The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill boasts a rich tradition in marine sciences. We can trace the roots of our program back more than one hundred years to 1891, when the young Henry van Peters (“Froggie”) Wilson arrived on campus to assume the position of professor of biology. The university was small then — just 248 students, 69 of whom were enrolled in the professional schools of law and medicine. Dr. Wilson was the only member of his department and therefore designated its chair. He taught all courses offered (3 to 5 per term) and quickly became known for his strict standards for student performance.

Trained in the “Agassiz Method” at Johns Hopkins where he had conducted research on sponges, Dr. Wilson viewed laboratory experience as the most essential element of a student’s education. By 1894, he had expanded departmental offerings to include two summer laboratory courses in marine zoology taught at Beaufort, North Carolina, and by 1899, he had secured crude, semi-permanent summer laboratory facilities on Pivers Island there. In 1902, after working closely with the U.S. Fish Commission to establish a new fisheries laboratory (the second in the nation) on the island, he finally gained reliable access to good summer research space at the coast — space that he and colleagues from Johns Hopkins and Columbia University and their students would use for decades to come.

As Carolina grew, so did the biology department which was divided into the departments of zoology and botany in 1904. Dr. Wilson became chairman of zoology and, in that role, insisted that all graduate students — regardless of specialization — spend summers at a coastal laboratory doing research. Over the next thirty years, a number of students earned graduate degrees in zoology with marine specializations and went on to scientific careers, usually doing fisheries-related research.

In 1922, Dr. Wilson recruited Dr. Robert E. Coker, then Director for Research at the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, to the faculty of the university. Dr. Coker (a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of UNC with a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins) was forty-six years old, internationally respected for his work in ecology and organismal biology, and heavily committed to public and professional service. At UNC he quickly became a leader in the experimental analysis of ecological factors under controlled laboratory conditions and published important papers on the population dynamics of planktonic systems. He would later go on to author the classic oceanography text, This Great and Wide Sea, for which he would receive the state’s Mayflower Award. At Dr. Wilson’s request, Dr. Coker assumed chairmanship of the zoology department in 1935.

The Institute’s purpose was to provide “service to the State through basic and applied fisheries research.” Although it was an arm of UNC, initially directed by Dr. Coker and staffed with young Ph.D. level scientists, its primary focus was not on teaching. However, graduate students from science departments on campus frequently worked at IFR and received field and laboratory instruction from resident scientists. Most early research projects were supported by the state and aimed at developing specific fisheries. One particularly successful project resulted in the discovery of night-active brown shrimp and led to the creation of North Carolina’s multimillion-dollar nighttime shrimp trawling industry.In the fall of 1944, Consolidated University President Frank Porter Graham suggested that Chancellor Robert B. House, with assistance from Dr. Coker, submit a proposal for a special externally-funded research project in marine biology. The resulting proposal, which advocated the establishment of an Institute of Fisheries Research at the coast, was approved. With a promise of four years of start-up support from the Knapp Foundation and matching monies from the state, the Institute of Fisheries Research (IFR) became a reality in September, 1947. The next year, it moved into facilities on the former Marine Section Base at old Camp Glenn on the waterfront near Morehead City and began its work.

In the 1970s, a student looks on as IMS mollusc experts, Al Chestnut and Hugh Porter (left and center, respectively), examine the results of an experiment.

In 1955, Dr. A. F. Chestnut, staff oyster specialist and President of the National Shellfisheries Association, assumed directorship of the IFR from Mr. William Ellison. Under Dr. Chestnut’s leadership, institute Ph.D. level scientists gained graduate faculty status. This reclassification allowed them to serve as major advisors to graduate students and seek federal grant support through the university. In 1958, Drs. William Fahy and Austin Williams secured the institute’s first National Science Foundation grants.

In 1967, the Institute of Fisheries Research was renamed the Institute of Marine Sciences (IMS) to better reflect the broadening range of research projects being conducted by its faculty, and Coker Hall, its new laboratory building, opened. The following year, with the establishment of the Curriculum in Marine Sciences on main campus (see details below), a regular summer graduate teaching program was initiated. Three formal classes — biological oceanography, geological oceanography and marine mycology — were offered in Morehead City, along with thesis research and “special problems” course options.Dr. Jan J. Kohlmeyer, a marine mycologist, joined the IFR in 1964, promptly proving himself to be a nationally competitive grantsman as well. Dr. Frank J. Schwartz, a specialist in the systematics and distribution of marine animals, came onboard three years later.

