Harnessing the Power of Science to Improve Maryland's Coast
Rita Colwell. Photograph, Michael W. Fincham
Marine microbiologist Rita Colwell, first director of Maryland Sea Grant, set the program's early goal as finding and funding excellent research focused on the Chesapeake Bay's deteriorating water quality and declining fisheries. She later served as the first woman director of the National Science Foundation. Photograph, Michael W. Fincham

IT IS A PLEASURE TO BRING THIS ISSUE of Chesapeake Quarterly to our readers in celebration of our 40th anniversary. As the current director of Maryland Sea Grant, I am grateful to work every day with wonderful colleagues and collaborators who care as deeply as I do about restoring the rivers, bays, and coasts of Maryland.

Maryland Sea Grant supports a special mix of programming that employs science to address serious challenges confronting the Bay's ecology and the people who enjoy and make a living from its natural resources. We support research to better understand how we can restore and sustain the health of the estuary. Our portfolio includes supporting educational activities to foster an informed citizenry and the next generation of coastal scientists. We provide technical expertise that helps Maryland's seafood industry create and sustain jobs. And we assist a variety of community organizations to improve the Chesapeake Bay's water quality and coastal land use. In 1966, Congress presciently established the National Sea Grant College Program, of which Maryland Sea Grant is a part, because legislators recognized the need for science-based policy for our coastal and estuarine ecosystems to benefit a variety of constituents including resource managers, decision makers, businesses, and citizen volunteers.

The growth of our program's capabilities is a result of the collective vision and commitment of a series of talented individuals who led our program before my tenure as director began in 2012. Their efforts helped to shape strengths of Maryland Sea Grant that persist today.

In 1977, Rita Colwell, an internationally renowned microbiologist, and colleagues at the University of Maryland designed and launched the Maryland Sea Grant Program. In 1978, Rita became our first director. Her vision guided Maryland Sea Grant's early years researching Chesapeake Bay's natural resources and supporting the state's fishing industry. Maryland Sea Grant's focus then and now linked research and public outreach.

Our partnership with the University of Maryland Extension service has been integral to our program's success from the beginning. The first Sea Grant employee was Don Webster, an Extension agent who works directly with fishers and processors (see "Seeding an Industry"). Additional Sea Grant Extension specialists in shellfish and fisheries soon joined the program. Their early and continuing support of oyster farmers has played an important role in fostering the growth of Maryland's nascent aquaculture industry.

Rita also perceived a critical need for a first-rate communications program that would explain for many audiences how research was illuminating in detail the ecological processes of the Bay and coastal waters. She recruited Michael W. Fincham, a writer and filmmaker, who organized a multi-level approach to science communication that continues today. Since 2002, Chesapeake Quarterly has brought science-rich analysis to understanding environmental issues throughout the watershed. In 2007, we published a comprehensive reference work, The Blue Crab: Callinectes sapidus, complementing our 1996 seminal oyster book, The Eastern Oyster: Crassostrea virginica. We've produced television documentaries, online videos, reports, and infographics about submerged aquatic vegetation, oysters, fisheries, invasive species, climate change, and watersheds, all of which have provided Marylanders with engaging and useful information about the Chesapeake and our coasts.

When Rita became director of the newly established University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute (UMBI) in 1985, she continued to administer the Maryland Sea Grant Program. In 1998, she moved on to become director (and the first woman leader) of the National Science Foundation, one of the largest funders of academic research. In a White House ceremony in 2007, Rita was awarded the U.S. National Medal of Science.

Clockwise: Jack Greer, Chris D'Elia, Fredrika Moser, Jon Kramer. Photographs, Skip Brown (Greer); Michael W. Fincham (D'Elia, Kramer, Moser)
Four directors have led Maryland Sea Grant since Rita Colwell founded the program. Clockwise from upper left: Jack Greer was acting director for Maryland Sea Grant for one year in 1988; Chris D'Elia served as director for ten years, Jon Kramer for 12 years, and Fredrika Moser has led the program since 2012. Photographs, Skip Brown (Greer); Michael W. Fincham (D'Elia, Kramer, Moser)

During the UMBI transition, Rick Jarman served briefly as an executive director, followed by Jack Greer, then assistant director of communications and public affairs, who took over as acting director in 1987. Both these successors built on the strong foundation of Rita's vision and scientific expertise. Under Jack's leadership, Maryland Sea Grant developed a specialty as a convener of key players in Chesapeake Bay restoration and an integrator of scientific findings for them. A talented writer, Jack was also a gifted facilitator. One of my favorite examples of his success as an integrator and communicator was when he worked with academics, the Chesapeake Bay Commission, watermen, fisheries regulators, and environmentalists to address the challenge of setting harvest limits for Chesapeake Bay blue crabs. New management ideas were needed for ensuring a sustainable crab population. The trust and understanding that Jack helped develop among these diverse individuals over months of work led to a compromise approach recommended by a government body, the Bi-state Blue Crab Advisory Committee, that is still driving harvest policy today.

