Stony Brook launches marine science initiatives
August 23, 2008 - Newsday
By Laura Albanese
Ellen Pikitch seems at home aboard the R/V Peconic, a Stony Brook University research vessel. As the pontoon makes its way across Shinnecock Bay, the marine biologist picks up a stubborn hermit crab housed in the ship's on-deck tank and carefully tries to coax it out of hiding.
It's a quiet scene on a peaceful ride, but it belies what she says is an often unseen state of crisis down below - where a number of marine species inch toward extinction.
To deal with that threat, and to help make marine sciences one of its signature areas of research and study, Stony Brook University announced Friday nearly $11 million in initiatives to bulk up its School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, located near its Southampton campus.
Some $6.9 million in state grants will go toward building a marine research science center in Southampton, while nearly $4 million in private donations are being used to start up the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science, to be based in Stony Brook.
"We are facing a gathering wave of ocean extinction," said Pikitch, an expert in fisheries who will head the Institute. Previously, she said, the worldwide catch has been stable because as one species died out, fisherman moved to another. Now, though, "the number of fish left in sea has plummeted."
The Institute, funded primarily from a donation by Pew Charitable Trusts, will look to curb the depletion of forage fish like anchovies and sardines. These fish, which help form the base of the marine food chain, count for 40 percent of the wild fish catch. Other fish like sharks, often hunted for their fins, and beluga, taken for caviar, also will be studied in an effort to reduce imminent threats to their species.
Research will be conducted locally and internationally by Pikitch and other scientists, as well as graduate students and undergraduate interns. The ultimate goal is to influence policy decisions. "The extinctions we know about are probably the tip of the iceberg," she said.
The Marine Science Center, which will boast wet-labs and classrooms, will train future fisheries experts. The center will be located on Shinnecock Bay, about two blocks from campus. Construction will begin in the fall and carry on for one or two years, said David Conover, dean at the School of Marine Sciences.
"With the research that will go on here I'm confident that we'll have good science ... on which to base our public policy," said Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton), a former provost at Southampton College.
Marine sciences was a stalwart at Southampton, which was purchased by Stony Brook in 2006, and is becoming the same at Stony Brook, said provost Eric Kaler.
"These are obviously areas of critical importance to us and the world," especially, he added, "for people who live on an island like we do."
Related topic galleries: Colleges and Universities, Seafood and Fishing Industry, Aquaculture, Shinnecock Bay, Tim Bishop, Marine Science, Stony Brook University
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