The History of the Center for the Blue Economy

The Center for the Blue Economy traces its research roots to the National Ocean Economics Program which was conceived in 1999 by Dr. Judith T. Kildow, then a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for the purpose of providing policymakers with reliable and consistent data on the value of the oceans and coasts of the U.S.


Clinton signs the Oceans Act

The inspiration for the National Ocean Economics Program had come from an economic study done for the California coast in 1997 (at the suggestion of Congressman Sam Farr of Monterey, CA) that was released at the California and the World Oceans Meeting in San Diego that year. Dr. Kildow was determined to turn that valuable state study into an ongoing national program. She worked with NOAA to include the idea as one of President Bill Clinton's 10 priorities that he announced at an historic conference commemorating "The Year of the Ocean" in 1998. The President's speech was delivered in a small park overlooking Monterey Bay, California, and the Congress embraced his priorities when it passed the Ocean Act of 2000.

National Ocean Economics Program Collaborations

As the project got underway, Dr. Kildow recruited Dr. Charles S. Colgan, a professor and regional economist at the University of Southern Maine. Dr. Colgan is a well-regarded resource economist who launched the market data section of the National Ocean Economics Program, essentially creating the field of ocean and coastal economics. While there were several articles and a report about the U.S. ocean economy published before 1999, the launch of the National Ocean Economics Program laid the foundation for a new field of study based on a unique methodology, with consistent time series data that allowed the public to track trends over time.

In 2003, Dr. Kildow accepted a distinguished professorship at California State University, Monterey Bay, and took the National Ocean Economics Program to California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB). With support from the California State University system, the National Ocean Economics Program expanded to include coastal economy market data and offshore natural resources production and values for fisheries and oil and gas. The National Ocean Economics Program also developed a non-market annotated bibliography and tracked federal expenditures along the coasts and in the coastal oceans.  The data also became an increasing source of information for various U.S. NGOs and government agencies as well as researchers around the world. While the National Ocean Economics Program was at CSUMB, Dr. Jason Scorse, a professor of environmental and natural resource economics at the nearby Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (MIIS), assumed responsibility for the non-market aspects of the National Ocean Economics Program. 

National Ocean Economics Program and MBARI

In 2006, Dr. Kildow moved with the National Ocean Economics Program a few miles away to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), in Moss Landing, where it ultimately became fully funded by the Packard Foundation, with support from the Moore Foundation and the states of California and Florida. At this point it no longer received NOAA funding.Monterey_Bay_Research_Institute_2012-10-13_P1030632

At MBARI, the National Ocean Economics Program produced its most important document to date: a national report on the status and trends of the U.S. ocean and coastal economies, with summaries for each coastal state. The effort was welcomed and applauded by members of the U.S. Congress, many federal and state agencies, as well as NGOs, corporations, and academics. Dr. Kildow left MBARI in 2009, retiring while she negotiated to find a new, permanent home for the National Ocean Economics Program.

National Ocean Economics Program and the Center for the Blue Economy


In 2011, the Center for the Blue Economy was established with a $1,000,000 donation from the Loker Hicks Family Foundation and additional support from the Middlebury Institute and its parent organization Middlebury College. The Center for the Blue Economy is under the direction of Dr. Scorse, who developed the academic program and hired staff to develop the basic programmatic infrastructure.  Dr. Kildow and the National Ocean Economics team joined the Center for the Blue Economy as a permanent home, and the scope of research initiatives continues to expand.

The Center for the Blue Economy Today

MIISGraduation.MIISFlikrThe first class of six International Environmental Policy Program (IEP) students with the Center for the Blue Economy's unique Ocean and Coastal Resource Management (OCRM) concentration graduated in May, 2013.  OCRM graduates have done very well in the job market, with approximately 90% currently employed in the ocean and coastal resource management field. In addition, the IEP program has many alumni from over the past 15 years with careers throughout the marine policy field; they provide excellent networking opportunities and serve as guest speakers and advisors. Our students receive prestigious Sea Grant Fellowships almost every year.

NOEP_National_Report_2014 cover pageThe Center for the Blue Economy's first major research project building on National Ocean Economics Program data was the development and publication of the State of the U.S. Ocean and Coastal Economies 2014, which provides the most in-depth analysis of the ocean and coastal economies of the U.S. in the post-recession period. The 2014 report has been downloaded by thousands of users and cited by numerous organizations, both public and private.

The Center for the Blue Economy continues to receive major funding to support new faculty and staff, course development, and research opportunities for students. This generous continued commitment has allowed the expansion of the CBE Summer Fellows Program, placing Middlebury Institute students in fully-funded summer projects with the top organizations in the world. Between 2011 and 2016, the CBE has placed 50 interns with 30 organizations including the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), UNESCO, Maersk, OneReef, and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) in countries ranging from the U.S., South Pacific Islands, Central and South America, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.

In 2015, the CBE launched the online Journal of Ocean and Coastal Economics (JOCE), to bring together the best minds and leaders in this fast-growing field.   “The timing for the CBE is perfect,” concludes Professor Scorse, “because the most powerful currency in current policy discussions is economics and jobs. But in order to use our resources in a truly sustainable fashion we must also value our ocean and coastal natural capital and look at the long-run impacts of our decisions.”  The Center for the Blue Economy celebrated its fifth birthday in 2016, and the 2016 Impact Report, created by the Middlebury Advancement Office does a great job of succinctly stating our victories and research goals.