Science Center Scrapbook
In celebration of our 150th Anniversary, we share the unsung heroes, key places and special events that have helped shape the legacy of the Northeast Fisheries Science Center.
Research Ecologist: Judy Yaqin Li
Judy Yaqin Li May is a research ecologist at the NOAA Fisheries Milford Laboratory and will be retiring this month after 16 years of federal service. Along with her colleagues, Judy’s research examines the variability in coastal environments over time and how this variability affects the phytoplankton at the base of the food web. She studies coastal ecology, and how shellfish aquaculture interacts with the environment. Judy earned her undergraduate degree in botany and a masters degree in marine phycology from Xiamen (Amoy) University in China during the 1980s. She received a doctorate in Oceanography from the University of Rhode Island in 1996.
“It was an honor and privilege to work at the Milford Lab, the same lab where Robert Guillard, an iconic and influential person in the field of phytoplankton physiology and ecology, did his very important work. I am very appreciative that the current lab director, Dr. Gary Wikfors, had the vision to incorporate my interest in phytoplankton into the lab’s research program of shellfish aquaculture and environmental interaction.”
Judy helped improve the accuracy of phytoplankton biomass measurements and developed new methods to analyze plankton community composition. Most recently, she conducted research on the ecology of sugar kelp aquaculture. Judy’s field and laboratory experimental results contribute to a better understanding of the plankton community and the physiology of phytoplankton. These are the base of the food web in coastal environments. This knowledge is essential to assess shellfish health, as phytoplankton is food for shellfish. We wish Judy all the best in retirement.
Woods Hole: A Look Back to the late 1800s
Albatross Street in Woods Hole was originally called West Street, and MBL Street was once known as East Street. Part of North Street is now called Bar Neck Road. Water Street also had previous names: County Road and Main Street. The street names were all changed by the 1950s, mostly to avoid the confusion of having more than one Main Street or County Road in the town.
Did You Know - About Refuge Point?
The property where the Fish Commission‘s first permanent buildings were eventually constructed at the end of Water Street in 1885 was briefly called “Refuge Point.” Although letters exchanged between Spencer Baird and officials of the Town of Falmouth used that name for the property at the time, Refuge Point was not officially recognized. It did not appear on any charts or documents and was later abandoned. However, the new lab’s dock facilities were designed to serve as a refuge for small boats in bad weather and did so for many years.
According to The Story of the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries Biological Laboratory Woods Hole, Massachusetts by Paul S. Galtsoff published in 1962 (pg. 32):
“Through the efforts of various business firms in Massachusetts, insurance companies, and masters of many coastal vessels, a bill was introduced in the House requesting an appropriation of $52,000 for the construction of a refuge in the Great Harbor of Woods Hole to permit vessels of 20-foot draft to come in and remain in perfect safety in severe storms and to furnish the basins for keeping live fish. The magnitude of the appropriation induced President Chester A. Arthur to defer approval for one year. The refuge was built in 1884 and proved to be a valuable asset to the station, not only as a safe shelter for small boats, but also as a convenient place to keep live-cars containing fish and invertebrates and conduct observations and experiments.”
NOAA Corps Lieutenant Erick Estela
In 2017, Lieutenant Erick Estela stepped up to become the first NOAA Corps captain of the R/V Victor Loosanoff, following the retirement of longtime civilian captain Robert Alix. To fill this role, he relocated from the James J. Howard Marine Sciences Laboratory in Sandy Hook, New Jersey, to the Milford Laboratory in Milford, Connecticut. Erick ensured continuity of shipboard operations and upheld the scientific mission during this leadership transition.
As captain, he oversaw safe field and dive operations during the intensive 3-year GoPro aquaculture habitat study. A member of the project team, Erick helped develop methods for recording fish activity around oyster aquaculture cages and rock reefs. Erick demonstrated the highest professionalism. A strong advocate for outreach, he established hands-on training sessions for NOAA Corps candidates to provide experience in ship handling. Erick also coordinated a shipyard haul-out of the vessel to complete required maintenance.
On one occasion, a small fire broke out below deck and was quickly extinguished, thanks to prompt action and teamwork by Erick and first mate Bill DeFrancesco. Regular safety drills had prepared the team to respond to just such an emergency. Currently, Erick serves on the R/V Bell M. Shimada, homeported in Newport, Oregon. Estela’s combined shipboard and scientific contributions began a tradition of excellence in NOAA Corps service at the NEFSC’s Milford Laboratory.
Launching Milford Laboratory's R/V Shang Wheeler
Milford Laboratory’s original research vessel Shang Wheeler was launched at West Haven Shipyard on March 28,1951. The 50-foot copper-clad wooden boat was named in honor of local oysterman Charles (Shang) Wheeler, a tireless advocate for Connecticut’s shellfish industry and supporter of Milford Laboratory’s research mission.
The ceremony began with an invocation from Reverend Irwin Thursby of Milford’s 1st Congregational Church, followed by words of welcome from James Gilmore, chair of Connecticut’s Shellfish Commission. Judge Raymond Baldwin spoke about the role of the Congress in supporting fisheries research. David Wallace, director of the Oyster Institute of North America, addressed the significance of the name “Shang Wheeler" for oyster growers in Connecticut.
Ronald Clark, secretary of the shipbuilding company, formally presented Shang Wheeler to Milford Laboratory Director Dr. Victor Loosanoff, who accepted the vessel on behalf of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Victor’s wife Tamara officially christened the Shang Wheeler and upon launching, the boat made its way to Milford Harbor.
