Defining Extension Programs at the University of Connecticut: Connecticut Sea Grant

Author: Sylvain De Guise, Director, Connecticut Sea Grant

Publication # EXT002 | August 2023


This document is part of a series that will identify the types of Extension programs at UConn based on their legislative mandates and funding requirements. The information is appropriate for readers with an interest in knowing the purpose of the National Sea Grant program, Connecticut Sea Grant's funding and organizational structure, and Connecticut Sea Grant's relationship with UConn Extension.

Sea Grant's Purpose and Federal Authorization

National Sea Grant was first authorized by the National Sea Grant College Act of 1966. In Connecticut, a Marine Extension Program was established in 1974, with promotion to the Connecticut Sea Grant College Program designation in 1988. The most recent reauthorization, titled the "National Sea Grant College Program Amendments Act of 2020," includes several updates to Sea Grant's authorizing legislation. It "provides assistance for research, education, extension, training, technology transfer, and public service," (Section 6) rather than strictly defining extension activities. The Act serves as a guiding framework upon which Sea Grant operates and serves America's coastal and Great Lakes communities. 

The NOAA National Sea Grant office provides further guidance on Sea Grant Extension

Sea Grant provides a workforce of over 500 on‐the‐ground extension agents who reside in many of the communities they serve. As trusted experts who are considered honest brokers of information (non-advocacy), extension agents provide reliable technical and science‐based information to residents to address local needs while also transferring research priorities back to their universities.

Extension agents also work closely with Sea Grant communicators and educators, connecting university resources and expertise with local communities and user groups. An agent might develop new information through original applied research, gather existing information for user needs, transmit information and skills through pamphlets, courses, workshops, lectures and meetings; provide technical reviews of research and policies; and stimulate new research to meet perceived needs. In short, these specialists take complex information and show people how to use it to solve problems. Extension agents are focused on specific topics such as improving fisheries management, seafood safety, fishing gear enhancement, developing sustainable aquaculture, decreasing water pollution, restoring habitat and other topics that advance the safety and productivity of coastal‐related commerce.

Topically, Sea Grant activities are centered around the four national focus areas: healthy coastal ecosystems, sustainable fisheries and aquaculture, resilient communities and economies, and environmental literacy and workforce development. These focus areas are articulated within Connecticut Sea Grant's four-year strategic plan (2024-2027) and associated omnibus funding request. 

Connecticut Sea Grant Funding and Organizational Structure

Connecticut Sea Grant receives federal Sea Grant funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the required state match, which is largely provided by UConn's Office of the Vice President for Research. Sea Grant funding is available to the 34 University-based designated Sea Grant programs located in coastal and Great Lakes states and U.S. territories. The purpose of Sea Grant funding is to manage programs of Research, Education and Outreach (which includes Extension and Communications programs) to address relevant coastal and ocean issues that align with and contribute to the National Sea Grant strategic plan.

The funding from NOAA, administered by the National Sea Grant Office, is managed by the Connecticut Sea Grant program according to its four-year strategic plan. The program writes a four-year omnibus grant proposing to fund activities that align with its strategic plan. Sea Grant funding includes the core activities defined in the omnibus, allocated annually, along with competitive funds for national or regional priorities identified in the annual federal budget appropriations language, since Sea Grant is a line item in the NOAA budget.

Connecticut Sea Grant is based at the University of Connecticut, reports to the Office of the Vice President for Research, and is led by a Director. Connecticut Sea Grant extension educators have a joint academic appointment in the Department of Extension. Many Connecticut Sea Grant faculty and staff are centralized at UConn Avery Point, but they can also be based in a county Extension Center, such as New Haven.

Connecticut Sea Grant Extension contributes to the following elements of the CAHNR strategic vision and UConn Extension's federal Plan of Work:

  • Ensuring a Vibrant and Sustainable Agricultural Industry and Food Supply
  • Support sustainable shellfish and seaweed aquaculture
  • Advancing Adaptation and Resilience in a Changing Climate: 
  • Help communities with resources and knowledge to enhance their resilience to extreme weather and coastal hazards associated with climate change
  • Enhancing Health and Well-Being Locally, Nationally, and Globally
  • Offer seafood safety courses and commercial fishing safety at sea trainings 
  • Help protect and restore coastal and marine habitats, ecosystems and their resources
  • Address contaminants of emerging concern