tampabay.com

Prestige comes in waves to USF marine program

By DONNA WINCHESTER
Published April 21, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG - News of a partnership with a national marine research firm came in November.

Then came the January announcement of a center that would help deliver sensor and imaging technology to ports around the world.

Now, a worldwide organization that promotes sustainable ocean space and coastal resources has selected the University of South Florida St. Petersburg as the site for its first U.S. center.

The nod from the International Ocean Institute, a nonprofit group with partners in 25 nations, is the most recent accolade for the university's College of Marine Science.

"I'm not surprised that this international group decided that St. Petersburg would be a good location," said Marine Science dean Peter Betzer. "We've accumulated one of the largest collections of marine science agencies in the United States."

In fact, Betzer said, USF's marine science resources, combined with community resources such as the Pier Aquarium, come close to rivaling those of Scripps Research Institute in California and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, the "granddaddy and grandmother of them all."

The International Ocean Institute, known as IOI, looked at California, Key West and Miami before choosing St. Petersburg as the base for its U.S. operations, said Marianne Cufone, a Florida environmental lawyer and a member of the institute's steering committee.

"We have a lot of nonprofit organizations that are involved with the ocean world such as Gulf Restoration Network, the Sierra Club and the National Environmental Trust," Cufone said. "They made our community look very favorable for this type of institute."

One of IOI-USA's early goals will be to provide training in port and maritime security, said Christopher D'Elia, regional associate vice chancellor for research and graduate studies at USF St. Petersburg. Training also will be available for visiting environmental professionals focused on challenges such as the increasing urbanization of the world's coastlines.

Another early goal for IOI-USA is an international conference planned for November 2008, D'Elia said. The conference is expected to attract 700 visitors, including mayors from major coastal cities around the world.

Put simply, D'Elia said, professionals from as far as Asia and South America will come to the center to see what kinds of technologies the university is developing and to learn how to adapt them for needs in their own coastal areas.

"I think one of the main issues that we're interested in is the chance to get involved with training and things of that ilk," D'Elia said. "We want to have access to the international community of folks who have to make difficult management decisions."

While being designated as the first U.S. center is an honor for USF St. Petersburg, Cufone sees the impact extending beyond the university.

"This is a new and exciting opportunity for the Tampa Bay area," she said. "This gives us the chance to share what we've learned with the rest of the world."

News researcher Angie Holan contributed to this report. Times staff writer Donna Winchester can be reached at winchester@sptimes.com or 727 893-8413.

Fast Facts:

Marine science at USF: a history

1988: The U.S. Geological Survey announces it will move a team of scientists to a coastal research center on the USF St. Petersburg campus.

1995: The department's Center for Ocean Technology opens with five engineers.

1996: The U.S. Geological Survey Center for Coastal Geology breaks ground on a second building at USF St. Petersburg.

2002: The U.S. Geological Survey breaks ground on a third building, expanding its Center for Coastal and Regional Marine Studies.

2004: NOAA's National Marine Fisheries opens facilities in Bayboro Harbor next to the college, creating a complex consisting of six agencies and more than 700 employees, the largest marine science complex in the southeastern U.S.

2004: St. Petersburg-based Florida Marine Research Institute, once the state's main saltwater lab, gets a new name and mission. The Fish and Wildlife Research Institute expands its research to include manatee and sea turtle programs, among other wildlife studies.

November 2006: SRI, USF and city officials announce the formation of SRI-St. Petersburg with more than $30-million in public incentives.

April 2007: USF St. Petersburg announces it has been designated as the first operational center of the International Ocean Institute in the United States.