The University of South Florida’s visionary plan to establish the Interdisciplinary Center of Excellence in Environmental and Oceanographic Sciences on its St. Petersburg campus will bring tremendous benefits to the region and the nation. The Florida Legislature and the Tampa Bay community should support building a home for this remarkable resource.
Ocean pollution, rising sea levels, Red Tide and sustainable fisheries are issues important to Tampa Bay, Florida and the nation. USF is ideally positioned to help society meet these fundamental challenges, and it is asking the Legislature for $60 million in public money for the proposed $80 million Environmental & Oceanographic Sciences Research & Teaching Facility. That would be a smart investment of public dollars and complement work the College of Marine Science has been doing for decades.
For example, the College of Marine Science received almost $40 million in public money to respond to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the largest such grant to an academic institution in the Gulf region. We were also on the scene at Piney Point this past year — providing, in real time, the science needed to guide a rapid and effective response to the hundreds of millions of gallons of nutrient-laden wastewater released into Tampa Bay.
The new center of excellence would fit nicely with the College of Marine Science’s work. The facility would house the Florida Flood Hub established last year by the Legislature. It also would include revitalized laboratories and classrooms to support the research of oceans and coasts needed to make smart decisions about the sustainability of our oceans and our communities.
There is no doubt the center of excellence and its new facility adjacent to the College of Marine Science in St. Petersburg would attract highly qualified faculty and students. It also would spur innovation and investment within the private sector. As deans of the College of Marine Science, we have seen the dedication and ingenuity scientists and students play in meeting the challenges facing our oceans. We also know that by working together — through collaborations among government institutions, elected leaders, the St. Pete Innovation District and other business leaders — we expand our collective ability to meet these challenges.
We appreciate House Speaker Chris Sprowls’ leadership on this project. We urge Gov. Ron DeSantis, the Florida Legislature, and the entire Tampa Bay community to support USF’s center of excellence and its plans for a new home for it — a public investment that will provide a tremendous public benefit.
The writers all served as dean of the University of South Florida College of Marine Science: Jacqueline Dixon (from 2011-2020), William Hogarth (2008-2010) and Peter Betzer (2001-2008).