NOAA Fisheries held a transfer of ownership ceremony on Tuesday, July 11, 2023 in front of the James J. Howard Marine Sciences Laboratory building within the Gateway National Recreation Area in Highlands, New Jersey. Guests included NOAA officials, as well as U.S. Rep Frank Pallone, Zach McCue of U.S. Sen. Cory Booker’s staff, Highlands, New Jersey Mayor Carolyn Broullon and Middletown, New Jersey Mayor Anthony Perry.
“It’s a victory for NOAA and the State of New Jersey, but really it’s a victory for the American public,” emphasized NOAA Deputy Under Secretary Ben Friedman. “I’m happy to be here to make this a permanent part of the NOAA family.”
In 1993, this building replaced the original laboratory—a building that became a marine science laboratory in 1961 though it was originally constructed as a military hospital in the late 1800s. The State of New Jersey owned the new building, and NOAA leased space there. The official transfer of ownership was years in the making. Current and retired laboratory staff, NOAA employees from other locations, and local partners gathered for the celebration.
Northeast Fisheries Science Center Director Jon Hare said, “This is a purpose-built seawater laboratory that has the capability to do world-class research. Now that NOAA owns it, we can put it to its full use.”
Fisheries Ecology Branch Chief Beth Phelan emphasized the laboratory’s value to NOAA.
“NOAA is America’s environmental intelligence agency, and our lab here in New Jersey adapts and directs its research to important topics to help produce the best available science,” Phelan said.
She has been a scientist and leader at the laboratory for nearly four decades.
Featured Speakers Highlight Lab’s Work
Speakers highlighted the excitement and possibilities presented by NOAA owning the lab, as well as the lab's history, including the resilience of its scientists in rebuilding after a fire destroyed the original building in the 1980s. They addressed the importance of the lab's current research to critical issues for the nation, including climate change, offshore wind development, and aquaculture. They also discussed the lab's integral role in the community through partnerships, outreach, and mentoring students from Minority Serving Institutions and Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
“Climate change, offshore wind, ocean plastics, aquaculture—big national issues—this lab is perfectly situated to do the kind of research needed to understand human impacts,” explained Friedman.
Pallone announced recent federal funding to improve the facility, including $5 million to fix the seawater system and $1.5 million to upgrade the lab, as well as funding for the recent Sandy Hook Partnerships in Coastal Studies grants to support student research at the lab and enhance the diversity of marine science.
Zach McCue read U.S. Sen. Cory Booker’s remarks and addressed the laboratory’s staff, “Your research is needed now more than ever as our ecosystems and coastal communities stare down the existential threat of climate change.”
Ribbon Cutting Seals the Deal
The ceremony concluded with Pallone cutting a ribbon held by Hare and Phelan. Howard Lab scientists gave tours after the ceremony to share their research with the community.
The primary mission of the Howard Laboratory is to conduct research in ecology, leading to a better understanding of both coastal and estuarine organisms and the effects of human activities on nearshore marine populations and their habitats. The lab has organic and inorganic chemistry labs, controlled temperature rooms, and recirculating aquaculture systems designed for different types of experiments. These systems can control for water temperature, salinity, and pH to accommodate a variety of research.