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Bonne Bay Marine Station celebrates multiple anniversaries

By Kelly Foss

It began like most good things – totally unintentionally, said Dr. Robert (Bob) Hooper, director of the Bonne Bay Marine Station.

A temporary shore station was needed for a multi-university research project led by McGill University on plankton productivity in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. A search party, led by Don Steele, now a professor emeritus, and Bill Pruitt, an honorary doctorate recipient, set out from Memorial University to locate such a facility. In Norris Point they found a wharf suitable for tying up the research ship and a few houses for sale – and the rest is history.

When the research project ended in 1973, Memorial University, or more specifically, the Faculty of Science, retained the facility for use in researching local plants and animals, as well as the geography and geology of the area.

“That was in the early days of getting Gros Morne National Park established,” said Dr. Hooper. “So there were quite a few Memorial University researchers doing projects in the area. Grenfell also began taking their students there for field trips in ecology, botany and zoology. We would go out there with students on mid-term breaks. It wasn’t strictly related to a course, but was about learning and having fun.

“Shortly after, we began to look into actually offering field courses there. It took several years to develop the first course which Dr. Alan Whittick and I offered to 23 students in 1979,” he added. “I offer that same course today, which makes this year the 30th anniversary.”

This year, the Bonne Bay Marine Station itself turns 40 years old. Dr. Hooper said not a day goes by in July or August that former students don’t drop in to recall happy memories of their time spent at the station.

“There are a lot of graduates out there who had their careers started here,” he said. “This is where they discovered that marine science is something they were committed to and passionate about. Part of the reason Memorial University was created was to study the oceans that surround us and shape our way of life. I think the quality of the education we have provided has increasingly depended on Bonne Bay Marine Station. I think the place only becomes more important with time.”

In recent years, Dr. Hooper said the facility has expanded its mandate to include a commitment to public interaction and education, for students, local businesses and communities, and tourists.

“Our public programming for tourists is immensely important to improving scientific literacy, but also to raising the public profile of Memorial University,” he said. “Our whole theme is to show people what we’re learning about the seas surrounding our province.”