Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce


The Smithsonian Institution has had a presence in Fort Pierce, Florida since 1969. Through its association with long-time friend and supporter Edwin Link, the inventor and engineer who chose this location for the development of his research submersibles, and funding from J. Seward Johnson, Sr., of Johnson and Johnson Pharmaceuticals, the Smithsonian Institution established what was then known as the Fort Pierce Bureau. From 1969 on, the Fort Pierce Bureau provided a research site for scientists from the Smithsonian and other organizations who carried on various research activities, partly in collaboration with the newly formed Harbor Branch Foundation (now the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University). The studies included underwater oceanography with research submersibles, a survey of the Indian River Lagoon, coral reef research, and research on life histories of marine invertebrates. In 1971, the Smithsonian formally established the Fort Pierce Bureau as a marine research facility under the Smithsonian Assistant Secretary for Science. In its early years, much of the work was carried out on a retrofitted US Army surplus barge acquired in 1973 and docked at Harbor Branch.

Meeting for Smithsonian Marine Station Land Agreements
In 1982, the facility became known as the Smithsonian Institution Marine Station at Link Port, and was then administered by the National Museum of Natural History. At the time of the administrative transfer, a program of research was initiated at the station that supported the studies of visiting Smithsonian scientists and their colleagues, postdoctoral fellows, a resident scientist and director, and the operations of the station including a five-person support staff. In April 1995, the Smithsonian entered into an agreement with the MacArthur Foundation for the purchase of property near the Fort Pierce Inlet with access easement to the Indian River Lagoon in order to relocate its facilities and program of research to a land-based laboratory.

Diane and Mark Littler at work
In 1998, the station was renamed the Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce, reflecting its new location. The overall mission of the Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce is the support and conduct of scholarly research in the marine sciences, including the collection, documentation and preservation of south Florida's marine biodiversity and ecosystems, as well as education, training, and public service. Specific research emphases are: 1) to analyze the systematics and biogeography of major groups of marine organisms in the Floridian coastal zone, focusing on issues of biodiversity; 2) to determine the evolutionary patterns, ecological significance, and physiological mechanisms of life histories of marine organisms; and 3) to investigate the complex interactions of marine organisms, and the community structure of the diverse and productive habitats of south Florida.

Belize Marine Field Station
Since the late 1990s, the Marine Station has seen major growth in the areas of the development of online resources, scientific research, and educational outreach.  The program of the Smithsonian Marine Station has expanded, through grants from Florida’s St. John’s Water Management District and the Smithsonian’s Seidell Program, to support an online resource: the Indian River Lagoon Species Inventory. In 1998, the Link Foundation began funding Link Foundation/Smithsonian Institution Graduate Fellowships. And, for ten years beginning in 1998, the station participated in a dual-enrollment program with the Indian River Community College and the St. Lucie County School District to offer three courses in marine science to high school juniors and seniors. On August 27, 2001, the station opened the Smithsonian Marine Ecosystems Exhibit at the St. Lucie County Marine Center—a major step into the realm of public outreach and education. The station provides, maintains, and develops the exhibits, but St. Lucie County owns and maintains the building that houses them. In addition to the research based in Florida, in October 2009 the station assumed logistical and administrative management of the Caribbean Coral Reef Ecosystems Program based at the Carrie Bow Cay Field Station on the Meso-American Barrier Reef in Belize, ensuring the continuation of another important base for marine research.

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