The new Hollings Marine Laboratory, a 78,000-square-foot research facility, is a collaborative effort among several governmental agencies and universities. Biohazard safety labs, cryogenic specimen banks and radioisotope culture don’t mean much to the average Joe or Jane.
Those high-tech features are part of a new, $23 million marine laboratory at Fort Johnson on James Island, an advanced facility expected to make major strides in improving health and the environment for the Joes and Janes of the world.
On Thursday, VIPs from Washington, D.C., Columbia and Charleston converged on the site to dedicate the unfinished Hollings Marine Laboratory and to honor its namesake, U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings Jr., D-S.C.
When it opens this spring, the 78,000-square-foot facility will bring together some of the brightest scientific minds – from Charleston and the nation – under one roof. Its mission will be to research problems in health and the marine environment.
“The Hollings Lab will be a state-of-the-art facility that will support the interdisciplinary approach of linking marine and human health,” said Norman Mineta, secretary of the U.S. Commerce Department.
“It will yield new insights into the marine environment as well as develop the means to help us use our ocean resources more sustain- ably.”
Mineta anticipates that the lab will become “the CDC (Centers of Disease Control) for the ocean.”
The lab will be home to about 125 researchers from five federal and state agencies, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Institutes of Standards and Technology, the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, the Medical University of South Carolina and the University of Charleston.
On Thursday, Mineta – part of the outgoing Clinton Administration – said the laboratory is tangible evidence of the administration’s “commitment to explore and protect our coastal and marine resources. “It reflects a determination on our part to discover the deepest mysteries of the ocean and to better understand the interrelationship between us and the sea.”
Mineta and Gov. Jim Hodges praised Hollings for three decades of protecting the resources of the coast and ocean. Hollings said his concern about the health of the ocean over the years stemmed from the fact that it “covers seven-tenths of the earth’s surface and is totally ignored.”
“The more we learn about our marine resources and the complexity of today’s environmental issues, the more we realize we need collaborative research efforts,” Hollings said.
A focal point of the new lab will be its cryogenic bank, where healthy and diseased tissue samples will be frozen for future research. The bank will be useful if – for example – a mass dolphin stranding takes place on the coast. Tissue samples can be taken and saved for research later said Margaret Davidson, acting NOAA assistant administrator.
Labs rated with a biological safety level 3 will allow scientists to study organisms – harmful to both fish and humans – in a safe manner, she said. The lab’s work will include studying shrimp viruses and harmful algae booms such as Pfiesteria, measuring the effects of pollutants and developing new drugs and products.
MUSC scientists have planned research that includes studying stingrays that can take in large doses of salt without getting high blood pressure, a microorganism that secretes a strong coagulator and speeds healing, and a protein in the liver and gills of fish that might make chemotherapy work better.
Any one of those studies could lead to new medicines and new businesses. Scientists from different disciplines will not only work on projects together, but will share some of the same laboratory space. Besides the dedication of the lab, Mineta announced the creation of the National Marine Protected Center and two institutes to support the center’s work.
The Institute for Marine Protected Areas Science Training and Technical Assistance will be located in Charleston at NOAA’s Coastal Services Center. A similar institute will be located in Santa Cruz, Calif.
The Charleston institute will offer classes and provide new technologies to help managers design and operate protected areas. “Building a system of marine protected areas is not simple task,” Mineta said.
“It has never been attempted before. We have done it on land with our national parks and wilderness areas. But what we have done for the land, we must also do for the sea.”