The Department of Marine Sciences (MASC) grew out of the Consolidated University’s interest in promoting cooperative efforts in the earth sciences. In the early 1960’s, the state’s research campuses were encouraged to submit proposals for shared programs. UNC faculty members from the departments of geology, biology, chemistry, and environmental sciences and engineering worked with representatives from North Carolina State University (NCSU) to prepare a joint proposal for a cooperative doctoral degree program in marine sciences. Despite their best efforts, however, barriers to initiating such an inter-institutional offering could not be overcome and, in 1968, the State Board of Higher Education approved a joint proposal from UNC and NCSU to set up separate graduate curricula leading to the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in marine sciences. UNC’s Curriculum in Marine Sciences admitted an entering class of nine graduate students in Fall 1969; sixteen courses, most of them cross-listed with other departments, were offered that year. In 1971, the university awarded its first Ph.D. in marine sciences to John W. Day, Jr. (now professor of oceanography and coastal sciences at Louisiana State University).

At first the Chapel Hill-based Curriculum in Marine Sciences had no primary faculty appointments assigned to it. All twenty participants, including its chairmen (Dr. Roy L. Ingram, 1967-68; Dr. Edward J. Kuenzler, 1968-73), were part-time and drawn from other campus units. That changed in 1972, when Dr. A. Conrad Neumann, a marine geologist from the University of Miami, was hired as the university’s first full-time professor of marine sciences. The following year, Dr. Neumann became acting chair and began coordinating the recruitment of three more full-time faculty members. New additions would include Dr. Dirk Frankenberg, a biological oceanographer who assumed the chairmanship in 1974; Dr. Christopher S. Martens, a marine chemist (1974); and Dr. John M. Bane, Jr., a physical oceanographer (1975). With this core faculty in place, advanced coursework was offered in all four disciplines of marine sciences for the first time, and the Department of Marine Sciences, as we know it today, was launched.

Both components of the university’s Marine Sciences Program have grown quantitatively and qualitatively over the past twenty years. The Institute of Marine Sciences in Morehead City started adding new faculty to further broaden the range of its research in 1976. Dr. Charles H. Peterson, an experimental benthic ecologist, arrived that summer. Dr. Hans W. Paerl, a microbial ecologist, came two years later.

Dr. Wells took over directorship of the institute in 1993. He currently is in charge of a massive, largely state-funded project to improve and expand IMS’s aging, overcrowded facilities. The first phase of this project, a new 30,000 sq. ft. Coastal Processes and Environmental Health Laboratory wing, was opened in Fall, 1998. Phase II, a 10,000 sq. ft. Fisheries Research Laboratory with a running seawater system and shop, and Phase III, new dormitory and televideo classroom facilities to be shared with North Carolina State University, should be completed by Spring 2000. These new facilities will provide, not only room to accommodate the institute’s expanding research and training activities, but also shared, flexible space for collaborative studies with colleagues from the Chapel Hill campus and other institutions.In 1980, Dr. Chestnut retired, and Dr. Frankenberg became director, overseeing the addition of three more faculty members within a six year period: Dr. Mark E. Hay, a population/chemical ecologist (now at the Georgia Institute of Biology); Dr. John T. Wells, a coastal marine geologist (1984); and Dr. Richard A. Luettich, Jr., a physical oceanographer (1987).

Since 1972, the Department of Marine Sciences has experienced incremental expansion and renovation of its facilities in Venable Hall. The most significant upgrades resulted from a 1988 partnership agreement between the university and Glaxo Corporation. Dr. Martens, who negotiated these upgrades, became chair in 1990, quickly turning his attentions toward faculty development. After nearly two decades with no growth in its permanent core teaching staff, the curriculum (its name was not changed until October 1997) added three gifted young tenure track faculty members to its roster. Dr. Francisco E. Werner, a physical oceanographer with a special interest in numerical modeling, arrived in the Fall 1993. In 1994 and 1995 respectively, Dr. Marc J. Alperin and Dr. Carol Arnosti, both marine geochemists, came onboard. Dr. Bane assumed chairmanship duties in Fall 1995. He has overseen a successful Graduate Program Review (see details below), as well as the addition of Dr. Niels Lindquist, a marine chemical ecologist based at IMS, to the department’s teaching faculty (1998). In Fall 2000 Dr. Francisco Werner became chairman of the department.

