From Lifesaving to Marine Research: Station 119.
From Lifesaving to Marine Research: Station 119
Down the Shore Publications, West Creek, NJ
[c] 2015. ISBN 978-1-59322-096-9 (paperback)
Marine field stations form the backbone for studies of estuarine and marine systems, providing a place for scientists and students to carry out a range of short-term and long-term studies. They are places of shared studies, living, and discovery of the mysteries of the shore and sea, often leading the field with new ideas, new techniques and technologies, and exciting collaborations among disciplines. With so many fish populations declining, research stations are essential as places of research that can aid population recoveries. "Station 119" is a history of a Coast Guard station that was reborn as the Rutgers University Marine Field Station (RUMFS). Located on a salt marsh opposite Little Egg Inlet, RUMFS is ideally located for estuarine and marine research. This book is the story of the women and men who have pursued discovery and research in the Mullica River-Great Bay Estuary and Barnegat Bay-Little Egg Harbor Estuary , as well as broader marine ecosystems in New Jersey.
While tracing the history of Station 119, the book encourages the reader to feel the excitement of the Coast Guardsmen saving lives and the researchers making discoveries that help save the planet. One of the current missions is to study the environment of the Jacques Cousteau National Estuarine Research Reserve, which includes the Mullica River-Great Bay Estuary, as well as Little Egg Harbor. The book is suited to a broad audience including students, scientists, historians, conservationists, environmental consultants, fishermen and fisheries, biologists, amateur ecologists, and just about everyone interested in bays and estuaries. It is richly illustrated with black and white photographs of the station, the Coast Guardsmen, the researchers who devote their lives to marine environments, and the fish and other organisms they now study. In these days of tight budgets and declining facilities at universities, it is rewarding to see a thriving and vibrant marine field station.
This history is an enticing story of people, estuarine ecological studies, and the morphing of a life-saving station built in 1937 to a state-of-the-art research facility. The book is divided into the Coast Guard years and the Rutgers years. From our viewpoint of satellite phones and sophisticated tracking systems, it is hard to imagine life in the late 1800s and early 1900s when Coast Guard stations were all that stood between a ship-wrecked crew and certain death. The Coast Guard stations maintained radio contact with the nearest lighthouses --in this case, Barnegat Lighthouse. During the Cold War, they watched for foreign airplanes. The everyday lives of the Guardsmen came to life, with colorful descriptions of men hunting, crabbing, and fishing, as well as looking for stranded vessels. Along with many other Coast Guard stations, Station 119 was abandoned in the 1960s because of better communication technologies and the use of planes.
The station was abandoned to the elements, its causeway that extends to Great Bay Boulevard having seriously deteriorated. In addition, Station 119 became a favorite hangout for camping, fishing and parties by the locals. Storms and severe tides took their toll. Windows were broken, and there was extensive weather and structural damage. In 1969 a fire destroyed much of the main building. The deed to the station was given to Rutgers in 1972 for $1 per year for 30 years. In 2002 the building formally became the property of Rutgers University.
The rest of the book is a history of Station U9 as the Rutgers University Marine Field Station, an enticing intertwining of the different research strands, and the struggle by many different researchers and administrators to return the station to its previous structural glory. Repairs, renovations, and innovations were required to transform the Coast Guard station into a top-flight research facility, and the changes marched along with innovations in research. While early renovations were to the building itself, ensuring its structural integrity, later ones involved installation of aquatic sensors nine miles off of Little Egg Inlet in the nearshore ocean that allowed scientists to view life underwater telemetered back to the station and viewed remotely. This was followed by the development and deployment of more sophisticated underwater vehicles used for field observations. Thus, the Long-term Ecosystem Observatory (LEO-15) provided unimagined views of the nearshore ocean bottom and its hidden life.
Over its history, Station 119 witnessed many changes in the structure of the coastal systems themselves; inlets were formed and disappeared. The ecology of bay waters changed as well, in their species compositions and population levels, in fisheries and shellfisheries, and in the human communities that developed around them. We tend to see the bays through our own timeframe, and this book reminds us of the inevitable changes of coastal systems on the local landscape.
The most exciting part of the book traces research from the early years to the present at the field station. This should be required reading for anyone interested in marine and estuarine science, as it brings alive how research discoveries are made, how science changes with time, and how science and research respond to the needs of society. The earliest researchers studied oysters and oyster culture and, later, bay scallops and hard clams. What began as individual research projects turned into multi-faculty, multi-disciplinary research programs as researchers discovered the relationships between fisheries and every other marine science, the interconnections within ecosystems, and ultimately, the connections between human and ecological health. In the 1970s, scientists and students at the station examined the effect of the nation's first commercial nuclear power plant (Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station). This work resulted in extensive studies of fish, birds, and terrapins, as well as salt marsh dynamics. As projects became more diverse, more and more scientists and disciplines were involved, and the connections increased. With time, more intense studies of fish life histories were integrated with habitat, food chain effects, and the effects of invasive species. In short, through the history of research at the station, we gain insight into the very history of science, how it changed over four decades, and how it contributes to the ultimate goal of allowing people, wildlife, and natural marine ecosystems to flourish together. The blend of history, science, interesting people, ghosts and storms, with the esoteric and practical side of field work is a captivating tale of a majestic Coast Guard station that made the transition from saving lives to cutting-edge scientific discoveries.
REVIEWED BY JOANNA BURGER
DISTINGUISHED PROFESSOR OF BIOLOGY, RUTGERS UNIVERSITY, NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