New Center for Ocean Health at UCSC's Long Marine Lab emphasizes integration of science and policy

The University of California, Santa Cruz, will dedicate the Center for Ocean Health at the Joseph M. Long Marine Laboratory on Thursday, February 21. The 23,000-square-foot state-of-the-art research facility was completed last spring and has been occupied since June 2001.

The Center for Ocean Health serves as a focal point for scientific research, education, and policy programs that address ocean conservation and management issues. By fostering interactions between university researchers, government agencies, and conservation organizations, the center encourages the integration of research and policy efforts to protect and manage marine ecosystems and biodiversity.

"We are targeting scientific questions that have strong policy implications, where there is a need for solid research to address issues of great importance to the region and the state," said Peter Raimondi, an associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology.

Raimondi is one of about a dozen faculty and researchers in UCSC's Institute of Marine Sciences (IMS) who moved their offices and laboratories from the main campus to the Center for Ocean Health last year, bringing with them postdoctoral researchers, graduate students, and technical support staff. The researchers in the center are primarily involved in studies of marine vertebrates and coastal biology. The center gives them easy access to the other research facilities at Long Marine Lab, including tanks and pools for marine mammals and seawater laboratories for fish, plankton, and marine invertebrates.

Two nonprofit conservation groups have offices at the Center for Ocean Health: the Nature Conservancy's Coastal Waters Program and the Island Conservation and Ecology Group. Also located nearby are the Seymour Marine Discovery Center, with a university teaching lab and public education programs; the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Santa Cruz Laboratory, where federal scientists are studying major West Coast fisheries; and a marine wildlife center run by the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG).

"Having all these other groups around us has led to a lot of dynamic and healthy interactions. It's a really vital and vibrant place to work," Raimondi said.

"It's been exciting to see the synergy that's developed at the new center," added IMS director Gary Griggs. "Bringing the scientists down here where they can be close to their research and interact with each other has paid off in a lot of ways. This is the first new university research building at the laboratory in 20 years, and combined with the other new state and federal facilities that have relocated to the site, we are becoming a well-recognized center for innovative marine research and education focused on the health of the oceans."

Raimondi and Mark Carr, associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, lead UCSC's participation in the Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans (PISCO), a large-scale research program that focuses on understanding the nearshore ecosystems of the U.S. West Coast. In many ways, PISCO exemplifies the aim of the Center for Ocean Health to integrate science, policy, and education. The project's findings are applied to issues of ocean conservation and management, and are communicated and shared through public outreach and student-training programs. (Recent findings from PISCO will be presented at a public symposium on March 10 at CSU Monterey Bay.)

"Some of the most urgent issues in California and throughout the world involve these linkages of science and policy in the coastal zone, because that's where most of the people are and where so many conflicts occur between people and the coastal environment," Raimondi said.

Michael Beck, director of the Coastal Waters Program for the Nature Conservancy, said his organization's partnership with UCSC is mutually beneficial.

"I'm able to transfer important new knowledge about marine science from UCSC researchers to the people working at our field sites. We have marine conservation practitioners on the ground in more than 25 countries, from Indonesia to coastal sites throughout the United States, and it's important to connect them with sources of knowledge and expertise," Beck said.

In return, Beck gives feedback to UCSC scientists about what kinds of information are most needed to improve marine conservation and management efforts. UCSC graduate students and interns work on Nature Conservancy projects, gaining firsthand experience with marine conservation issues.

"There are few places in the world where there is such good synergy between scientists, managers, conservationists, and public educators working to understand and preserve marine diversity," Beck said.

The Island Conservation and Ecology Group (ICEG) also has a close relationship with the IMS. Founded in 1994 by Donald Croll, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, and IMS researcher Bernie Tershy, ICEG is primarily concerned with problems caused by introduced species on islands. For example, the group is helping to save breeding colonies of marine birds that are threatened by introduced rats and other exotic species on coastal islands of Mexico and California. ICEG works with UCSC scientists, postdoctoral researchers, and graduate students involved in research projects related to the group's goals.

"From the university's perspective, it gives students an opportunity to do conservation science, and for ICEG, it enables us to do studies that we wouldn't otherwise be able to do," Croll said.

UCSC researchers and students also work with scientists at the state and federal laboratories adjacent to Long Marine Lab. Churchill Grimes, director of the NMFS lab, noted that cooperative research projects involving NMFS and UCSC scientists are currently supported by $1.2 million in federal funds.

The NMFS lab, overseen by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is also home to NOAA's Institute for Marine Protected Area Science, established as part of a national effort to create a scientifically based, comprehensive national system of protected areas representing diverse U.S. marine ecosystems.

"We are in the middle of the nation's largest marine sanctuary here in Monterey Bay, with a national center at the NMFS lab that's looking at how to use protected areas to conserve marine resources, and the IMS is doing research that's helping them understand how to do this. All these things are complementary," Griggs said.

The Center for Ocean Health draws on the full range of expertise in the Institute of Marine Sciences. With 43 affiliated faculty and over 50 professional and postdoctoral researchers, the IMS is known for cutting-edge interdisciplinary research in environmental toxicology, marine mammal biology, nearshore ecological processes, marine biogeochemistry, paleoceanography, and continental margin geology.

Construction of the Center for Ocean Health was largely funded by a $5 million grant from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.


Editor's note: Reporters may contact Griggs at (831) 459-5006 or and Raimondi at (831) 459-5674 or

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