New scientific and conservation institute launched in Florida

05/20/05

(Fort Pierce, Florida, May 18, 2005) Today, deep-sea explorer Dr. Edith Widder announced the creation of the Ocean Research & Conservation Association, a new scientific and conservation institute focused on reversing the trend of oceanic and near-shore marine ecosystem degradation. "Meeting this challenge requires a new type of scientific organization-- one that directly focuses its endeavors on behalf of marine conservation," stated Dr. Widder. "Something must be done to advance ocean conservation and change the fact that marine resources in the United States receive less than one-half of one percent of the total dollars devoted annually to land and animal protection. Without healthy oceans we cannot have a healthy planet, but with proper guidance from the scientific community and support from the public we can have both."

In 2004 and 2003 respectively, the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy http://www.oceancommission.gov/ and the Pew Oceans Commission http://www.pewoceans.org/ released independent reports detailing the significant threats the oceans currently face. Admiral James D. Watkins-USN (Ret.), Chairman, U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, "We need to act now to reverse distressing declines if this and future generations are to continue enjoying the many benefits we derive from our oceans and coasts."

"Currently, there are too few organizations focused on marine conservation," said Bruce H. Robison, Senior Scientist, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. "Dr. Widder's scientific track record is outstanding, with significant technological developments to her credit and a genuine commitment to advancing the field."

A key area of study at the Ocean Research & Conservation Association will be the development of high tech sensors and communication systems capable of detecting the presence of certain plants, animals and other factors important in evaluating water quality. Such systems will report back to scientists and resource managers, so better management solutions can be implemented against threats to healthy marine ecosystems, such as red tides. Ocean Research & Conservation Association will launch a nationwide public outreach effort later this year aimed at raising funds and public awareness for this important effort.

"This technology will be coupled with a Sensor Web http://sensorwebs.jpl.nasa.gov, a new type of GIS system developed at the Jet Propulsion Lab," stated NASA scientist Dr. Kevin Delin. "We are excited to have the opportunity to work with Dr. Widder's institution and have her sensor technology inserted into our Sensor Web system to help protect our nation's oceans."

"What Dr. Widder is proposing is extremely exciting," said Charles S. Yentsch, Founder and Senior Research Scientist of Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in West Boothbay Harbor, Maine. "Marine ecosystems can truly benefit from the type of work Dr. Widder specializes in. Her high tech approach to sampling and analysis is an extremely efficient way of collecting data vs. traditional and costly methods of hand sampling."

According to James Case, Research Professor and retired Vice Chancellor for Research at the University of California, Santa Barbara, "I am most encouraged to find a scientist with Dr. Widder's superb qualifications moving so decisively to devote herself full time to marine environmental conservation, and particularly to coastal problems as exemplified in her home base in Florida."

Dr. Widder has been a Senior Scientist with Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution's Division of Marine Science for more that 15 years. She has authored more than 60 scientific publications and is internationally known for her work in the field of bioluminescence, (the light chemically produced by many ocean organisms) and she shares a patent on the U.S. Navy's standard device for measuring bioluminescence. Her work has been featured on PBS, BBC, Discovery Channel and in National Geographic. Also, Dr. Widder is an Adjunct Research Professor in the Earth and Planetary Sciences Department of Johns Hopkins University, a Distinguished Scientist Adjunct at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, an Adjunct Professor of Biological Science at both Florida Institute of Technology and Florida Atlantic University and an Adjunct Scientist at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences.

"Dr. Widder has made significant contributions to ocean science and technology during her 15 year tenure at Harbor Branch and we will certainly miss her," said Dr. Shirley Pomponi, President & CEO, HBOI. "We wish her success as she focuses her science on ocean conservation, and we look forward to continuing our collaboration with her in on-going ocean research and technology projects."

Dr. Widder's organization will collaborate with scientists and engineers from Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution (HBOI: Ft. Pierce, Florida), Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (California), NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (California) and Bigelow Laboratory (West Boothbay Harbor, Maine).

Source: Eurekalert & others

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