State, UMass plan ocean research lab in Gloucester
Think Woods Hole or Monterey Bay, and then travel to a six-acre spit of rock that looks out on Hodgkins Cove and Ipswich Bay. State officials and scientists say the quiet, picture-perfect waterfront site in Gloucester will be the ideal location for scientists to conduct breakthrough world oceanic research.
Last week, the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the state’s Division of Marine Fisheries announced that it had spent $400,000 to open a shared marine science research center at Hodgkins Cove.
The money went toward renovating a 3,200-square-foot building that had served as a marine science research lab run by UMass from 1979 to 2007.
The newly renovated site will house the UMass Large Pelagics Research Center - which focuses on tracking bluefin tuna and leatherback turtles. Scientists from the Division of Marines Fisheries also plan to establish an aquaculture center on the bay to study lobster growth rates and mating behavior.
The partnership, and investment in the site - which had been shuttered for four years - is an example of marine research that Mayor Carolyn Kirk hopes will spread toward the harbor, where at least half the waterfront properties are underutilized. Last month, the city held a maritime economy conference with hopes of attracting researchers, universities, and businesses that create products from the sea.
“What UMass is doing with world-class science will attract other world-class scientists and institutes, and help Gloucester to become a center of innovation in maritime research and technology,’’ said Kirk. “It’s a burgeoning field and we’re on the cusp of capturing our place in it.’’
The research project was spurred by Molly Lutcavage, a UMass professor and Large Pelagics Research Center founder and director who worked with local, state, and university officials to renovate the property.
The parcel was first developed a century ago as a shipping pier for Rockport Granite Co. UMass bought the site in 1970, and professor Herbert Hultin, a UMass food scientist, directed the research center until he died in 2007.
“This station gives UMassAmherst the capacity to be a leader in marine fishery science,’’ said UMass Amherst chancellor Robert Holub at last week’s reopening.
State Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Richard Sullivan Jr. also believes research conducted at the Gloucester site will have global impact. “This center will develop expertise that will inform the future sustainability of our marine fisheries,’’ he said.
Lutcavage, who began studying bluefish tuna at the New England Aquarium, founded the Large Pelagics Research Center at the University of New Hampshire more than a decade ago. She has worked with fishermen from Cape Ann, Cape Cod, and Canada to place satellite tags on bluefish tuna.
The tags remain on the fish for a year, and then dislodge and transmit navigational information about the fish’s patterns for a year - tracking water depth, ocean temperature, and sunlight.
She joined the UMass faculty two years ago and has tracked more than 500 bluefish tuna with the satellite tags.
The center has also used satellite tagging devices to track the annual migration patterns of about 15 leatherback turtles. The turtles feed in New England and can dive 3,000 feet below the surface and stay warm in cold water.
“Our goals are to fill gaps and knowledge that would allow fisheries, scientists, and managers to improve building plans and to really understand the biological basis of the populations that they’re managing,’’ she said.
“The work that’s going on here is state-of-the-art ocean science and we know that it’s just the beginning.’’