Until recently, our oceans, which cover 70% of the Earth's surface, were thought to be a nearly infinite resource for humans to use as they wished, with little regard given to impacts on the oceans’ environment, organisms, and utilization by future generations. We assumed that the wastes of our human society could be discharged and rapidly dissipated in the vast oceans (“the solution to pollution is dilution”).
We now know that both the resources of the oceans and their ability to absorb our pollution are limited. Water quality, fisheries, coral reefs, and other important ocean habitats are declining through the world, while harmful algal blooms and “dead zones” are increasing. Although we still understand little of how the complex oceans work in their natural state, we do know that the oceans are changing rapidly, even in our individual lifetimes, as part of rapidly accelerating global climate changes brought on by the Industrial Revolution.
Ocean Heath is a high priority in our research and education efforts at Harbor Branch and the focus of our Center for Marine Ecosystem Health (CMEH). The Center makes discoveries and conducts research on marine plants, animals, microbes, their estuarine and coastal environments, and the relationships among these systems and human activities. The goal of the Center is to understand the causes and impacts of coastal pollution and to use key marine organisms, such as corals, marine mammals, and seagrasses as sentinel species for ocean health. Much of our work is based on multi-disciplinary field research, which includes both long-term monitoring and experimentation. We are dedicated to enlightening and educating other scientists, students, resource managers, lawmakers, and the public, so that we can all better understand, protect, and improve the oceans, their resources, and functionality.
Our current research programs include:
The Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) Program conducts research on the physiology and ecology of HABs in coastal waters of Florida and the Caribbean region.
The Indian River Lagoon Research Initiative focuses on the relationship of water quality in the Indian River Lagoon (IRL) with seagrasses, macroalgae, and phytoplankton.
The Marine Mammal Research and Conservation Program has multifaceted veterinary medical, research, education, and conservation projects involving various marine mammal species from around the world.
The Polar Research Program uses molecular genetic techniques and satellite-linked telemetry to study the molecular and behavioral ecology of northern temperate, Arctic, and Antarctic marine mammals.
The Robertson Coral Reef Program is dedicated to understanding and preventing losses in deep- and shallow-water coral communities that result from both natural and anthropogenic causes.
Collectively these programs address critical research needs with applications to major global issues affecting the health of our ocean, its future, and our future generations.