Maine Ocean Science Leaders Launch New Collaboration


This month, almost 50 leaders from across Maine gathered at Bigelow Laboratory in East Boothbay. They came from 19 different organizations, representing different industries, from just about every stretch of the Maine coastline, but all are dedicated to advancing ocean science, education, and innovation. And all were there to help establish a new marine science consortium that aims to create a more unified and resilient ocean science sector in the Pine Tree State.

“When I arrived in Maine nearly six years ago, I was amazed at the breadth of activities taking place in the marine science space, but I also noticed the lack of connectivity among the various groups,” said Bigelow Laboratory CEO and President Debbie Bronk, who organized the day-long event. “As a firm believer in the old adage that a rising tide lifts all boats, I’ve long wanted to help increase connections and collaborations across all of these groups.”

According to Bronk’s original vision, the meeting had three primary goals. First was to facilitate introductions — and eventually meaningful connections — between organizations with similar goals around policy, research, community development, and education.

The next was to “matchmake” among organizations to find opportunities for them to pursue joint projects on a diverse array of issues from oceanography to sustainable seafood to biotechnology. Sharing resources and leveraging each other’s expertise is essential given the complex, multi-faceted challenges facing the ocean and the corresponding need for diverse tools and perspectives.

Deborah Bronk at a whiteboard

Finally, Bronk stressed the need for the people in the room to “provide moral support” in these challenging times, especially as many coastal communities like Boothbay are still reeling from January’s devastating storms.

“We’re all working as individual organizations in our way to support and protect the working waterfront, but what can we do together at this difficult time?” asked Kim Hamilton, president of the Island Institute and a member of Bigelow Laboratory’s board of trustees. Her comments highlighted a theme echoed throughout the day regarding the urgency of this kind of collaboration in a rapidly changing political, legal, and environmental landscape.

Another theme raised multiple times was the importance of commercialization and turning research into tangible solutions and products — both to support ocean-based livelihoods and each organization. “There’s a lot of research going on, and a lot of brain power in this room,” Bronk said, “but we need to find ways to connect that to commercial applications and create business opportunities to support Maine’s economy.”

Organizations with business incubators and partners suggested connecting scientific and subject matter experts in the room with start-up companies looking for technical support. Likewise, educational institutions in the room brainstormed collaborations to increase access to experiential learning, connect seasonal educators with school-year opportunities, and encourage students to pursue careers that would benefit Maine communities.

Large group of people in a meeting room

Multiple sessions throughout the day provided opportunities for organizations to discover and discuss common experiences and challenges. Some of the priorities raised included sharing staff and resources, connecting with the larger bioscience community, supporting workplace diversity and affordable housing for staff, and finding ways to effectively communicate what work each group is doing to each other and to the communities they serve. These discussions will inform and guide the new consortium as it moves forward.

Though this was just an initial meeting, everyone in the room agreed upon the need for, and the exciting possibilities of, continuing and expanding this partnership in the future.

“Maine is fortunate to have so many great institutions and passionate, dedicated people working on its behalf,” Bronk said. “I was amazed at the enthusiastic response from across the state to this idea, and I believe we’ve just taken an important step together toward the resilient coastal communities, industries, and ecosystems we all want to see.