RSMAS prepares to open new research center

UM’s marine school announced Wednesday the addition of a new research center devoted to the study of marine conservation and fishery issues. The school is currently one of the world’s foremost institutions for research on coral reefs, aquaculture techniques and commercially important fisheries.

The new center will be located at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science [RSMAS], in Virginia Key at Key Biscayne. The University reached a $3 million agreement with the Pew Charitable Trusts, a Philadelphia-based foundation that finances work in the areas of culture, education, health, public policy, religion and the environment, to open a center that would further marine research.

The new center, to be called the Pew Institute for Ocean Science, is officially open and is expected to be fully functional in a couple of months.

“This new institute is a great opportunity for Rosenstiel and the University,” Robert Cowen, a professor in marine biology and fisheries, said. “Not only does it bring additional resources, financial and intellectual, but it also provides expanded visibility to our school.”

The dean of RSMAS, Otis Brown, said the main goal of the institute will be to focus on marine and ocean conservation research and how to link basic science understanding with policy formation. With this goal in mind, it allows the school to have a powerful voice in the national debate over declining ocean life and increasing oceanic pollution.

“This announcement comes at a critical time for the oceans,” Joshua Reichert, director of environment programs at the Pew Charitable Trusts, said. “As more and more Americans demand greater protection for our coastal waters and ocean wildlife, the Pew Institute will provide the sound science needed to solve the challenges facing our oceans.”

Within the first year, the institute plans to produce reports on the impact of recreational fishing and ecosystem-based fishery management. Future efforts will focus on the development of effective, science-based solutions to address the various threats facing marine fish and ecosystems. These findings will be widely disseminated to policy-makers and to the public.

To coordinate these efforts, an advisory board will be set up to establish research priorities, and the institute’s executive director will be Ellen Pikitch, a fisheries scientist and Pew fellow.

Most recently, Dr. Pikitch was the director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Ocean Strategy Program, and she is an expert in the assessment of fisheries management, including those of large coastal sharks, bluefin tuna and Caspian Sea sturgeons. Her work helped ban the practice of shark-finning, in which the fins are chopped off and the shark, while still alive, is thrown back into the ocean.

Also joining the institute is Dr. Elizabeth Babcock, a fisheries expert and new assistant research professor at UM.

“The addition of Professors Pikitch and Babcock to our faculty will substantially enhance our programs in sustainable fisheries and conservation,” Brown said in a press release. “We will expect them to teach, do research, become involved with UM and community activities and mentor students.”

The institute will also administer the Pew Fellow’s program, in which marine researchers are awarded a stipend of $150,000 to pursue their work.

Students are sure to benefit with this new center and the additional resources.

“Our students will be exposed to world-class scientists as they visit for meetings, workshops and research in association with the Pew’s Fellow program,” Cowen said. “The students will also benefit by an expanded marine conservation and revised fisheries curriculum, which is under development.”

Although RSMAS is a graduate school, those working at the school say that undergraduate students will also benefit from the new institute.

“Our faculty teaches hundreds of undergraduates in the marine science, marine affairs and meteorology programs,” Brown said. “These students will have access to the new faculty members and to the Pew Fellows when they are visiting and giving seminars.”

For more information about the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, please visit To learn more about the Pew Charitable Trusts, visit

Angelique Thomas can be contacted at