You can’t change the future of the ocean on a fisherman’s story.
So says Chris Fischer, the charismatic founder of world-renowned marine research outfit OCEARCH. The bona fides of academic expertise, peer-reviewed published research and acclaimed scientists are needed to help add the most credibility to such an ambitious goal.
Fischer now has that, with the announcement Thursday, Feb. 9, of “OCEARCH at Jacksonville University,” a collaboration that puts the University and its namesake city on the world stage for student-centric marine science learning. At the same time, it provides one of the global leaders in ocean species research a premier academic home with resources to expand for years to come.
“So many students have asked me: How do we get involved in OCEARCH? I have an answer for them now: Go to Jacksonville University,” Fischer, known as the “modern-day Jacques Cousteau,” said to applause from dignitaries and the JU community on a sunny, windy morning on the campus riverfront.
“Jacksonville University is now the home of the largest shark collaborative in the world. Coming here doesn’t limit JU. It doesn’t limit OCEARCH. It expands our horizons and ensures our program will live beyond any individual. Creating a base and a home is fundamental to our values of inclusion and collaboration.”
OCEARCH, an internationally recognized at-sea laboratory with millions of social media followers and dedicated to studying keystone marine species like great white and tiger sharks, is expected to magnify opportunities for students of JU marine sciences and other programs.
It also affords OCEARCH a stellar marine science academic partner in JU’s Marine Science Research Institute, located near the nexus of an important great white shark habitat and migration area.
“This is the first step to having OCEARCH serve scientists, students, communities, the ocean and the planet in perpetuity,” said Fischer, the research vessel M/V OCEARCH anchored in the St. Johns River behind him. “There is no time to approach things in a leisurely fashion. There is no time to do things the old way. It is time to push forward at a rate that has never been achieved, to gather data we’ve never had before, to move the planet toward abundance.”
Fischer and OCEARCH have been featured in thousands of news articles, and many of its 27 planet-crossing expeditions have been used for such things as a TV series that ran on the National Geographic Channel and the History Channel. Fischer’s new show, “Shark Trackers,” premiered Tuesday, Feb. 7, on the Travel Channel.
JU President Tim Cost called the collaboration, which was two years in the making and vetted with a business analysis by JU Davis College of Business faculty and doctoral students, a chance to partner with an entrepreneurial, aggressive science program that has an innovative and visionary leader.
“This is the result of something we value highly here: collaboration. We are here to provide engaged learning and seamless opportunities,” he said. “Every student who goes to this University, every faculty and staff member, every student-athlete, is going to benefit from this. This is building a better institution for the 12- to 18-year-olds who don’t even know they are going to come here. But they will come here, and they will hear much more from us because of this agreement.”
OCEARCH at Jacksonville University will foster a wide range of new educational opportunities outside the classroom for Jacksonville University students. The M/V OCEARCH’s more than 200 sharks tagged and dozens of special research expeditions from South Africa to the Galapagos Islands to Australia over the past decade are unparalleled among researchers in the field.
“Jacksonville University has always offered students incredible opportunities to understand marine science, but with this new partnership, we are taking that opportunity to the next level,” said Dr. Quinton White, Executive Director of the Marine Science Research Institute. “We have the ocean in our backyard, which is really going to help the success of OCEARCH at Jacksonville University.”
Jacksonville City Council President Lori Boyer hailed the announcement as a major leap for the city’s profile worldwide.
“We are uniquely positioned to launch innovative and world-recognized partnerships,” she said. “I applaud JU and OCEARCH for helping make the Jacksonville name synonymous with innovation, collaboration and eco-sensitive research — and now doing it on a global scale.”
Students like Christina LoBuglio, a senior marine science major from Long Island, N.Y., are excited at the prospect of having such a preeminent research facility floating right outside their classrooms and residence hall doors.
“There’s a huge puzzle that is missing pieces about shark migration, and to give OCEARCH at Jacksonville University the opportunity to put these puzzle pieces together will give us new insights,” she said. “JU and the Marine Sciences here at JU have so much to offer. It’s a chance to really go forward in your education – for me, in shark biology and conservation. This is bringing education and science research together. The whole community is going to come together at JU because of OCEARCH.”
The one-of-a-kind learning opportunity will extend beyond just Marine Sciences students. With an emphasis on scientific inquiry, experiential learning, innovation and sustainability, OCEARCH at Jacksonville University will offer hands-on experience to JU students in other disciplines such as marketing, public policy, film, engineering, aviation, sustainability, communications, business and environmental sciences.
“We are very proud of this collaboration,” Cost said. “Not only will this partnership give our students extraordinary opportunities, it will expand the strength of the Marine Sciences program, making it a robust platform for scientific research and advance our University’s mission to be nationally and internationally recognized for such unique programs and student success. We expect it will attract worldwide recognition to the Northeast Florida region as an academic and research hub.”
Under the new collaboration, the 126-foot, steel-hulled M/V OCEARCH will be home-ported in Jacksonville, and JU will bring on a preeminent shark scholar to its current marine sciences faculty. OCEARCH will also reap numerous benefits from the partnership, as OCEARCH at Jacksonville University will sustain one of the world’s leading gatherers of scientific data, allowing it to grow and flourish in its new institutional home. The partnership brings strength to OCEARCH’s structure as it continues to conduct new studies and collect additional information that will aid in the preservation of ocean life.
Located on the banks of the St. Johns River and a quick trip away from the Atlantic Ocean, JU is also home to the Marine Science Research Institute, which offers real-world research experience on the environment and sustainable practices to preserve the future.
For more information on OCEARCH at Jacksonville University, visit www.ju.edu/ocearch.