By Danielle Lachance-Butler
The Florida Institute of Technology has begun construction of the $1.25 million Mertens Marine Center to strengthen the college’s aquatic education. The facility will provide undergraduates and graduates with the opportunity to conduct research in ocean engineering, oceanography and environmental science in the Port of Melbourne.
The ideal study environment
According to FIT Professor of Oceanography and Environmental Science Kevin Johnson, the new research center is ideal for students because the center is right on the water. The university, by comparison, is on Babcock, which isn’t as convenient for students who need first-hand experience of aquatic life. At the research center, Johnson says, students will be able to conduct activities in estuarine chemistry, estuarine biology and estuarine ecology — the study of organisms in a semi-enclosed coastal body of water. This will be especially helpful when they need to write a personal essay on the subject of aquatic life.
The project is expected to be completed by the end of 2021, according to FIT spokesman Adam Lowenstein. However, the COVID-19 pandemic could potentially impact the construction schedule. About 50% of disease, including COVID-19, is spread through the air, especially respiratory droplets, and Florida is currently reporting 3.39 million cases of COVID-19. Still, the deadline for the new research space looks promising, and the center is expected to provide students with more lab and classroom space.
The center will also provide students with storage data and security solutions, which is imperative in the modern enterprise. In the first half of 2019 alone, approximately 4 billion records across the United States were exposed to data breaches according to researchers, and cybercrime has increased exponentially since 2020. Strong cybersecurity measures such that cybersecurity audits and Common Security Frameworks (CSF) can keep the new research center secure.
Mertens Marine Center
Funding for the project came from Lawrence and Margarete Mertens, who donated $1 million to the school several years ago. Margarete, a scuba diver, and Lawrence, the college’s first marine biology instructor, dedicated themselves to providing the university with an aquatic education center for its prospective students. Margarete died in May 2018 aged 83 and Lawrence died in December 2017 aged 88.
Named Mertens Marine Center after the couple, the research center will be located across from Chart House and overlook Crane Creek on the college’s approximately 3-acre-wide anchor property. Currently, the anchorage houses the Ralph S. Evinrude Marine Operations Center as well as research vessels and the college’s Indian River Lagoon boats.
According to Johnson, student research boats typically travel from Turkey Creek to Mosquito Lagoon as part of the Indian River Lagoon Research Institute. Students in the program study lagoon inputs, nutrient loads, dredging, etc. The new Mertens Marine Center will accommodate up to 50 graduate students and 140 undergraduate students involved in the college’s environmental science, oceanography, and ocean engineering programs.