Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and Directory of the National Institute of Standards and Technology  (NIST) Dr. Patrick Gallaghe r today is helping dedicate the new Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Ecosystems Research  (CoECRER) at Nova Southeastern University (NSU) in Hollywood, Florida.
Gallagher joins state and local officials, including Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, and other guests, including former Vice President Al Gore and Dr. Paul Sandifer, Senior Science Adviser to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration  (NOAA), in the opening celebration for the “only research facility in the nation dedicated entirely to coral reef ecosystems science.”
Among the unusual features of the festivities was a morning media tour, by snorkel, of one of the center’s off-shore coral “nurseries.”
The new research facility was funded in part by a $15 million grant from NIST as part of a competitive program under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to support the construction of new scientific research facilities at academic institutions and non-profit research organizations. (See “NIST Awards $123 Million in Recovery Act Grants To Construct New Research Facilities ,” Jan. 8, 2010).
Of the new coral reef research facility, Gallagher says, “This is an excellent example of a public investment in infrastructure—in this case the capability to conduct badly needed research on a valuable ecosystem—that offers significant down-stream benefits for a host of private enterprises, large and small.”
In addition to their intrinsic value in ocean ecology, coral reefs play an important role in Florida’s economy. Studies have estimated that Florida’s coral reefs add more than $6 billion a year to South Florida’s economy as well as over 71,000 jobs for businesses such as restaurants, hotels, retail stores, cruise lines, dive shops and tour group operators, not to mention researchers. Basic research at the Florida facility may also impact Hawaii, where coral reefs play a similar economic role.
The 86,000-square-foot CoECRER facility will pursue a broad program of multidisciplinary research to help understand, conserve and protect coral reef ecosystems, ranging from assessments of coral reef health and the effects of pollutants to better understanding the biology of the reefs and their inhabitants and cultivating species of corals in nurseries for re-introduction to the ocean.
Commenting on the NIST grant for the center, Gallagher says, “We at NIST understand as well—or better—than anyone that science progresses in lock step with our ability to measure things. And the students of oceans, the researchers who walk through this building, are at work in one of the great frontiers, one of the great challenges for measurement science today: The oceans.”
Read more about the NSU Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Ecosystems Research  at www.nova.edu/ocean/excellence/index.html .