Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation at Scripps Flourishes

When Nancy Knowlton founded the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation (CMBC) at Scripps a dozen years ago, she envisioned a vibrant program where a cross-section of scientific disciplines would come together to forge innovative new solutions to issues threatening the health of the ocean environment. A new generation of scientists, she hoped, would not only be trained to decipher the scientific concepts underlying the marine environment, but would also learn how to translate their ideas and solutions to the public, from common citizens to high-ranking decision makers.

In 2014 that vision remains alive and more vibrant than ever, as evidenced by a string of recent successful CMBC-centered activities.

Knowlton, now the Sant Chair of Marine Science at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., was one of the featured guests at a Jan. 31 CMBC lunch along with her husband Jeremy Jackson, an esteemed marine ecologist who conducted groundbreaking research during his years as a Scripps scientist. The two former CMBC directors were joined by Lisa Levin, current center director, who welcomed an audience of new and longtime CMBC supporters.

These included Mary Yang, who over the past two years has devoted her time and resources to support CMBC.

“CMBC has established a very stimulating and rewarding environment,” said Yang. “The faculty are dedicated, the students are enthusiastic, innovative, and determined. Working with them and watching this multidisciplinary effort grow, I am optimistic that we can tackle the global environmental challenges we face. Science is not enough to keep our ocean planet healthy. I see the students not only as future scientists, but also communicators, policy makers and conservation leaders.”

Yang wholeheartedly believes in the center’s approach of solving ocean problems by bringing together economists, anthropologists, political scientists, communicators, and others.

“Through the inspiration of Jeremy Jackson and Nancy Knowlton, CMBC was one of the first multi-disciplinary science-policy-practice programs in any branch of environmental science anywhere,” said Charles Kennel, who was director of Scripps when CMBC was founded. “Now there are many because the research community now recognizes the importance of putting science to work on important problems. CMBC has been blessed by brilliant leaders, Nancy and Jeremy, and now Lisa Levin, and attracts an unusually broad group of students. How can one not support academic excellence seeking to do good in the world?”

Kennel, Yang, and longtime CMBC supporter David Klipstein were instrumental in a recent $25,000 fundraising match opportunity, which was also supported by Russ and Eloise Duff and Yvon Chouinard.

“I have been with CMBC from the beginning for several reasons, including the fact that the ocean is the most important thing that we have on this planet,” said Klipstein. “Few scientists around the world have taken the next step to teach people how to apply this knowledge to the world. CMBC is continuing to do just that.”

True to its multidisciplinary philosophy, the Jan. 31 lunch was followed by the 2014 Knowlton-Jackson Annual Lecture in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation, a public presentation given by Geoffrey Heal of the Columbia Business School.

Heal, an economist, said he doesn’t typically give lectures at ocean and earth institutions, but he was pleased with the challenge and came away impressed after speaking with CMBC students. His lecture, “Is Sustainability Possible?” addressed the economic and technological issues facing efforts to establish broad sustainability in the near and far future, and challenges ranging from new clean energy sources to political willpower.

CBC’s mission also was given a significant boost with support provided by Elizabeth and Dene Oliver, longtime supporters of ocean conservation. The Elizabeth Hamman and Morgan Dene Oliver Chair in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation Science supports CMBC staff, funding for a quarterly seminar series, and seed money to stimulate research funding.

Currently held by Levin, the Oliver Chair was established as part of a “Chancellor’s Chair Challenge” to support outstanding research and education in oceanographic and environmental science.

Levin, a highly-regarded biological oceanographer who has studied the deep ocean for more than 30 years, also serves as head of Scripps’s Biology Section. Levin’s research has led science to a greater understanding of the importance of the deep sea, Earth’s largest domain for life, and recently on the urgency in conserving and protecting its many resources and unexplored habitats.

“Lisa Levin’s research is remarkable,” said Elizabeth Oliver, a member of the Scripps Director’s Cabinet for the past six years. “I think people don’t fully understand the oceans and I think they particularly don’t understand the deep ocean.”

“CMBC is forever grateful to our generous donors for their support and for their passion and strong belief our mission,” said Levin.

Oliver describes the deep sea as a “final frontier” for our planet where new discoveries await, including potential new cures for human diseases.

“To see what’s happening below the surface of the ocean is amazing and I’ve learned how important that is from Scripps,” said Oliver. “I always say: ‘If anybody is going to save us, it’s going to be Scripps.’”

To find out more about CMBC, see and to support the center click on the “Donate Now” tab.

-- Mario C. Aguilera


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