NEWPORT - The Oregon coast's leading marine science research facility and one of its leading tourism and public outreach attractions will partner in a series of ventures designed to ultimately increase the "ocean literacy" of the general public.
Oregon State University's Hatfield Marine Science Center and the Oregon Coast Aquarium have signed a memorandum of understanding to collaborate on research, education and outreach.
"It is a partnership that is long overdue," said George Boehlert, director of OSU's Hatfield Marine Science Center. "Given our proximity, and the similarity of our missions, it is surprising that it hasn't happened before. By working together, we can leverage additional resources and provide more opportunities for Oregonians by sharing research expertise, laboratories, classrooms, display areas and educational programming."
Dale Schmidt, president and CEO of the Oregon Coast Aquarium, said the details of the collaboration will develop over time. But, he added, the partnership already has begun.
"We are working more closely with the scientists and educators at the marine science center than ever before," Schmidt said. "We share similar missions of education and outreach, but Hatfield has much more behind-the-scenes research on ocean and estuarine dynamics and habitat, while our strength is in bringing to the public's attention the creatures that live in those environments.
"Putting our expertise together should result in a dynamic array of educational possibilities, research projects, and outreach programs."
One area of collaboration already well under way is a partnership between the two institutions and Oregon Coast Community College, offering the only two-year degree program in the nation that focuses on aquarium science.
OSU's Hatfield Marine Science Center is located just east of the Highway 101 bridge in Newport. The 49-acre campus has about 300 employees; 40 percent from OSU and the rest representing a number of state and federal agencies, including the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Its teaching and research laboratories support investigation in marine biology and ecology, oceanography, botany, microbiology, zoology, geochemistry, genetics, marine fisheries and aquaculture. Since the 1960s, the Oregon Sea Grant Program has led informal activities at the Newport facility and now manages the popular visitor's center, which draws more than 125,000 visitors annually. The Hatfield center also has docking facilities for two OSU research ships, the Wecoma and the Elakha.
The Oregon Coast Aquarium - located just a few hundred yards to the south - draws roughly half a million visitors a year. Its touring education outreach program visited more than 10,000 students last year, and another 20,000 students attended on-site classes.
The aquarium has a well-known sea otter breeding program and is conducting research on the animals' olfactory capabilities. The facility also is home to several other rehabilitation and conservation programs that encompass the western snowy plover, the Oregon silverspot butterfly, and yelloweye rockfish. It was the first zoological facility to hatch a rhinoceros auklet in captivity.
Both facilities annually draw thousands of school children for field trips, and both Boehlert and Schmidt say the students' experience at the central Oregon coast can be even greater as the two facilities begin to work together on programming, exhibits, and field trip opportunities.
Norma Paulus, a former Oregon Superintendent of Public Instruction and a board member of the Oregon Coast Aquarium, said the benefits of such collaboration could be profound. "Working together on youth and family educational programs is a natural for this cooperation," Paulus said. "Together, OSU and the Oregon Coast Aquarium have the potential to develop educational tools and curricula in marine science that can improve education statewide and potentially have national impacts."
OSU President Ed Ray first met with aquarium board members in the fall of 2004 to initiate discussions of cooperation. At that time, he said, the National Ocean Policy Commission had just called for new educational programming to increase the public's ocean literacy.
"I firmly believe that the Oregon Coast Aquarium's public-serving expertise, and the academic and research capabilities of OSU's Hatfield Marine Science Center can blend together to develop some exciting, far-reaching programs that bring notable focus to Oregon," Ray said.