MSI beyond 40 — Charting new waters

STAR SCIENCE - Marie Antonette J. Menez, Ph.D. (The Philippine Star) - April 17, 2014 - 12:00am

The UP Marine Science Institute recently celebrated its 40th anniversary with the theme “MSI beyond 40 — Charting new waters.” The weeklong celebration was an auspicious occasion to look back at the challenges, lessons learned and accomplishments as we move forward to pave the way for the next generation of marine scientists. It was also a celebration of friendships and partnerships bound by common aspirations grounded in the pursuit of excellence and service to the country.

Everyone was abuzz with preparations for the open house and anniversary fellowship programs. The different laboratories showcased their research projects with posters, audiovisual presentations and displays of state-of-the-art equipment and products. The library launched the MSI archive and records collection, a repository of information on the Institute’s rich history and outstanding achievements. The fish and invertebrate museum was reopened; a permanent display of the G.T. Velasquez Herbarium and the Philippine Coral Reef database were launched. These are part of the ongoing efforts to consolidate the reference collections and databases of a diverse range of taxa and marine environmental data built up over the decades through various research projects into the Marine Biodiversity Reference Collection and Information System. The development of this system will help facilitate the advancement of transdisciplinary marine biodiversity studies which include the assessment of different levels of biological diversity (i.e. chemical, genetic, species, ecosystem), as well as the management and utilization of these resources. 

In the courtyard, there was a display of “vintage” equipment, a sentimental reminder for the senior staff on how much things have changed through the decades and a source of amusement to the students and guests. The students and research staff eagerly informed guests and colleagues about the undertakings in their respective laboratories and shared their talents (e.g., visual design, singing, dancing) while the senior staff kept to the sidelines glimmering with pride and joy. A thanksgiving and recognition program for partners was held on March 25 where various individuals and funding donors were honored.  The grand MSI family celebration, including the Bolinao Marine Laboratory contingent, was held on March 28, the 40th anniversary date of the founding of the Institute. With the rapid growth of the Institute in the last few years (over 200 personnel, 80 percent of whom are contractual project staff and students), it was an opportunity to get to meet and know other people from the Institute.

From 1985-2013 MSI’s all Ph.D. faculty has graduated a total of 138 students in the marine sciences (MSc and Ph.D. — Marine Biology, Marine Physical Sciences and Marine Biotechnology) and served as advisers/co-advisers of 113 graduate students from other institutes. Over the past decade, the number of graduate students at MSI has doubled to a total of 122. More than 60 percent of MSI’s students are fully supported through project research assistantships and practically all student thesis/dissertation research are likewise supported by project funds. The graduate curricula are enriched with opportunities to engage in integrated research, development and extension programs in four interlinked multidisciplinary themes: marine biodiversity and ecosystems, archipelagic oceanography, marine biotechnology and climate change. 

MSI, as the National Center of Excellence in Marine Sciences, has contributed substantially in all aspects of UP’s mandate as a National University and the country’s multi-faceted maritime needs and interests. MSI has consistently been among the top units in terms of research productivity and is one of the few internationally recognized research and academic institutions in the country. In 2008, MSI was co-awardee of the prestigious Calouste Gulbenkian International Prize for its work on Biodiversity and Defense of the Environment, and in 2013, it was designated as Regional Center of Excellence in Coral Reef Research and Marine Protected Areas by the Partnerships in Environmental Management for the Seas of East Asia (PEMSEA). These are products of interdisciplinary mentoring and meaningful collaborative efforts within MSI and with other local and foreign collaborators.

MSI’s 40th anniversary celebration was made even more special because of key milestones which embody the MSI spirit. We were elated with the conferment of Dr. Gavino G. Trono of the rank of National Scientist. Together with Dr. Lourdes Cruz, MSI now has the honor of hosting two National Scientists from among the seven MSI members of the National Academy of Science. It is likely that there will be others in the years to come. Fortuitously, during the anniversary date itself, the UP Board of Regents approved the pioneering Ph.D. program at UP Diliman (proposed by MSI with the Institute of Biology) which focuses on research outputs rather than formal coursework. In addition, two new multidisciplinary research programs on coral reef assessment and marine geology were approved for funding by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST)! A new collaborative Professional Masters program with UPV and UPLB on Tropical Marine Ecosystems Management will also be offered in the coming school year. 

MSI’s many hard-earned “rewards,” as our founding director University Professor Emeritus Edgardo D. Gomez would refer to, will help MSI to continue to rise above the many challenges in engaging with different agencies and sectors to respond to the immediate needs of the country. At the same time, MSI will strive to further help accelerate the development of direly needed human resources in science and technology in institutions nationwide. This will enable the country to capture the vast goods and services from our diverse archipelagic heritage and marine natural resources in the long term. 

MSI is very grateful for the support of many partners from the academe, civil society, national and local governments, and of course the local and funding agencies that have enabled the Institute to undertake its mandates in research, education and public service. We thank you all and we look forward to charting new waters with you in the decades to come.

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Marie Antonette J. Meñez is a professor and the director at the Marine Science Institute. Her research and development areas of interest are marine invertebrate biology, culture and fisheries; population ecology and coastal resources management. She can be reached at ajmenez@msi.upd.edu.ph.

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