The R/V Shang Wheeler served as a platform for Milford Laboratory research on Long Island Sound waters for more than 50 years. It was retired from federal service in 2001.
A President Visits Woods Hole
Spencer Baird invited many government officials, scientists, and laymen to Woods Hole to learn about the U.S. Fish Commission’s operations. Among the visitors in 1882 was President Chester A. Arthur, who arrived on the 198-foot USS Despatch, the second in the line of the 10 presidential yachts. Here's what the Official Report of the Commanding Officer describes:
"At 9:30 a. m. September 6, the United States Steamer Despatch, having on board the President of the United States, and accompanied by the Fish Commission steamer Lookout, arrived in the harbor. At meridian we left the harbor with the President, Professor Baird, and others on board. To show the former the manner of working the various apparatus, three hauls of the trawl and dredge were made in Menemsha Bight. We reached port at 5: 55 p. m., when the President returned to the Despatch. At 5: 00 the next morning the Despatch, with the President on board, got under way and left the harbor.”
Formerly the commercial steamer America, the U.S. Navy purchased the ship in 1873 for special duty military assignments. The vessel was used as a cadet training ship, and to carry the secretary of the Navy, cabinet members, and congressional committees. Presidents Hayes, Garfield, Arthur, Cleveland, and Harrison sailed aboard the Despatch. President Grover Cleveland, a former governor of New York, was transported to and from Bedloe’s Island (now Liberty Island) in upper New York Bay on the Despatch for the dedication and unveiling of the Statue of Liberty on October 28, 1886.
Visits from a Vice President
In July 1967, Vice President Hubert Humphrey visited Woods Hole and several of the scientific institutions there, including the federal fisheries laboratory. He toured the federal R/V Albatross IV at the Woods Hole lab dock and spoke briefly with the crowd of employees and guests assembled nearby.
Joining him were Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy and Governor John Volpe. Members of the media were also on hand, as was Paul Galtsoff, a world-known researcher and former director of the federal lab in Woods Hole. Later, the group viewed exhibits in the Aquarium (photo above).
...And Two Secretaries
On May 9, 1963, Stewart L. Udall spoke at the commissioning of the fisheries research vessel Albatross IV. Udall was Secretary of the Interior from 1961 to 1969 under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, and a former Arizona congressman. He delivered remarks at the Woods Hole Laboratory ceremony.
Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo toured the Woods Hole Laboratory on June 4, 2021. After some brief remarks by Northeast Fisheries Science Center Director Jon Hare and other staff, the group visited with scientists and operators of the laboratory’s R/V Gloria Michelle at the dock. They then spoke with researchers who analyze biological trends in fish populations in a small cottage that has been retrofitted for their work. The tour ended in the Woods Hole Science Aquarium, where the group viewed the collection and heard from a few more scientists before conducting a short press availability. Joining the Secretary were Massachusetts Senator Edward Markey, Congressman William Keating, state representative Dylan Fernandes and state senator Susan Moran, as well staff from several Woods Hole scientific institutions with whom Raimondo she had met earlier in the day.
Baird and a Building as Teachers
In his 1962 history of the original NOAA Fisheries laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, Paul Galtsoff highlighted the links between the early science effort and a larger public responsibility. He wanted to help people understand what the lab was doing and why they should care about it.
“This laboratory greatly facilitated the work of sorting, identification, and preservation of the material collected at sea and made it possible to observe the behavior of various animals, and to study their spawning and the hatching of eggs. The opportunities for research in marine biology offered by the new laboratory attracted many outstanding biologists from New England colleges, as well as State fisheries Commissioners and the general public. Baird realized the importance of public support of his venture and encouraged the visitors to come and see the laboratory and the collection of live fish and other animals kept in tanks.
He was pleased when popular accounts of the activity of the new institution appeared in the New York Tribune under the signature of William C. Wyckoff, the scientific editor, who on several occasions was his guest at Woods Hole.... A number of students were attracted to the new institution which offered an opportunity to conduct scientific research under Baird, who liberally offered his guidance and advice. At this time he actively participated in dredging, seining, or in collecting material in shallow water. Being an enthusiastic collector, he enjoyed going aboard the vessels with his students and assistants. He was frequently seen wading along the beaches of Woods Hole or seining from a small boat in Little Harbor.”
Editor: Rita Riccio
Rita Riccio joined Milford Laboratory after graduating from Our Lady of Good Counsel College in 1935. Hired as a stenographer, Rita acquired the skills to become technical publications editor. She provided editorial oversight and review for scientific papers written by staff. Her expertise in grammar and grasp of scientific concepts improved every manuscript that came across her desk.
In the days before computers, Rita meticulously edited each draft by hand. Every scientific publication from Milford concluded with an acknowledgment of Rita’s contributions. Retired fishery biologist Ron Goldberg remembers Rita’s attention to the smallest detail. When his first scientific paper arrived with a minor error in the citation, Rita painstakingly hand-corrected the typo on dozens of reprints.
Retired shellfish biologist Edwin Rhodes recalls:
“Those of us hoping to publish an article would bring a hand-written draft to Rita. She would edit and put it into typewritten form. We were at our own peril to make changes! Manuscripts had to be sent to journals in finished, clean, perfect form. Adding or eliminating a few words on a page would change the spacing for everything that followed and had to be re-typed. Rita had the personality of a stern first-grade teacher. You better be darn sure your change was necessary and then sell that to Rita.”
Over her 50-year career, Rita provided administrative support to Milford Laboratory directors Victor Loosanoff, James Hanks and Anthony Calabrese. She retired in 1986 at age 73.