New Stony Brook University marine center to launch Friday

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A new seaside Stony Brook University Marine Sciences Center has scheduled its grand opening Friday in Southampton, unveiling a high-tech research lab that connects to the bay and is expected to help researchers better study the health of Long Island's waters.

Along with new classroom space, the $8.3 million building features a computerized "wet lab" that can pump in temperature-controlled and filtered seawater from the adjoining bay.

"It's a very sophisticated, state-of-the-art facility," said Stony Brook Professor Christopher Gobler, who studies algal blooms. "It will bring us to a whole new level of research."

Officials also hope the new facility attracts undergraduates to study marine sciences at the Southampton campus of the SUNY school.

"Baymen built this part of Long Island," said Christopher Paparo, marine sciences center manager. "To train and keep researchers here to study the water is going to keep that."

The building sits above Old Fort Pond, which connects to the Shinnecock Bay. It is next to the moorings for the three research vessels used by the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences to catch fish specimens and conduct classes.

On a tour this week of the 15,000-square-foot building, Paparo, former senior aquarist at the Long Island Aquarium & Exhibition Center, lingered over the "wet lab," full of pipes to pump in saltwater from underwater intakes.

"That's the gem," he said.

The three different systems can pump in untreated water from the bay, temperature-controlled water or water that can be filtered and controlled, such as for salinity and acidity. Gobler said, for example, studies of blue claw crabs and the effect of "stressors" such as algal blooms that have plagued South Shore bays, acidity in the water and low oxygen, have had to be a summertime affair. Crabs naturally go dormant as the water cools, buried under mud.

And with cold water being pumped in from the bay in the old system, most of the research on the crabs would have to stop too. "We'd have to wait until next season," he said. Now, the research will be able to continue.

State Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and Assemb. Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor) helped secure $6.9 million in state funding. The rest was paid for by adjusting university funds.

LaValle said that in the past few years, water quality and issues of marine life "have become, probably for the East End, the number one issue, replacing open space preservation."

He said protecting the waterways is important for the fishing industry and for tourism. Visitors, LaValle said, "naturally expect the water will be of the highest quality possible."

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