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Photo: John Downing

John A. Downing

The warm season on Lake Superiorís coast drew to a spectacular close and now Iím noticing the lake reflects a grayer cast. Sea Grant staff are spending more time in the office, home from across the region where they have been helping Minnesotans and others with Great Lakes concerns to apply top-quality science to ensure the sustained health and use of Minnesotaís superior waters. As I approach the beginning of my second year as director of Minnesota Sea Grant, I am grateful to our dynamic staff, active advisory committee, collaborative partners and our many volunteers for all of the ways they work to support the economic and environmental health of Lake Superior and Minnesotaís inland waters.

October 2016 marked the 50th anniversary of the National Sea Grant Program. This is a special occasion for us since Minnesota was the birthplace, the home, of the Sea Grant concept. Please read Sharon Moenís book, With Tomorrow in Mind, about the University of Minnesota professor who first imagined what a Sea Grant Program might do. It is a wonderful read. The book is about Athelstan Spilhaus, a visionary who felt that just as land grant universities supported public understanding of agriculture, sea grant universities should assist the public to ensure the sustained, science-based use and stewardship of marine and Great Lakes waters.

This year, we have been concentrating on coastal safety and resiliency, helping to slow the spread of invasive species, preparing communities for the effects of climate change, helping educators bring Great Lakes science to their students, assisting the maritime shipping industry, teaching water managers about advances in stream science and opening multinational dialogs about international waters.

Sea Grant is in the midst of our quadrennial strategic planning period so we asked people across the state and region about future needs related to water science and how Sea Grant could contribute with research, education and outreach. These top 10 challenges emerged from our survey:

  1. Managing and adapting to plant, animal and microbial invasive species

  2. Preparing communities to respond to climate change

  3. Improving water quality in Lake Superior and its tributaries

  4. Educating about shore and watershed development and protection

  5. Mitigating storm effects on flooding and shores

  6. Understanding fast warming of Lake Superior (among the fastest on Earth)

  7. Building political, social and economic will for protecting Lake Superior and its watershed

  8. Understanding mining and water quality interactions

  9. Counteracting the adverse effects of agriculture

  10. Conserving habitats and wetlands

At Minnesota Sea Grant we will work to be nearer the heart of decision-making related to water in Minnesota. As we serve increasingly diverse audiences our work will reflect integrated systems approaches that incorporate internal and external forces to maximize our success. We will do this so that people and communities can be resilient in the wake of multiple and complex emerging challenges. We will expand our role as a catalyst for change, creating collaborations among governments, interest groups, industries, agencies and scientists. Water is the most strategically important resource so we hope that you will work with us to meet these challenges.

Iím looking out of my house to the harbor below. From here, I see Lake Superior as an engine for economic vitality, both as a foundation for a vibrant shipping industry and the healthy water resource to which people are irresistibly drawn. It is emblematic of the central place of water resources in Minnesota Ė I am happy to be home as part of Minnesota Sea Grant!

John A. Downing
Director, Minnesota Sea Grant
Professor, University of Minnesota Duluth, Large Lakes Observatory and Department of Biology

By John A. Downing
December 2016

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