The already strong School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (SoMAS) at Stony Brook University became even stronger on Friday when the university announced plans to establish the new Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at the Southampton campus. SoMas professor Dr. Ellen Pikitch, who was named the institute’s Executive Director, called the announcement a “high water mark” and said the new research team will build on the program’s “impressive track record” and together will make it an “even more powerful force” in ocean conservation.
The institute, which is expected to be completed in the fall of 2010, is being made possible by a $4 million grant from the Pew Charitable Trust, will be located where the current marine center now stands, on Little Neck Road just south of the Southampton campus. The institute is also expected to benefit from $6.9 million in state funding.
“Our oceans are in a state of emergency,” said Pikitch. “[The institute] will generate the science needed to better safeguard threatened marine life and ecosystems and we will use those findings to shape smarter policy.”
She said the university plans to enlist a number of top scientists, beginning this fall, and their first project will be to establish a forage fish task force to look at the rapid depletion of small schooling fish such as sardines, anchovies and menhaden. These fish serve as the primary food source for most ocean mammals, larger fish and seabirds. As a result of the health trends involving fish oil supplements, which are believed to reduce the chance of heart disease, and the demand for livestock feed which also uses the small fish, their population is dwindling. Pitcitck described the over-fishing of forage fish as “pulling the rug out from under ocean ecosystems.”
A number of elected officials were on hand at Friday’s event at the site of the new institute, including U.S. Congressman Tim Bishop and New York State Assemblyman Fred Thiele. Bishop, who once served as Southampton College provost when the school was part of the Long Island University system, said, “It was wonderful to see the investment being made [in the university].”
He said that both he and Thiele often face the challenge of balancing commercial fishing with recreation fishing, both of which are prevalent on the East End. He said many times they battle with the decisions and policies they make being based on “good science.” He said with the institute in Southampton now in the works, he felt “confident” knowing the decisions they make would be based on the excellent research that will take place there.
Thiele graduated from Southampton College. He said everyone knew it was “diamond in the rough” that only suffered because of a lack of “support. Thiele also brought up the fact that ocean conservation is “near and dear” to everyone on the East End. He mentioned the fact that the Shinnecock and Montauk canals are the two largest commercial fishing ports in the state.
President of Stony Brook University Shirley Strum Kenny said, “This new institute was important not only to Southampton, but to New York State, to the nation and to the world.”
Stony Brook University is the only institution in New York State that offers degrees in marine science at the bachelors, masters and doctorate level.
Future site of multi-million dollar marine science study center is pictured above