Leveraging its little-known marine lab in Bodega Bay, the University of California, Davis, announced the formation Thursday of a new institute and an undergraduate major focusing on marine sciences.
"People don't think about Davis as being strong in the marine sciences because we're in the middle of the Central Valley," said Rick Grosberg, founding director of the new Coastal and Marine Sciences Institute.
"However, the university has led many efforts in marine science and policy in the last few decades, especially coastal ocean sciences in California."
A key component of the new institute will be an interdisciplinary undergraduate degree in marine sciences, which is expected to launch in 2014.
The institute also will host the Center for Coastal Ocean Issues as a forum for collaboration among scientists, government agencies, and policymakers.
Most of the marine research emanating from UC Davis is done at its Bodega Marine Laboratory, one of the largest marine labs in California.
The lab hugs a foggy and windy promontory at Bodega Bay. Its location places the lab within several marine environments, including the waters of the Bodega Marine Reserve. UC Berkeley originally owned the lab, opened in 1966, but it was taken over by UC Davis in 1984.
During the summer, 160 staff members and students work at the center. About 100 are there during the school year.
The facility offers an undergraduate and graduate curriculum and housing for its students. It recently oversaw the first successful captive spawning of the endangered white abalone in nearly a decade.
Some in the marine research community see the creation of a marine sciences institute as a logical one for UC Davis.
"This fantastic marine laboratory facility is located on the coast, remote from the campus of UC Davis, and as such has suffered from its geographic isolation and lack of integration with its parent campus," said Jim Eckman, director of the California Sea Grant program at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at La Jolla.
"This issue is a complication with which many remote labs are burdened," Eckman said. "The new institute provides a clear structure for uniting the facility with the main campus and the diverse interests there. It will no doubt prove a boon for students and professional researchers alike."
UC Davis employs about 70 scientists in the marine sciences, a number that is expected to rise as new graduate and professional training programs are implemented.
The research and classroom activity at the institute will continue its focus on coastal Northern California, with its research area starting north of Monterey and stretching up to the Lost Coast in Humboldt and Mendocino counties.
Coastal ocean issues have become increasingly important of late in global economy and climate change, including a projected rise in sea levels and the prevalence of endangered marine ecosystems.
Initially, the university will provide several thousand dollars to the institute to pay for infrastructure and upkeep at Bodega Bay, which is vulnerable to the corrosive sea air and winds. Funds for fellowships and the establishment of the Center for Coastal Ocean Issues will follow, Grosberg said.
"My goal is to put together an institute that puts together the individual strengths in the natural sciences and the social science, as well as policy and law, and put those together in a package where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts," Grosberg said.
Call The Bee's Edward Ortiz, (916) 321-1071. Follow him on Twitter @edwardortiz.