavor and our work with many partners to restore the Klamath River Basin

Happy Earth Day!


Janet Coit, 
Assistant Administrator, NOAA Fisheries

Last updated by Office of Communications on April 22, 2024

Climate Earth Week