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SRI Boss: Marine District Boon for St. Pete

Mark Schreiner
WUSF 89.7 News

Located around St. Petersburg's waterfront are a number of research institutions that would be the envy of most coastal cities: the Florida Institute of Oceanography, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and  both USF St. Petersburg and the USF College of Marine Science, just to name a few.

That collection of institutions, which some are calling St. Pete's Marine District, is drawing worldwide attention, including the BLUE Ocean Film Festival, which is bringing more than 100 ocean films, as well as big money sponsors like Google, to town in November 2014.

Among those who see bright days ahead for the Marine District is Larry Langebrake.

The director of ocean ecosystem research company SRI St. Petersburg spoke last Friday to a group of business people and researchers at the Walgreens Bayside Business Forum, a series of talks presented by the Dean's Advisory Council of the USF St. Petersburg College of Business.

Langebrake said projects tied to the federal RESTORE Act (Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunity, and Revived Economies) could mean as much as $16 billion in research money over the next 10 years to businesses and institutions involved in efforts tied to the recovery from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster - efforts members of the Marine District could certainly meet.

"Our proximity to the Gulf of Mexico, where there's past oil exploration, but also future oil exploration, it's actually going to be very important to take a look at what's happening in St. Pete," Langbrake said. "The rest of this community is going to tap into this resource (the Marine District) for everything from research, monitoring, assessment, emergency response, I could see potential even for the Coast Guard to expand operations here."

After his speech, Langbrake and USFSP College of Business Dean Maling Ebrahimpour spoke to WUSF News about the Marine District and its importance, both now and in the future, to St. Petersburg (click on audio link above for the full discussion).

Here are some excerpts from that interview:

Langebrake on how prepared the Marine District is to move on projects tied to the RESTORE Act:  "We're extraordinarily well poised -- we have the Florida Institute of Oceanography with its ships and the expertise that it has in terms of getting out there in the field to address these problems, we have the USF College of Marine Science with its world-class researchers and its students and research assistants, we have  the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, the United States Geological Survey, NOAA Fisheries service, the Tampa Bay Estuary Program and SRI

All of them bring together expertise and capabilities that are directly relevant to the list of priorities identified in the RESTORE Act, so to say we're well poised would be an understatement."

Langebrake on if uncertainty about the future of the St. Pete Pier and the Tampa Bay Rays staying in the city will affect the Marine District and its members: "Actually it does not concern me. I think that there's always a certain level of uncertainty out there and there's a certain level of chaos out there, and those always present opportunity. We just have to be smart about how we bring together organizations such as those in the Marine Science District with say for instance, the (USF) College of Business and Johns Hopkins (All Children's Hospital) and other USF St. Petersburg programs to leverage and capitalize on our expertise to the benefit of the entire city, that's really the goal."

Ebrahimpour on how USF St. Petersburg's presence in the Marine District means jobs for students: "We deliver a product - it's called a student, and part of it is that, knowing what they need, we can actually educate our students so they can serve the need of the community - this community meaning SRI, meaning Johns Hopkins, meaning Baycare Hospital. There are so many opportunities for a student that being there, by itself,  it gives us an advantage that many other schools don't have that."

Mark Schreiner is the assistant news director and intern coordinator for WUSF News.
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