Photo by Grant Waltz

Landlocked Missouri has one. Kansas, too. And this fall quarter Cal Poly will join the others and offer a new degree in marine sciences, according to Dean of Science and Mathematics Philip Bailey.

“The earth is 70 percent water,” Bailey said. “Studying marine science is absolutely critical to our survival. It’s very obvious.”

The university is introducing the major to foster an understanding and respect for a large part of the planet, Dean of Research Dean Wend said.

Cal Poly has a research pier in Avila Bay, which has played a substantial role in laying the groundwork for the major, Wendt said.

Photo by College of Science and Mathematics
Cal Poly has its own research pier in Avila Bay. | Photo by College of Science and Mathematics

Before Cal Poly had its pier, there were two faculty members, 10 to 12 students and a $15,000 grant aimed toward conducting marine research.

In November 2001, Unocal— a petroleum explorer and marketing company— donated the pier to Cal Poly. After the donation, there was a $3,000,000 growth in received grants.

“We went from nothing to a lot in light speed and we hope to continue growing,” Bailey said.

Even though the pier has been in Cal Poly’s hands since 2001, it took time to create the major.

“To start a new degree program isn’t just like snapping your fingers,” Bailey said. “I think we’ve gone forward with this program at a very reasonable pace.”

Marine science students will study courses such as marine chemistry, ocean sampling and geology.

“What are we doing to the ocean? How does it affect our terrestrial environment? We need to do what we can to protect the planet,” professor and primary coordinator for the marine sciences degree Nikki Adams said. “We’re preparing our undergraduates to communicate science with a passion.”

Students in the biological sciences department have already been conducting work in the laboratories on the pier as many as five days each school week, according to biological sciences junior Megan Wilson. They produce projects on subjects relating to local fisheries, invasive species and the collapse of crab and other marine industries.

“The laboratory setting on the pier is something that we just can’t get anywhere else,” Wilson said. “We’re literally behind the scenes of science. It’s more personal, with such a small student-to-professor ratio working in superb facilities.”

Photo by Tenney Rizzo
Photo by Tenney Rizzo

Undergraduates pursuing the marine science degree can continue on to graduate programs in oceanography, marine biology and environmental engineering. They may also find themselves in positions within government agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“The pier is unique and we are very lucky to have it,” Pier Facilities Operation Manager Tom Moylan said. “We’re excited to offer a true marine experience where students can understand and appreciate the environment they live in.”

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