Marine geochemists Chris Martens and Dan Albert are prepared to go over the side to collect sediment cores.

In March 1998, the UNC Board of Governors approved the university’s request to plan for a new campus-wide initiative, the Carolina Environmental Program (CEP). When fully developed and implemented, this exciting interdisciplinary endeavor will provide a new campus home for the Department of Marine Sciences and several other environmentally oriented units and create unprecedented opportunities for conducting large-scale, collaborative research projects of significant benefit to the state and nation.

The UNC-CH Marine Sciences Program currently accommodates a core group of eighteen full-time faculty members. All but one IMS faculty member hold joint appointments in the department. Six faculty from other UNC-CH units (i.e., biology, geology, environmental sciences and engineering, ecology) also hold joint appointments and actively participate in the graduate program; twelve more, including five from UNC-Wilmington, one from UNC-Greensboro and one from East Carolina University, serve as adjuncts.In addition, it will support expanded teaching and outreach programs. CEP Director, Dr. William H. Glaze, has asked several marine scientists to play key roles in the planning process. Dr. Werner serves on the CEP’s curriculum committee; Dr. Martens chairs the its building committee.

Although it emphasizes graduate training, the Department of Marine Sciences also offers introductory coursework and a minor to undergraduates interested in exploring the marine aspects of their major fields. Requirements are rigorous, and students in the minor program tend to be among the university’s best performing undergraduates. Several have written honors theses, published papers, and gone on to pursue advanced degrees in science.

In 1970, marine sciences research and training grants to UNC totalled about $375,000. Today the program’s core faculty alone administers more than fifty scientific research projects supported by about $9 million in extramural, mostly federal, grant funds. Some of these projects take faculty, student and staff researchers to the far reaches of the globe (e.g., Antarctica’s Dry Valley Lakes, the Svalbard archipelago in the Arctic Circle, the tropical rain forest in Amazonia, hydrothermal vents near the Galapagos Rift in the Pacific Ocean). The majority, however, are conducted closer to home, many in North Carolina’s estuarine, coastal and offshore waters. A significant number are specifically aimed at addressing state needs for fisheries development, protection, and enhancement; water quality assessment and management; storm surge/flood prediction; coastal planning; and erosion control.

Doctoral student Jesse McNinch explains beach erosion to a group of visiting alumni.

Several large, multidisciplinary projects (e.g., MODMON, SABRE, LBA) involve collaborations with scientists from other institutions and countries. Core faculty members and their students publish more than one hundred scientific research articles and abstracts a year. Nine faculty currently serve on a total of seventeen editorial boards; two are associate editors of respected scholarly journals. All review research proposals for a broad range of public and private funding agencies.

An External Review conducted by a team of experts in April 1997 placed the UNC-CH Marine Sciences Program among the best in the nation. The review reinforced earlier National Research Council (1995) and Gourman Report (1996) rankings and reflected a decade of National Science Foundation funding statistics that consistently placed the program among the top 15 to 20 — out of about 140 — receiving grant support from its Ocean Sciences Division. The uniformly high quality of faculty and students was specifically noted. In addition to assessing its national stature, the reviewers looked at the program’s role within the university and concluded that “The blending of graduate education, research and service throughout the Program provides value to the University far beyond what budgets and numbers of faculty members would indicate.”Some serve on scientific advisory panels to large government agencies, including the National Science Foundation and the National Academy of Sciences. Others, particularly those from IMS, sit on numerous state commissions, policy-making boards and advisory panels.

The UNC-CH Marine Sciences Program is exceptionally well-prepared to assist the state and nation in meeting the challenges of the 21st century. As pressures on our marine ecosystems mount, threatening to undermine their environmental integrity and quality, as well as their economic viability, both the general public and govenment officials increasingly will look to the scientific community for help — not just in determining the nature and significance of emergent problems, but also in developing and evaluating strategies for dealing with them. The program’s diverse and productive coastally-oriented faculty, its research and training strengths, and its tradition of distinguished service all combine to position it as a leader, fully capable of providing the necessary scientific expertise. Few university programs can offer as much or deliver more.

Written by Caroline Martens