Marine researchers at Nova Southeastern University’s oceanography division like to tell stories about how scientists there used to take five-gallon buckets to the ocean, a short hike away, to get saltwater for their experiments. At Nova’s new $40-million Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Ecosystems Research, the process is considerably more sophisticated — saltwater is piped directly to their labs via two deep wells, several 5,000-gallon tanks and a state-of-the-art temperature control, filtering and cleansing system.
Nova scientists moved to the facility, the nation’s only research facility entirely dedicated to coral reefs, in June, but the school will hold a grand opening Sept. 27. Built with a $15-million federal stimulus grant and $25 million from the university, the 86,000-sq.-ft. building on the waterfront in Hollywood is a palace compared to the industrial-style buildings on the Intracoastal that had housed the oceanographic division for years. (The original facilities in 1966 were two houseboats.)
The division studies all aspects of oceanography but focuses on reefs, sharks and billfish. Nova says Florida is home to 84% of the nation’s reef ecosystem; reefs contribute more than $6 billion a year to the south Florida economy. In applying for the grant, the university said the project would create 300 construction jobs and employ 50 graduate students and 22 new researchers to complement the 22 academics already on staff.
A key area of study will be the effect of ocean warming, acidification and other strains on reefs. “They’re under stress through all the world, certainly in Florida, certainly locally,” says oceanographic dean Richard Dodge.