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Marine research center dedicated

Soon after a fiery collision spilled fuel oil into the Gulf of Mexico last summer, marine research scientists at Bayboro Harbor circled the spill in an airplane and beamed signals to satellites.

Several hours later, they were handing out detailed maps of the spreading oil to help firefighters and Coast Guard personnel control the spill. In the days that followed, the scientists tracked the movements of the oil as it dissipated, reformed and drifted into nearby estuaries and toward the Gulf Beach shoreline.

"Anyone that needed a map had one, and had one the day of the spill," said Florida Marine Research Institute scientist Timothy Leary.

The maps created during the oil spill were just one of many research projects on display Friday when the a new $21-million joint marine research facility was dedicated. The 140,650-square foot building at 100 Eighth Ave. SE in St. Petersburg houses the state Department of Environmental Protection's Florida Marine Research Institute and the University of South Florida's Department of Marine Science.

The dedication was attended by about 500 scientists, politicians, business people and state department heads and academics.

During a tour of the new facility, scientists showed how remote sensing systems used during the August 1993 oil spill also track changes in marine habitats and follow the movements of manatees. Other scientists discussed projects to rebuild the scallop populations in area bays and to propagate sea grasses in laboratories for habitat restoration projects.

"Good scientific information is the key to good habitat restoration and this building is going to help us to do that," said Virginia Wetherell, secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection.

Each facility has a separate lobby and building, but Tampa architects Reefe Yanada & Associates designed the building so the facilities are connected on the third floor by a glassed-in walkway.

Both the state marine research center and the USF marine science program have been housed at Bayboro Harbor for decades. The new facility gives them a more visible presence, said Jamie Serino, program coordinator for the Florida Marine Research Institute. That proximity will lead to greater cooperation on research projects and to increased communication, he said.

St. Petersburg is also home to the U.S. Geological Survey's Center for Coastal Geology, the Florida Institute of Oceanography, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and the Tampa Bay PORTS System.

"We have got a core that is superior to anything in the state," said state Rep. Peter Wallace, D-St. Petersburg, as he stood in front of the building. "It is something to be very proud of."

Harold Humm came to Bayboro Harbor from Duke University to start the USF marine science program in 1967 and remained director until 1974. The growth of the marine research into a facility of national importance is a confirmation of the possibilities that he saw here. Humm said the harbor has perfect conditions for studying marine science.

"We can tie up the biggest oceanographic vessels in existence right outside our labs," Humm said. "It was the one and only place for the state university system to have a state oceanography program."