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New oceanic center to focus on solutions, not just problems

January 10, 2008|Kenneth R. Weiss | Times Staff Writer

Stanford University and Monterey Bay Aquarium and its research institute, with $25 million from the Packard Foundation, on Wednesday launched a new academic center that will focus not on the problems plaguing the world's oceans, but on how to solve them.

The Center for Ocean Solutions, if it follows its mission, will be a marked departure from the traditional academic exercise of marine scientists: to define and analyze problems such as overfishing, the effects of global warming, coastal development and pollution streaming off the land.

Instead, the center aims to bring together scientists and experts in economics and business to meet with government policy makers so they can work out solutions and begin their implementation, said Buzz Thompson, a Stanford law professor.

That usually involves overcoming objections from industries that thwart change for fear of economic loss, Thompson said. So the plan is to engage experts and business leaders to maneuver around such hurdles.

"Solving the oceans' problems is not just assembling the usual cast of characters, but getting others involved," said Thompson, who is also co-director of Stanford's interdisciplinary Woods Institute for the Environment.

The center was born in part from frustration from a lack of government leadership in addressing the ocean's mounting problems. The U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, appointed by President Bush, and another commission funded by the Pew Foundation, each issued dire reports about the oceans' future and spelled out hundreds of reforms to stem problems such as depleted fisheries, and toxic algae and bacterial blooms that sicken people and devastate wildlife.

Little has been done in the United States since those gloomy warnings in 2003 and 2004, prompting the chairmen of both disbanded commissions to award the federal government below-average and sometimes failing grades in annual report cards.

"The oceans have largely been ignored," said Meg Caldwell, a Stanford law professor who will run the Center for Ocean Solutions until a permanent director is found. Caldwell said she was encouraged by international efforts to address climate change, but added: "That's only half the story. The other half is the critical role that oceans play in sustaining the human population."

The center's focus initially will be on research and demonstration projects along the California coast that can be replicated elsewhere, and improving marine education for students, post-doctoral scholars, politicians and policymakers.

The center, which has already received the $25-million grant from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, will be housed next to Monterey Bay Aquarium and near Stanford's Hopkins Marine Station and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in Moss Landing. It plans to work closely with UC Santa Cruz and Cal State's Moss Landing Marine Laboratories.

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ken.weiss@latimes.com

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