By Dave Schwab
The new director at California Sea Grant, James Eckman intends to “stay the course” at the marine research and education program based at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla.
“I come into an extremely healthy, vibrant program and I have an amazingly excellent staff,” Eckman said last week.
The statewide program supports "science-based management, conservation and enhancement of California's coastal and aquatic resources through research, extension and education," according to its website.
“We promote a healthier, more sustainable interaction of the public with the coastal ocean,” noted Eckman, a biological oceanographer and longtime senior science administrator at the Office of Naval Research (ONR) in Arlington, Va.
“Jim brings a fine mix of stellar leadership skills and excellent research credentials that will enable Sea Grant to continue its upward momentum,” said Scripps Director Tony Haymet in a prepared statement. “We look forward to a new era with Jim at the helm.”
California’s is the largest of 31 sea grant programs nationwide in states having ocean borders.
Before his tenure with the Navy, Eckman, 58, was a professor at the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography in Georgia, and held adjunct faculty positions at University of Georgia and University of South Carolina. For the last 25 years, he has participated in kelp ecology studies on the West Coast.
“I genuinely miss an academic environment and the stimulation of day-to-day contact with research, students and scientific colleagues,” Eckman said. “I have a sincere wish to apply my skills to research that can solve serious societal problems related to our oceans.”
Noting Californians have a growing awareness that the ocean is “a complex system,” Eckman said they also “value tremendously the impact the ocean has on quality of life and the economy.”
Eckman said projects investigating the alleged impact of global warming on ocean systems are among those supported by California Sea Grant.
“We’re investigating the effect of changes in sea level, as well as ocean acidification from carbon dioxide,” he said.
He added the potential of man’s impact on the natural environment is a concept difficult for many to wrap their mind’s around.
“Recognizing that we’ve had such a huge impact on the environment which is so hard to reverse — you want to deny it,” he said. “You don’t want to accept responsibility for something that huge. Also, on a day-to-day basis, you just don’t see the immediate impacts: The ocean still looks the same sitting from the beach.”
Applying modern scientific principles, Eckman said Sea Grant programs like California’s can help make the interaction between ocean resources and users “healthy and sustainable.”
He cited, as one example, improved fishing techniques “so you don’t deplete fish populations.”
Admitting it will take time to get acquainted with Californians in his new role, Eckman said he intends to use his expertise and contacts to “engage a broader suite of federal partners” in promoting and furthering ocean research.
“It’s a very healthy program and Californians should be proud of it,” he said of California Sea Grant. “It’s below most people’s radar screens. They don’t know it’s here. It’s a very valuable program.”