Following Jack as director was Chris D'Elia, a scientist with deep knowledge of the Chesapeake Bay's ecology. He came from the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory (CBL) where he was among a group of determined scientists whose research began detailing the effects of excess nutrients in the Bay, especially the creation of hypoxia, the near absence of dissolved oxygen in bottom waters, and the resulting creation of "dead zones" devoid of estuarine life. Early in his career, Chris worked closely with Walter Boynton, also at CBL, Jim Sanders (now at the University of Georgia), and other scientists to establish the Patuxent River as a national model for understanding estuarine nutrient dynamics and for reducing nutrient inputs to a river. Chris never failed to credit the late Donald R. Heinle, another CBL scientist, who helped pioneer the view that nitrogen, not phosphorus, was the nutrient that needed to be curtailed in many estuaries. Their scientific insight drove innovations in nutrient management.

Chris's scientific interests and expertise led Maryland Sea Grant to produce a number of important synthesis documents that organized key findings in environmental science and their implications for policy. These included reports on contaminants in the Chesapeake and, notably, a book that has been a major contribution to understanding the dynamics of oxygen in estuarine systems, Dissolved Oxygen in the Chesapeake Bay.

In addition, Chris also deepened Sea Grant's support for both graduate and undergraduate education. Awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation in 1989, he established our Research Experiences for Undergraduates program. It continues bringing students to the Chesapeake Bay region each summer to conduct environmental research. Building on this program, Maryland Sea Grant has recruited students from underrepresented groups into the program and introduced them to research and careers in marine science.

Chris left in 1999 for another position in administration and later became dean of Louisiana State University's College of the Coast and Environment.

His successor, Jon Kramer, took over as Maryland Sea Grant moved its association from the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute to its current home under the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.

In Sea Grant tradition, Jon was skilled at harnessing science to change conversations about the Bay. He convened teams of researchers to develop consensus on the science of complex coastal issues and provide research-based advice on emerging issues in the estuary. Highlights of this work include analyses of the efficacy of dredging in Baltimore Harbor and of oyster restoration in the Chesapeake; Jon also helped develop a framework for how to conduct ecosystem-based fisheries management (EBFM) in the Bay. These reports were useful and influential. Significantly, the Chesapeake Bay fisheries management discussion shifted forever as a result of Sea Grant's EBFM effort.

Who Killed  Crassostrea virginica? cover

From its beginning, Maryland Sea Grant Comunications has been reaching out to our many audiences in the Chesapeake Bay and coastal regions by creating products that address issues important to the region. Topics we've covered include oyster biology and disease, sustainable blue crab populations, fisheries management, sea level rise, and declining seagrasses.  more. . . .

Sea Grant's work has been molded not only by the vision and leadership of its directors but also its many talented staff members. Among them is J. Adam Frederick, assistant director for education, who has developed and helped Maryland science teachers use innovative, experiential pedagogy based on principles in coastal science. (See "Living Micro-Reefs Bring Excitement to the Classroom"). Another is Doug Lipton, an economist and former director of Maryland Sea Grant Extension, who was instrumental in developing a cadre of Extension watershed restoration specialists (see "Partners in Stormwater Control"). Peer-reviewed scientific research remains foundational to Maryland Sea Grant, but with Adam's and Doug's work, we greatly expanded our educational and outreach programs to meet the needs of Maryland residents.

I find the variety and impacts of Maryland Sea Grant's work heartening. It is encouraging to see our state's aquaculture industry expand. Introducing students to marine science and watching them become new champions for environmental science inspires me. Our collaborations with great colleagues and partners strengthen our resolve to solve hard problems. As I like to say, "If it was easy, everyone would do it."

The National Sea Grant College Program has faced budget challenges in past years and new ones in 2017. But we remain optimistic that Maryland's future will be one in which our bays and watersheds are cleaner and our coastal communities remain vibrant. We are excited about working with our colleagues, our Chesapeake Quarterly readers, and our many friends and supporters in the state and beyond to solve challenging environmental problems and help make that future vision a reality during Maryland Sea Grant's next 40 years.

40th Anniversary Issue
Visit Our Blogs
What's next for oyster aquaculture
A decade ago, Donald Webster could count the number of oyster farms in the state of Maryland on two hands. By Rona Kobell.
From the Water to Washington: Connecting Experiences in DC and Coastal Communities
In graduate school, I found it easy to find the impact and context of my fisheries research. By Gray Redding .
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