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Confronting Climate Change

Taking the ocean into account is critical for successfully addressing climate change, and addressing climate change is critical for the future of the ocean

Governance & Knowledge

State Climate Stories

The governance of each state’s ocean and coastal resources varies significantly and often overlaps with federal and/or local management. In order to take collaborative action to address climate change, state agencies in charge of multi-jurisdictional ocean and coastal resources must understand their explicit roles and responsibilities.

Furthermore, the ocean does not abide by state boundaries, and actions in one state can affect another. Therefore, state resource managers not only need to coordinate within state and federal government structures, but also regionally to address ocean and coastal management issues unique and important to each region.
There are several ways that states can take ocean-climate action by picking and choosing which options work best for their unique governance structure and needs. These include but are not limited to designated cross-issue institutions, task forces, partnerships and/or agencies that are specifically focused on the ocean and coasts; regional networks to address cross-boundary issues, such as fisheries, shipping and renewable energy; environmental justice agencies with explicit connections to, and influence on, natural resource management; and dedicated knowledge sharing and research institutions.

By fostering a cooperative and constructive relationship among numerous resource managers, stakeholders, communities, Indigenous peoples and other users, states can avoid unintentional conflicts that inevitably arise from managing shared resources. The state stories highlighted below showcase leading examples of successful coordination and partnerships that are crucial to implementing effective ocean-climate action.

Gulf of Mexico Alliance

The Gulf of Mexico Alliance (GOMA) is a voluntary, collaborative partnership led by Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. The purpose of the Alliance is to increase regional cooperation to address the most pressing environmental challenges facing the Gulf of Mexico and their coastal zones.1 In 2004, the governors of the Gulf States created GOMA in response to President George Bush’s “U.S. Ocean Action Plan,” which introduced measures to sustain the natural resources of the ocean and Great Lakes. In its early stages, GOMA was supported by the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), among other federal agencies. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita, the governors of the five Gulf Coast states came together to develop the first “Governors’ Action Plan for Healthy and Resilient Coasts” (Action Plan I) in 2006, achieving most of the stated objectives within three years.2 For example, expanding environmental education around the Gulf was listed as one of the five main objectives in Action Plan I, and GOMA was able to establish Coastal Ecosystem Learning Centers (CELCs) in all five Gulf States, as well as Veracruz, Mexico. Another objective from Action Plan I was to improve characterization of habitats in the Gulf, and the outcome, a platform that centralizes ecosystem and habitat data, has been used by regional resource managers to evaluate habitats and track changes over time.

To continue the effective implementation of measures necessary to meet their goal of a resilient coastal zone, GOMA expanded, recruiting new partners to contribute their expertise and broaden the capacity of the regional collaborative effort. GOMA has engaged state-level partners, various federal agencies and other partners such as businesses, academic organizations and nonprofits.3 Building on its success in executing Action Plan I, in 2009 and 2016, GOMA revealed its second and third initiatives, the “Governors’ Action Plan II for Healthy and Resilient Coasts” and the “Governors’ Action Plan III for Healthy and Resilient Coasts,” each containing even more ambitious objectives than the one before it.2 In 2010, the governing body for the organization eventually adopted a constitution and established a formal headquarters office, working to achieve formal non-profit status for GOMA. This team is now focused on addressing six priority issues facing the Gulf Coast states, leveraging a regional ecosystem approach backed by science.4 In 2021, GOMA published the “Governors’ Action Plan IV for Healthy and Resilient Coasts”, which spans through the year 2026. The most recent report identifies additional tools for collaboration and emerging issues important for coastal sustainability, including coastal community resilience, water resources, wildlife and fisheries, marine debris and more.

Several factors have contributed to the early and continued success of GOMA in implementing its objectives. First, this regional partnership received federal support early on in its formation. In 2005, a federal workgroup consisting of representatives from 13 federal agencies was developed. Coordinated by NOAA and the EPA Gulf of Mexico Program, the federal workgroup has played an important role in assisting the Gulf Coast states with identifying common priorities and setting meaningful goals intended to conserve coastal resources and sustain coastal economies.1 Additions to the original organizational structure of GOMA have also contributed to its ability to tackle several priority issues at one time. After successfully implementing the goals outlined in Action Plan I, the Alliance established Priority Issue Teams (PIT), each intended to focus its efforts on one of the priority issues identified by the Gulf Coast states. Members of each PIT include representatives from state and federal agencies, as well as experts from academia, other NGOs, and the business and industry sectors.2

One example is the Water Resources PIT, which has been tackling issues affecting water quality in the region, including those exacerbated by climate change. One project spearheaded by this group focused on assessing economic impacts of harmful algal blooms (HABs) in Florida, determining economic consequences for revenues, employment, wages and property values. This study helped to advance goals around both water quality and economic health listed in the Governor’s Action Plan and serves as a pilot for similar studies in other Gulf States. In South Louisiana, the Water Resources PIT, in partnership with the Pontchartrain Conservancy and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, established a citizen science volunteer monitoring program at the Lakefront Learning Lab on the shore of Lake Pontchartrain, a major estuary connected to the Gulf. Equipping community scientists to sample microplastic pollution and algae throughout the Pontchartrain Basin, the monitoring program has provided opportunities to gather and uplift community-sourced data. The program eventually expanded and there are now labs on both the south and north shores of the Lake.

In 2016, GOMA established a unique program to promote funding opportunities for projects carried out by the Priority Issue Teams. Titled The Gulf Star Program, this public-private partnership leverages the federal funds that GOMA receives against private business funding, providing outside funders with opportunities to invest in efforts directed at one of the identified priority areas. The Gulf Star Program also gives GOMA capacity to award grants for projects without requiring match funds from recipients, a system which creates more equitable opportunities for historically under-resourced communities and smaller organizations to access funds for their initiatives. Since 2016, the Gulf Star Program has been the primary funding source for all projects addressed by the Priority Issue Teams.

Key Takeaways: The success of GOMA can be attributed to its ability to pinpoint specific priorities which are agreed upon and invested in by all five Gulf Coast states, to formulate descriptive Action Plans with clear goals, to recruit experts qualified to address the priority issues and to obtain the funds necessary to implement projects and produce measurable results. The Gulf Star Program, a public-private partnership, has been key to funding these efforts and has contributed to the sustainability of GOMA over time. Reliable funding and careful coordination of priorities has resulted in a strong, valued partnership between states that has the potential to protect coastal communities and economies facing some of the most immediate impacts of climate change.


1 Gulf of Mexico Alliance. 2021. “Gulf Star Program.” Accessed October 2022. 
2  Gulf of Mexico Alliance. N.D. “Governors’ Action Plan II: For Healthy and Resilient Coasts.” Accessed October 2022
3 Gulf of Mexico Alliance. N.D. ”Governors’ Action Plan Number IV: For Healthy and Resilient Coasts 2021-2026”. Accessed October 2022. 
4 Gulf of Mexico Alliance. 2022. ”Alliance History.” Accessed October 2022. 
 New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, New Jersey Economic Development Authority, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. New Jersey Regional Greenhouse Gas Emission Strategic Funding Plan: Years 2020 through 2022. (Accessed August 27, 2021).

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