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New Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at SBU to Tackle Pressing Threats to Marine Ecosystem

August 22, 2008

Institute to investigate and pursue solutions to some of the most complex issues facing waters in New York State, the nation, and the world

STONY BROOK, NY, Aug. 22, 2008 – Today Stony Brook University announced the establishment of the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science within its School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS) on Long Island, New York. This world-class Institute will conduct scientific research that will provide the foundation for smarter ocean policy by increasing knowledge about critical threats to oceans and their inhabitants.

The Institute will investigate and pursue solutions to some of the most complex issues facing waters in New York State, the nation, and the world, including fisheries sustainability, conservation of threatened and endangered ocean wildlife, and ecosystem-based ocean management, a holistic approach to management that attempts to harmonize competing ocean uses. The Institute is being launched with nearly $4 million in support from The Pew Charitable Trusts, a major public charity, the Lenfest Ocean Program, which supports scientific research to help inform policy decisions, as well as other private and public sources. SoMAS, a global leader in marine science research and education, has named as the Institute’s Executive Director Dr. Ellen K. Pikitch, an internationally recognized expert in fisheries science and management, and conservation biology. Dr. Pikitch is a Professor in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.

“We’re excited to be attracting scientists of the highest caliber who will respond to the most pressing marine conservation issues of the day,” said Stony Brook President Dr. Shirley Strum Kenny. “The Institute for Ocean Conservation Science will provide a whole new capacity for SoMAS to address questions that will improve public policy to benefit residents of New York State and beyond.”

“Our oceans are in a state of emergency and need immediate help,” said Dr. Pikitch. “The Institute for Ocean Conservation Science will generate the science needed to better safeguard threatened marine life and ecosystems, and we will use those findings to shape smarter policy. Our research team will build on the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences' impressive scientific track record and bring a strong conservation focus to the School. Together, we’ll be an even more powerful force.”

The Institute for Ocean Conservation Science was founded as the Pew Institute for Ocean Science in 2003 at the University of Miami, where it successfully conducted groundbreaking research over the past five years. Pew Institute research led to significant protections for great white sharks, including international trade restrictions on these sharks and their parts, and the development of sophisticated DNA forensic techniques that U.S. enforcement agents are now using to detect and prosecute the illegal sale of shark fins and carcasses. Institute scientists have also led groundbreaking sturgeon conservation research that led to the listing of beluga sturgeon under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, a worldwide ban on trade of wild sturgeon caviar in 2006, and a ban on U.S. imports of beluga caviar.

The establishment of the new Institute at Stony Brook University comes at an opportune time for New York State. New York is bordered by 1,850 miles of tidal shoreline with hundreds of beaches and unique coastal environments, including the Peconics, East End, South Shore, Hudson River and the Long Island Sound. Certain fish caught in these waters are too contaminated to be safely consumed, beach closings and advisories due to high bacterial levels are not uncommon, and more than a third of Long Island Sound's tidal wetlands have been lost in the past century.

Among the Institute’s first initiatives at Stony Brook University will be to assemble and lead the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force of preeminent scientists and policy experts from around the world to address an escalating environmental dilemma: the depletion of forage fish from our oceans. These small schooling fish, which include anchovies, sardines, and menhaden, are the dominant food for marine mammals, seabirds, and several large fishes. Forage fish stocks are being increasingly exploited in part to meet the burgeoning demand for livestock feed (derived from these fish) and human fish oil supplements. Fish oil supplements contain Omega 3 fatty acids that are believed to reduce risk of heart disease and possibly Alzheimer’s. The Lenfest Task Force, to be chaired by Dr. Pikitch, will develop scientific approaches to sustainably manage forage fish using “ecosystem-based fisheries management,” which emphasizes the interconnectedness of species and habitats and breaks from traditional species-by-species management.

“We believe that the new Institute and the Lenfest Task Force will help to further our understanding of changes taking place in the sea and ultimately improve our ability to protect the global marine environment,” said Joshua Reichert, managing director of The Pew Environment Group.

New York was the second of only a few states that have mandated ecosystem-based management and Dr. Pikitch was an early proponent of this approach, now deemed integral to maintaining healthy oceans. “It is obvious that species and their habitats are interconnected, but those connections have too often been ignored to the detriment of marine life,” Dr. Pikitch said.

The Institute for Ocean Conservation Science will also research and work to conserve marine animals that are vulnerable and ecologically important. A primary focus will be on elusive open-ocean sharks, whose populations are declining due to destructive commercial fishing practices, and on ancient sturgeons, found in waters from the Hudson River to the Caspian Sea.

The School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University is a leader in marine science research and education. It is the only academic institution in New York to offer B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees in marine science. “For many years SoMAS focused research on marine resource management issues through its Living Marine Resources Institute (LIMRI). The establishment of the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science will strengthen our commitment to solving urgent environmental problems,” said SoMAS Dean Dr. David Conover. “We are thrilled to welcome the Institute as an important new part of our university.”

In addition to the Institute at Stony Brook, the University’s new Southampton campus will receive $6.9 million from New York State this fiscal year to build a state-of-the-art marine science research center to be among the East Coast’s finest. Stony Brook is also leading the charge to form the New York Marine Sciences Consortium, an association of educational institutions that will be the voice for the marine science community as the state begins reshaping its policies for stewardship of aquatic environments.

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