The University of Maine System and the Downeast Institute (DEI), home to the Marine Science Field Station of the University of Maine at Machias, have secured $5 million in investments from state and foundation partners to build and equip the nation’s easternmost, fully-equipped marine research laboratory and education facility in Washington County. The project will expand opportunities for Maine in the seafood industry, a sector projected to grow to 1.4 billion pounds of annual consumption by 2020 according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The ongoing work and planned investment in the Downeast Institute and University of Maine at Machias Marine Science Field Station is an example of how serving Maine as One University is bringing the resources of higher education and state stakeholders together to better serve the students and people of Maine.
The planned $5 million investment at DEI will fund an expansion of the existing facility, building an 8,250-square foot wet and dry lab; a 2,500-square foot mezzanine in the current shellfish production and research center; and, mechanical, electrical and plumbing upgrades to support the facility. The final piece will be site work to support the facility. The investment will also include the purchase and installation of state-of-the-art equipment and air and seawater systems for experimentation on the impacts of climate change on Maine’s marine resources.
The investment in Maine’s marine resource industry and Washington County includes a $2 million donation to the Downeast Institute previously announced in October 2014 from the Next Generation Foundation matching $2 million from the State of Maine’s Marine Economy & Jobs Bond. DEI’s award is a portion of the $7,000,000 bond issue that was approved by voters in 2014, and awarded to the Alliance for Maine’s Marine Economy, to facilitate the growth of marine businesses and commercial enterprises that create jobs and improve the sustainability of the State’s marine economy.
Additional resources being invested in the the project and the on-going work of the facility includes funding from the state-supported and University of Maine System administered Maine Economic Improvement Fund totaling nearly $500,000 in targeted grants and $400,000 in support for small campus research.
“The coast of Washington County is home to one of the world’s most pristine and ecologically important marine environments. We have an obligation to protect this resource for future generations and a growing opportunity to responsibly profit from it,” said Dianne Tilton, Executive Director of the Downeast Institute. “Our partnership with Maine’s Public Universities, the support of our state leaders, and the incredibly generous contribution from the Next Generation Foundation are making our vision of stewardship and economic opportunity a reality. Our Board of Directors, our staff, and local partners are incredibly grateful for this investment in our work and our region.”
“Working as One University we are marshalling the resources of our universities and partners to bring investment to the Downeast Region and create opportunity for coastal communities and families across Maine,” said James H. Page, Chancellor of the University of Maine System. “The capacity for discovery, education, and support we are building at the University of Maine Machias’ Marine Science Field Station at the Downeast Institute and with the generous support of our partners will help Maine expand its global standing as a steward and supplier of marine resources.”
“The science and technology infrastructure and expertise that is consolidated at DEI’s state-of-the-art Great Wass Island location is incredibly vital,” said Brian Whitney, President of the Maine Technology Institute. “Indeed, this award recognizes the importance of DEI’s influence on improving and sustaining Maine’s essential Downeast and coastal economy.”
Located on Great Wass Island in Beals, Maine, the Downeast Institute for Applied Marine Research and Education was transformed from the Beals Island Shellfish Hatchery in the year 2000 with a vision to improve the quality of life for the people of Downeast and coastal Maine through applied marine research, technology transfer and public marine resource education. It became home to the expanding Marine Science Field Station for the University of Maine at Machias in 2003.
“Our coastal environment and our marine economy are traditions we cherish and resources we must protect to sustain the Downeast region,” said State Senator Joyce Maker of Washington County, Senate Chair of the Marine Resource Committee. “The partnership between the Downeast Institute and the University of Maine System and these new investments will create much needed opportunity for our communities and for our hardworking neighbors who fish and farm the sea to support their families.”
“Investments that improve our understanding of our marine resources and coastal ecology pay dividends along the entire coastline of Maine,” said State Representative Walter Kumiega of Deer Isle, House Chair of the Marine Resources Committee. “On behalf of my colleagues on the Marine Resources Committee I want to express appreciation for the generous resources and hard work devoted to expanding Maine’s capacity for fisheries scholarship, research, preservation and opportunity.”
“This is great news – I’m glad to see that DEI is being improved,” said State Representative Robert Alley, D-Beals. “They are doing great work there and they deserve this additional investment.”
Since its founding, DEI’s hatchery operations have provided hundreds-of-millions of juvenile shellfish to communities and shellfish farmers across Maine and expanded and improved educational opportunities in Maine’s public schools. As host to the Marine Science and Field Station of the University of Maine at Machias, DEI has also supported fishery sustaining research and technology transfer including responses led by UMM Professor and DEI Director of Research Brian Beal to protect Maine’s soft shell clam fishery from the invasive green crab.
The new infrastructure, classroom and conference facilities, and housing for up to 20 visiting scientists and students will bring direct economic and educational activity to Downeast Maine. The strategic plan for DEI calls for expanding Maine’s capacity for marine resource discovery by adding and supporting three new marine scientists at the facility after construction. The expanded space and new equipment will also allow DEI to host visiting researchers seeking access to the pristine conditions and unique oceanographic features of Downeast Maine.
Expanded hatchery operations at the facility will also increase production volume and variety, potentially creating new opportunities for Maine-based farmers in sought after seafood such as Artic surf clams, European Oysters, and razor clams.