Ventura Port District Grants New 5-Year Lease to Coastal Marine Biolabs

Located in Ventura Harbor, Coastal Marine Biolabs (CMB) is a non-profit organization that offers innovative, research-based science education programs to high school educators and students, both locally and nationally. “Coastal Marine Biolabs was founded by research scientists as sort of a “skunkworks” project with a focus on innovating and revitalizing high school science education,” said Dr. Ralph Imondi, one of CMB’s scientific directors. “Over the long-term, we seek to build upon the early successes of CMB and help establish Ventura Harbor as a world-class center of excellence for science research and education.”

Recognizing these benefits, the Ventura Port District Board of Port Commissioners has granted CMB a new five-year lease, which extends from June 1, 2014 through May 31, 2019. The lease coincides with a five-year, $1.2 million Science Education Partnership Award that CMB received from the National Institutes of Health to engage high school students in cutting-edge neuroscience research centered on spinal cord “hard-wiring.”

“Great harbors support game-changing research and education. CMB is changing the way we think about teaching the sciences. And it’s critical for the United States to develop and train top scientists for the future,” said Port District Commissioner Everard Ashworth.

“The Port District, the Commissioners, and the Harbor staff all recognize that in CMB we have a game-changer. CMB has established itself as a pioneering leader in both the science of education and the education of science. Their insights and knowledge will allow the Harbor to continue to enrich Ventura on multiple levels,” Ashworth said.

CMB assembled its state-of-the art biosciences laboratory at Ventura Harbor in early 2007 and began accepting students in summer 2008. In 2011, the organization received a nearly $1 million education innovation award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to launch the Barcoding Life’s Matrix project. The three-year effort, which attracted additional support from the Amgen Foundation and Bio-Rad Laboratories, involves students in a global scientific initiative to catalog biodiversity using a DNA barcode system.

According to Dr. Linda Santschi, CMB’s co-founder and Scientific Co-Director, “High school students are generating and contributing genetic data to the International Barcode of Life project, one of the most significant biodiversity initiatives ever undertaken. As part of this landmark effort, students have already initiated a DNA-based inventory of species diversity in the Channel Islands National Park, the first of its kind in any U.S. national park.”

To broaden its impact, the Barcoding Life’s Matrix project also engages science teachers, who receive in-depth training and cutting-edge instructional resources to implement the project in their own science classrooms and labs. Teachers and students from the Ventura Unified School District were the first to adopt the project, which began as a pilot effort with seed funding from the Ventura Education Partnership and Edison International.  Since that time, the program has expanded to schools in 75 California cities and nearly 20 states.  Ventura County teachers and their students continue to participate in the project, which is now under review for expansion through a 5-year, $2 million award from NSF.

Ashworth’s son, formerly a Foothill Technology High School student and now a college sophomore, participated in a residential version of the program at CMB. Ashworth said these experiences inspired his son to study science in college with the goal of working as a medical researcher. “When you are exposed to the process of science, you can realize how powerful science is,” Ashworth said.

In addition to teachers and students, many Harbor businesses and restaurants benefit from CMB’s presence and programs. Between March 2011 and March 2014, CMB contributed nearly $200,000 to Ventura Harbor businesses, including hotels, boat operations and restaurants. The Port District receives a proportion of these revenues through its lease agreements with the business owners.

“The Ventura Port District was CMB’s first community partner,” said Santschi. “The new five-year lease reflects the Ventura Port District’s ongoing commitment to high-quality research and education, and its dedication to enriching the local community.”

“As part of the new lease agreement, CMB will collaborate with the Port District on a number of education-centered Harbor enhancement projects, including a proposed native California shellfish hatchery in Ventura Harbor,” Ashworth said. “This effort, which is now in its formative stages, would help to establish a sustainable shellfish population at Ventura Harbor, enhance the marine habitat, strengthen the local economy, and create new outreach opportunities.”

CMB and the Port District also aim to create new inroads for the public to explore the area’s natural beauty by creating a nature trail that links the Harbor with the surrounding beach and wetlands areas.

For more information, visit http://coastalmarinebiolabs.org and www.venturaharbor.com.

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