ASSATEAGUE – Several national, state and local dignitaries were on Assateague this week to officially dedicate the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES) marine science teaching and research facility on the barrier island in the name of long-time U.S. Senator Paul S. Sarbanes, who was instrumental in securing the funding for the ecology center nearly a decade ago.
The UMES coastal ecology center on Assateague, which opened in 2005, is the only facility in Maryland dedicated to the study of coastal processes and the preservation of the state’s Atlantic Coast. The teaching and research facility was officially dedicated as the Paul S. Sarbanes Coastal Ecology Center on Monday in honor of the long-time senator’s commitment to securing federal funding for the project.
Planning for the facility began two decades ago in 1988 with UMES maintaining temporary laboratory facilities on Assateague Island in cooperation with the U.S. National Parks Service. A New Year’s storm in 1992 obliterated the temporary facility, prompting Sarbanes and then-UMES President Dr. William Hytche to intensify efforts to have a permanent research facility built on the site.
Despite a constant struggle, Sarbanes was able to secure $1.5 million in federal funding for the permanent ecology center in 1999 through the Economic Development Initiative (EDI) account, and the state of Maryland came through with $1.5 million in matching funds to jumpstart the construction of the permanent coastal ecology center on Assateague. It opened in April 2005 and has been in continuous operation ever since although it was not officially dedicated to Sarbanes until Monday’s ceremony.
Sarbanes, who was Maryland’s longest continuous serving senator, was on hand for the official dedication of the facility in his honor on Monday, along with numerous state, local and federal dignitaries.
“I am extremely grateful for the recognition and honor bestowed upon me by UMES in naming this center for me,” he said during the ceremony. “It is my hope that the Paul S. Sarbanes Coastal Ecology Center is another important addition to UMES’ already outstanding research and educational offerings. We are coming more and more to recognize how important natural science programs are to the state.”
The University System of Maryland Board of Regents recently approved naming the facility in honor of Sarbanes, for both his dedication to its completion in particular and for his service to the people of Maryland in general.
“Renaming this facility in honor of Senator Sarbanes is fitting recognition for his distinguished career in public service and, in particular, his national leadership and commitment to environmental issues,” said System Chancellor William E. Kirwan.
The UMES ecology center on Assateague is the first building in the University System of Maryland to be named in honor of the former senator. UMES President Thelma B. Thompson praised Sarbanes for his contributions in getting the facility built in the first place and his continued commitment to the research going on there.
“This is an auspicious occasion in the history of the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore and the history of Maryland as we recognize and honor one of Maryland’s greatest citizens and public figures,” she said. “As a result of Sen. Sarbanes’ tireless efforts, the Coastal Ecology Center has greatly expanded opportunities for instruction, research and extension in collaboration with key environmental players in this region.”
The facility is used by students in grades K-12 through the Eastern Shore Education and Restoration Program and Upward Bound. In addition, undergraduate students in a joint UMES/Salisbury University dual degree program in biology and environmental sciences, undergraduate and graduate students in Marine and Environmental Sciences at UMES and for students of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science utilize the facility.
Various environmental agencies benefit from use of the facility. For example, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) monitors fisheries activity and conducts blue crab research at the center. Using the facility as a work site, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) monitors water quality through its National Estuary Program and NASA conducts remote sensing activities. Other groups including the National Park Service, Maryland Coastal Bays Program, Assateague Coastal Trust and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service use the center as a meeting place.