From “Marine Center Charts Course – Facility Growing at Stony Brook” by Tom Morris on Newsday, Monday December 4, 1989.

When the brown tide ravaged the East End’s scallop crop in 1985 and 1986, the Marine Sciences Research Center at Stony Brook took the lead in battling the problem.

Scientists at the center are playing a major role in the six-year federal study of Long Island Sound, trying to nail down the causes of fish-killing algae blooms.

When waste floated on to Long Island beaches in the summer of 1988, the Marine Sciences Research Center also got involved.

Last spring, the center produced a detailed management plan aimed at preventing, or at least coping with, any recurrence of the epidemic of floatable waste.

Tucked in fairly remote woods on the State University of New York campus at Stony Brook, the center, which is widely recognized for its basic research in coastal oceanography, is emerging as a force in solving Long Island’s problems as well.

While maintaining its research activities, the center is increasingly helping to set public policy on complex issues involving Long Island Sound, South Shore and East End bays, wetlands, barrier beaches and the ocean’s continental shelf to about 100 miles off shore.

State Sen. Kenneth Lavalle CR-Port Jefferson), chairman of the Senate Higher Education Committee, said, “‘I think we’ll see this center emerge more and more in public service as faculty people come to realize they can be a vital resource and agent for change.”

The center, with a faculty of 42 that has participated in projects in more than 20 nations during the past five years and 100 graduate students who have arrived from 26 nations in the same period, has long been well regarded in the scientific community.

The center has grown rapidly since the mid-1970s, when it had eight faculty members, 20 students and a meager budget of about $300,000.

In fiscal 1988-89, the center’s expenditures reached $6.2 million. Between 1984 and last year, the center jumped from 24th to 12th among the top 40 marine science institutions in the nation in the amount of funds received from the ocean sciences office of the National Science Foundation.

In part, the emphasis on public service is a change for the center, which had been criticized as being too aloof from real-world coastal problems.  Now, the center is committed over the next sevetal years to a mix of basic marine research (its prime mission) and tackling real-world problems, according to the center’s director, Jerry Schubel.

Schubel, a marine geologist, took charge of the center 15 years ago and has run it since, with the exception of a three year stint as provost of the Stony Brook campus that ended in July.

“We will work more closely with decision makers to tailor informational products to their specific needs: to help tackle some of the most pressing problems that result from society’s conflicting uses and demands of the coastal ocean,” Schubel said.

Those problems include safe disposal of dredged material in New York Harbor and the Sound; how to use or dispose of huge amounts of incinerator ash that will result from increased burning of Long Island’s garbage; beach erosion; analysis of regional solid and liquid waste disposal methods; and enhancement of the finfish and shellfish industries through better understanding of the marine environment.

To increase its outreach, the center last year created a Coast Institute, whose mission is to bring marine scientists and regional decision makers together on Long Island for one major local issue a year.

The first session last year explored the problems of objectionable floatable materials, including medical wastes on beaches, and led to publication in June of a plan to control such wastes. It drew high praise from government and environmental officials.

Last week, 20 experts on sewage treatment from around the country attended a center-sponsored forum at Montauk to discuss whether sewage treatment plants that discharge to marine waters in different parts of the country need expensive upgrading to protect marine resources or only far cheaper pretreatment of effluents.

The forum was a forerunner of a session planned for spring to familiarize Long Island and New York City governments and environmental leaders with options they might have to major, costly expansion of
sewage treatment plants.

In the past few years, the center has greatly broadened its participation in councils and boards dealing with the Long Island coast, sponsored conferences on topics ranging from erosion at Westhampton Beach to the regional crisis in garbage disposal, and beefed up its speakers bureau.

State Sen. Owen Johnson (R-West Babylon), chairman of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee, said, “The center, besides training marine scientists, helps us find solutions to things like serious
algae blooms in the Sound and what to do with incinerator ash. They may have to spend alot of time in blind alleys and their research may seem esoteric and not very useful at a given moment, but add it all up over time and we may get those solutions.”

In 1985, the center created two units that directly target problems of the bicounty and metropolitan region: the Living Marine Resources Institute and Waste Management Institute (WMI), which are partially
funded by the State Legislature.

Creation of the Living Marine Resources Institute was prompted by public concern that pollution was causing a general decline in New York’s marine environment, particularly Long Island’s finfish and shellfish industries.

William M. Wise, director of that institute and associate director of the center, said its ultimate goal is to “develop new or improved procedures for the sustained culture, harvest and management” of finfish and shellfish by understanding the basic processes governing the health of marine plants and animals.

Studies aimed at bolstering the $1 billion Long Island area recreational fishing industry are receiving increased attention, Wise said.

The center says it has the only major program on bluefish, the top recreational fish on the East Coast.

Stony Brook claims to be the only marine center in the nation studying how environmental factors, such as temperature, affect the sex ratios of various species of fish. How physical features of the
ocean, such as continental shelf currents, affect fish reproduction and survival is also under study.

Such work could lead to better understanding of the life cycles of sport and commercial fish and to programs to enhance such living resources.

Among things scientists at the Living Marine Resources Institute hope to examine in the next five years are factors governing scallop survival, the economic structure of Long Island’s marine industries and how shore development affects fishery habitats.

Nick Castoro of East Moriches, president of the 60,000-member New York Sportsfishing Federation, said that up to five years ago he felt the center was “a little on the remote side,” but was encouraged by its increased emphasis on the life profiles and movement of finfish and cooperation in advising fishing groups.

The Waste Management Institute, headed by R. Lawrence Swanson, focuses on municipal solid waste, sewage sludge and dredged material.

Disposal of municipal incinerator ash from increasing numbers of Long Island garbage burning plants is getting heavy attention at the institute.

A pilot fish reef made of incinerator ash blocks, placed in Conscience Bay at Port Jefferson by the center in April, 1987, has shown so far that it is not injurious to marine plants or animals.

Early next year, the center plans to erect a storage building at its campus headquarters with 15,000 blocks made of a cement-like mix utilizing incinerator ash. Scientists will study its durability.  Potential uses for ash include highway construction and offshore barriers aimed at controlling erosion. Frank J. Roethel of the Waste Management Institute wrote in 1987 that fairly little space would be needed to dump ash waste four miles offshore in block form .

” If Long Island does go to burning of garbage in a big way, we believe we can find more uses for the ash than they can provide ash for,” Swanson said.

For several years, center scientists, led by geologist Henry Bokuniewicz, have been examining whether large amounts of dredge spoil can safely be put in old mined pits on the bottom of New York Harbor.

“The pits can probably be used quite beneficially at this point,” Swanson said, though some fishing interests oppose it because fish swarm in the holes.

Another use of the spoil under scrutiny is to build artificial islands near shore that could control erosion or be used to site sewage treatment plants, or even an offshore airport in the future.

The Waste Management Institute has advised Suffolk County on recycling problems, created a for-credit program in waste management at the university for people employed in environmental fields, and is studying several aspects of the dumping
of sewage sludge 106 miles offshore.

The metropolitan New York area, institute officials said, is “a microcosm of the world’s waste disposal issues, none of which are being satisfactorily resolved.”

Among the center’s future initiatives, Schubel, the director, said, would be examination of how regional groundwater problems influence coastal waters and intensified study of beach erosion.

Despite the busy agenda, Schubel’s not satisfied.

“We have an obligation to do more. We have been frustrated by the long time it takes between understanding problems from a technical viewpoint and having them turned into policy to help the public,” Schubel said.

 

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