A Hallmark Resort meeting room full of elected officials to marine scientists, oceanographic technicians to marine life PhD’s put their heads together for a day to figure out how to put Newport on the map in a way that it could become the Woods Hole of the Pacific. Woods Hole is a world renown oceanographic institute on Cape Cod southeast of Boston.
Everyone at Tuesday’s Ocean Observing Conference agreed that all the pieces seem to be falling into place for Newport to become the center of gravity for ocean research and to enjoy a fast growing economy based on the concentration of scientific efforts by NOAA MOC-P, the Hatfield Marine Science Center, research offices of NOAA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Ports of Newport and Toledo and a growing interest in all of this by Oregon Coast Community College.
Some discussions surrounded the age old question of what comes first, the chicken or the egg, but most agreed that the riddle is up and the answer lies in getting on with Newport’s future – ocean observing and building up related industries. Those industries include equipment housings, specially equipped ships, boundless arrays of electronic sensing and data measuring devices, wave energy engineering and testing, fishery research and climate change and on and on.
A number of vendors who joined in the discussions urged that properly engineered and manufactured devices, along with their designers should be seriously considered as major players in the future of the endeavor. All agreed that the Newport marine science community should first establish a growth master plan that will reveal a smart way forward.
The way forward includes adding some major additions; like a major refueling dock. Newport doesn’t have such a facility but could benefit greatly from it, not only as a convenience to commercial shipping but also as a major source of income to the port. Also a large heavy-lift crane for the International Terminal and a boat dock that can work on larger vessels.
The Port of Toledo was also seen as a bone fide member of the family of marine research and support in that it has a railroad line that can carry wave energy devices and other scientific equipment, large and small, right to the Port of Toledo’s boatyard facilities at Sturgeon Bend. From there the Port of Toledo could have them quickly transported down river to Newport and quickly out to sea, either on their own or aboard oceanographic research vessels. Port of Toledo General Manager Bud Shoemake also reminded everyone of the port plans to dramatically increase its ability to service up to 98% of the northeast Pacific fishing fleet, including the larger Alaskan boats. Shoemake said there is tremendous opportunity to help build up the employment levels of those who work on such vessels for engines, radars, shafts, rig configuration, sanding, repainting and all the rest that goes with proper servicing of fishing vessels. He said he expects Toledo will successfully build out its port facilities to include a 300 ton travel-lift and expanded boat repair areas.
There were also explorations of future collaboration between the already mentioned marine science entities, Oregon Coast Community College, Lincoln County School District, and with area commercial and recreational fishing industries. County Commissioner Terry Thompson made it a point to mention that while some fishing communities are somewhat at odds with marine scientists over many aspects of their industry, “Here in Newport we have learned that working closely with scientists is best for everyone. And that’s a plus for Newport” he said. Thompson also challenged the group to imagine in their minds, coastal children being exposed to marine science and the fishing industries from early life through college. Thompson said “Chronically losing our young adults to the valley for jobs is a tragedy that can be reversed if we reach out to them early and often. We need to make sure that our local educational curriculum features what’s here and growing in Newport and to physically expose young people to the chance of settling down on the coast to raise their families rather than having to move away.”
Again, many attendees said the conference’s next step is to begin planning for what specific services these ocean observing and fishing fleets need to help them grow and to lift up the local economy.
YBOOI and economic development staffer Caroline Bauman said their task force will thoroughly share notes after the conference is over and channel the considerable amount of supportive energy in formulating a way forward toward the goal of making Newport THE premier oceanographic community on the West Coast. To do that she said creating the infrastructure necessary to make such a thing happen is to identify and secure required funding from an array of sources. Identify needs in crucial areas, reach out to the community and the region with marketing, outreach and a communications campaign. Get K-12, OCCC and OSU educational institutions integrated into the expansive marine science role Newport can and will play in the region. Also, form task forces with OSU and the Governor’s Office and learn from the experiences of other sea dependent communities.
Bauman said the next step in the process is to maintain contact with conference attendees and to monitor their opinions and opportunities they see for expansion of marine observing and what role they might play in envisioning what marine science build out might look like. “This was just the beginning,” she said.