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Stony Brook Southampton Broadens Scope With Ocean Conservation Institute

Originally Posted: August 22, 2008

Kelly Carroll

The Marine Station property on Old Fort Pond includes several boats, and will be getting a new Marine Science Center over the next few years. Photos by Kelly Carroll

Southampton - SUNY Stony Brook Southampton has repositioned itself on the educational map by establishing the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science within its School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS), a multi-million dollar endeavor to create smarter ocean policy and increased knowledge on the major threats to oceans worldwide.

Dr. Ellen Pikitch, executive director of the newly formed Institute for Ocean
Conservation Science, founded the institute in 2003 as the Pew Institute
for Ocean Science.

"The ocean covers 72 percent of the world's surface and 99 percent of the biosphere," Stony Brook Southampton professor and executive director of the new institute Dr. Ellen Pikitch recounted. "The quality of our lives depends on the health of our oceans."

The Institute for Ocean Conservation was first established in Miami in 2003 as the Pew Institute for Ocean Science. Pew Charitable Trusts are giving $4 million to establish the Southampton institute, which is also receiving funds from the Lenfest Ocean Program, as well as other private and public funding.

"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," said Stony Brook President Dr. Shirley Strum Kenny.

On hand for the Friday announcement at the SUNY Stony Brook Southampton Marine Station overlooking Old Fort Pond were not only distinguished school officials and students, but Congressman Tim Bishop (D-1st) and State Assemblyman Fred Thiele. Both officials were pleased and excited at the advancements being made at the university, which was officially taken over by SUNY Stony Brook in 2006.

"It always pleases me to be back on this campus I called home for such a long time," Bishop commented. Bishop served as the long-time Provost of Southampton College. During his 29 years at the College, he served in administrative positions touching almost every aspect of college life, from institutional research and planning, to financial aid and enrollment services, student activities, personnel, community relations and fundraising. "It is really wonderful to see the investment being made. It's the kind of investment this institution both needs and deserves."

Rep. Tim Bishop and State Assemblyman Fred Thiele were excited at the creation of a
oceanic institute on the SUNY Stony Brook Southampton campus which would
cement the school's place in the world of environmental sustainability and conservation.

In his address, Thiele lauded the state for allocating the monies needed to build a new Marine Science Center on the grounds of the current Marine Station. According to Thiele, both the State Senate and Assembly budgeted for the $7 million project. Officials are still in the planning stages for the new building, and should break ground next fall, taking a year to complete it. The Marine Science Center will have a wet lab area, classrooms and space for public functions.

"The people involved here always knew that this place was a diamond in the rough," the assemblyman said. "This campus is going to be part of something internationally known for what it can produce."

Stony Brook President Shirley Strum Kenny said the institute will "attract
scientists of the highest caliber."

Dr. Pitkitch officially begins her post on Sept. 1. Through the fall, the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science will be looking to hire more faculty and attract scientists, graduate students and undergraduates looking to study there.

The biggest goals for the institute are to investigate and pursue solutions to some of the most complex issues facing water today - fisheries sustainability, conservation of threatened and endangered ocean wildlife and ecosystem-based ocean management. For starters, Pitkitch wants to look at the loss of forage fish, which are often the life food for other species within the water. According to her, 100 known marine species have already gone extinct, but since it is so hard to document extinction, that might be only the "tip of the iceberg."

SoMAS is the only academic institution in New York to offer Bachelors', Masters' and Doctorate degrees in marine science. Stony Brook is also looking to form a consortium of educational institutions to voice the concerns of the marine science community. All of this comes as New York is rethinking its policies on management of aquatic areas.

"I am so excited to see this university unfold," said Southampton Town Councilwoman Nancy Graboski, attending on behalf of Supervisor Kabot and the rest of the town board. "It's such a dynamic place."

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