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November 24, 1997

Funding approved for $15 million fisheries lab next to Long Marine Lab

By Robert Irion

UCSC's vision of a leading center for coastal marine research in Santa Cruz surged forward last week, just as oil spills and a threatening El Niño served to remind residents of the fragility and mystery of our oceans.

The U.S. Congress, in one of its last acts before adjourning for the year, voted to allocate $15.2 million to move a National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) laboratory from its aging facility in Tiburon, north of San Francisco, to a new building next to UCSC's Long Marine Lab. Scientists at the fisheries lab study fish that live close to the seafloor along the California coast, as well as the environmental and human-caused factors that affect their populations.

The funding will pay for plans and construction of a new building near the recently opened Oiled Wildlife Veterinary Care and Research Center, operated jointly by the state Department of Fish and Game and UCSC's Institute of Marine Sciences. Construction could begin as early as next summer, with completion by late 1999 or early 2000.

The new project adds to a veritable tsunami of activity at Long Marine Lab and its environs. Already under way is construction of UCSC's $5.3 million Marine Discovery Center, which will triple the lab's capacity to educate schoolchildren and the general public. The Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group, housed at Long Marine Lab, will build a $250,000 Oiled Seabird Facility next to the state's Oiled Wildlife Center to focus on the care and monitoring of oiled birds.

Indeed, years of behind-the-scenes efforts at UCSC and in Washington, D.C., are now paying off for the campus and its marine researchers.

"I am excited that we finally have the funding needed to move the NMFS Tiburon laboratory to Santa Cruz," said U.S. Congressman Sam Farr (D-Carmel). "The NMFS laboratory will benefit from a new partnership with Long Marine Lab and collaborative efforts with UCSC and the Oiled Wildlife Center."

Lora Lee Martin, director of federal governmental relations for UCSC and director of UCSC's Monterey Bay Education, Science, and Technology Center at the former Fort Ord, points to the NMFS move as the latest evidence of Monterey Bay's emergence on the national research scene.

"This relocation represents a long-term investment in the excellence of scientific partnerships, both in Santa Cruz and across the Monterey Bay Research Crescent," Martin said. "The growing list of institutions that line our shores and the associated scientific partnerships are yielding both an important understanding of the world's oceans and a stronger regional economy."

According to Mickey Eldridge, chief of physiological ecology investigations for the Tiburon lab, the staff of about 35 researchers and support personnel are looking forward to the move. The lab's mission, Eldridge said, is to study the populations and environments of fish along the coast of central and northern California, as well as in estuaries and rivers. Among the most important commercial and recreational resources are bottom-dwelling marine fishes, or "groundfish," and salmon stocks, some of which are threatened or endangered.

Laboratory scientists also study environmental influences on these resources, including aspects of habitat quality, ecosystem health, and climate change.

The lab is a satellite facility of the Southwest Fisheries Science Center, based in La Jolla. It moved to its current location in 1962, occupying a former naval base in Tiburon that dates back nearly a century.

Gary Griggs, director of UCSC's Institute of Marine Sciences, said the NMFS researchers will complement UCSC's own strengths in marine biology and ocean sciences. "Until very recently, we have not had any marine scientists studying the fish that are an important economic resource for California and the world," Griggs said. "The NMFS relocation will bring an important group of scientists studying both salmon and groundfish to Santa Cruz, considerably expanding our capabilities and expertise."

NMFS and UCSC plan joint research projects and cruises, as well as paid jobs for graduate and undergraduate students in marine biology. NMFS researchers also hope to teach courses and seminars at UCSC.

As part of the NMFS project, Long Marine Lab's seawater supply system will double in capacity. The new Marine Discovery Center will feature exhibits about research at both the NMFS facility and the Oiled Wildlife Center, Griggs noted.

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