New College President Donal O'Shea
New College President Donal O’Shea

From SRQ Daily on 6-12-21:

By Donal O’Shea

One of the things I’ve loved about leading New College for the past nine years has been watching our students, staff and faculty contribute to the greater Sarasota-Manatee community. Some of their most influential research initiatives have occurred right on our campus, which is located along Sarasota Bay.

As I say goodbye to my time here, it brings me great joy to announce the beginning of a new project—one that will allow New College to more fully realize the teaching and research potential of our bayfront site.

This month, New College starts construction on a marine science research and sailing dock—an undertaking that will enhance environmental research, education and recreation programs on the bay. This marine environment—teeming with life—is the bellwether for the future of our oceans, and our students and faculty have monitored features of it for more than a half-century.

We already have a first-rate marine laboratory on campus (Pritzker Marine Biology Research Center), but without a dock, students and faculty could not properly launch their vessels into the bay. I am so glad to see them finally get the resource they need to conduct their research.

The data they have collected and analyzed over the years (regarding everything from sharks, dolphins and manatees to mangroves, bioluminescence and red tide) has positively impacted our local community, our waters and—by extension—the world. As with all science, understanding of—and data pertaining to—our local environment, ripples out and contributes to our knowledge of our planet.

The new dock will only enhance New College’s traditionally strong and popular programs in marine biology and environmental studies (not to mention the summer marine biology education programs for underprivileged students from Sarasota and Manatee counties).

Our marine biology program currently has a 32-foot pontoon research boat (Limbatus), a smaller research skiff and a rigid inflatable rescue vessel that will soon have their own launching pad. The dock will also provide boat slips for the College’s sailing team and waterfront recreation program, and two boat lifts will offer additional access for individuals with mobility issues.

What will the construction look like, exactly? The six-foot-wide, L-shaped dock will extend 294 feet west from the shore of the Caples campus, and then 144 feet to the southwest. The dock site on the College’s Caples campus, about 50 feet south of The Ringling museum sea wall, was selected for its environmental compatibility and proximity to deep water.

New College has worked closely with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Southwest Florida Water Management District to ensure full compliance with the stringent permitting requirements governing Sarasota Bay.

“The bay is one of Sarasota’s greatest natural assets,” says Jayne Gardiner, Ph.D., director of Pritzker and an associate professor of biology at New College. “With a dock that expands access to the bay, we can conduct more environmental and marine science research into this natural ecosystem, which benefits both our students and the bay itself.”

To do this in a sustainable way, New College has ensured that the dock is constructed with environmentally-friendly materials: Surestep PVC open deck grating, designed for maximum sunlight penetration to underwater aquatic life; and high-density polyethylene piling wraps, which protect the water from any chemicals in the treated wood pilings.

During a time of rising sea levels, this dock will accelerate our understanding of the effects of climate change and our warming waters. More immediately, it will provide environmentally safe access to the bay.

Conducting research on the bay (and in Costa Rico, the Caribbean, Hawaii and other marine sites abroad) has always been integral to the culture at New College. Our faculty and staff want to heal the planet we have handed them, and our students’ futures depend on those efforts. The construction of this dock will make that admirable journey a little easier.

With an estimated completion date of early September, the dock will greet the incoming fall class at New College.

I find it comforting and inspiring to know that, years hence, students and faculty will be able to embark on bold new adventures—the results of which may, in fact, go on to change the world.

Founded in Sarasota in 1960, New College of Florida is a top-ranked public liberal arts college and the state’s Honors College of Florida. New College prepares intellectually curious students for lives of great achievement by providing a highly individualized education that integrates academic rigor with career-building experiences. New College offers 45 undergraduate majors in arts, humanities and sciences, a master’s degree program in applied data science, and certificates in technology, finance, and business skills.

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