Tags Posts tagged with "Stony Brook University"

Stony Brook University

Stony Brook University Interim President Michael Bernstein during the school’s State of the University address in October 2019. Photo from Stony Brook University

Stony Brook University interim president Michael Bernstein has officially withdrawn his name for consideration in the search for the next SBU president.

Bernstein made the difficult decision “after considerable reflection,” according to an email statement from SBU.

“As he considered his future career options, he felt he needed the freedom to pursue external professional opportunities, without the complication of being an internal candidate at Stony Brook,” the statement read. “Michael has stated that he has been enormously impressed with, and inspired by the excellence of the faculty, staff, and students throughout Stony Brook’s campuses. It is his and the cabinet’s expectation that we will continue to work together as a team over the course of this next semester to move forward on all of our key goals.”

The interim president took over the reins at the university after former SBU President Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr. exited the position Aug. 1, 2019. In May of 2019, it was announced that Stanley would take on the role of president at Michigan State University in August that year.

In June of 2019, the State University of New York Board of Trustees approved Bernstein as interim president. Previously, Bernstein had served as provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs as well as professor of business, economics and history at SBU since 2016.

During an exclusive interview with TBR News Media in August, Bernstein said he had been originally planning to step down as provost and move to San Diego. When Stanley announced he was leaving, he was asked if he would consider the interim role. During the interview, when questioned if he would consider staying permanently, Bernstein said he had an open mind.

“Let’s see if I like the job and more importantly let’s see if the job likes me and we’ll go from there,” Bernstein said at the time.

The news came as a surprise to members of the Three Village Civic Association, who were aiming to create a stronger relationship with the university, and TVCA 1st Vice President George Hoffman said the group was disappointed.

“Michael Bernstein was an affable and outgoing person,” he said. “The first thing he did when appointed interim president was to reach out to all of the community organizations and invite us for breakfast to discuss how we can improve the relationship between the university and the community.”

Hoffman said the civic association “had great hopes for future relationships under Bernstein.” It was something they felt like they didn’t have with the previous administration.

“It is our hope that the search committee will select a candidate that has the same understanding of the importance of community partnership as Michael Bernstein,” he said.

In September, SUNY announced a search committee that includes faculty, staff, Stony Brook Foundation members, students, administration, alumni and Stony Brook Council members. To aid the search, the committee set up the email address presidentialSearch@stonybrook.edu for comments and suggestions to be submitted.

U.S. State Sen. Ken LaValle announced he would not be running for re-election Jan. 10. File photo by Kevin Redding

Why have you decided this term would be your last?

I don’t know, it just feels right. If I can put in place something at [Stony Brook University], then I can retire knowing we’re in a good place. 

I look forward to spending more time with my wife and family, and less time driving on the Thruway.

I would like to do something academic — it’s a way of looking at things through a different lens.

Would you look to work at Stony Brook University?

That would be my choice. I would like to do something that’s always been on my radar — some kind of think tank, look at it in an academic way. My thoughts on generations, what is the difference between one generation to another. We know the events of WWII shaped what was called the greatest generation. But then there are millennials — who are millennials? You’re a millennial [he said, talking to me, a 25-year-old.] How are your thoughts shaped by your generation?

Some have said the climate of partisanship up in Albany has factored into your decision.

My personality has been to not get involved in that kind of stuff, I try to be kind and productive — there’s no doubt things have changed in the Legislature. I think you’ll see more people say it’s not a positive place — that’s how you start to lose good people. People will say, “Who the hell needs this?”

What are your plans for your last year in office?

I want to make sure all the preservation stuff is in place. That’s the kind of thing most near and dear to me. I want to leave things with the university and Brookhaven National Lab in a good place … I’m very focused, it’s always been 1st District first.

Does the preservation you’re talking about include the hundreds of acres over by the Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant?

Yes, absolutely.

What other things are you working with on preservation, what about the university are you currently engaged with?

I want to make sure that work we have started over at the Gyrodyne site keeps moving forward, it’s linked to the economic vitality of the area. I’m meeting with union representatives, talking about the sewage treatment plant, talking about the 8-acre parcel that would go on there. We got to have further discussions about that project.

Do you have any misgivings about the Gyrodyne plans?

I’ve got to have further discussions. I want to make sure I have the opportunity to talk to people at the university, I want to make sure where the sewage treatment plant is going is going to be accepted in the community.

Do you have any advice for whoever ends up taking over the district? What qualities do you feel like the new senator will require?

I will work with that person, whoever it is in November, whatever party. I will try to help them, work with them. No. 1, they’ve got to have an understanding of who they’re representing. There is a large group that thinks the environment is very important. Whoever is going to replace me will have to have that mindset or have a background in it. 

It’s a big district, and there have been very few things I have missed. Whoever comes in will have to be very much involved in local events. Just look at Fishers Island, it’s closer to Connecticut, but it’s in the Town of Southold. There are 300 people living there, but you know, those people are just as important as any other part of the 1st District. They need to have an interaction with the people of the district.

I think right now the Senate majority, the Democrats, tend to represent New York City and New York City issues. We need someone who is going to fight for suburban and rural interests.

Though you still have a year left in office, how do you feel the shape of the district is in?

My personality has always been one to get things done. The district will be left in as good of a shape as can be.

 

Geoffrey Girnun hiking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Photo supplied by Geoffrey Girnun for a previous article

Federal prosecutors announced Jan. 14 that Geoffrey Girnun, 49, a former professor at Stony Brook University, has pled guilty to stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in government funds from cancer-related research grants.

At federal court in Central Islip, Girnun, of Woodmere, pled guilty to stealing $225,000 in those grant funds. The ex-professor issued fraudulent invoices for research equipment to SBU from sham companies he created to conceal his theft of funds from cancer-related research grants issued by the National Institutes of Health and SBU. Prosecutors said this went to pay for things like Girnun’s mortgage.

Prosecutors said Girnun faces up to 10 years in prison as well as restitution, forfeiture and a fine, which are all to be determined by the judge at that time.

U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Richard Donaghue said the ex-professor is being held responsible.

“With today’s guilty plea, Girnun has been held accountable for his unconscionable scheme to embezzle for his personal use hundreds of thousands of dollars in government funds that were intended to help find a cure for cancer,” he said in a release.

The professor had been arrested in September last year and was charged in a seven-count indictment with theft of state and federal government funds, wire fraud and money laundering. 

Girnun was featured in a March 25, 2015, TBR News Media article. At the time, the researcher was exploring the role of different proteins that either promote or prevent various cancers. The one particular protein in the liver cell he was studying is one that classically regulates the cell cycle, according to the article.

Girnun discovered that the protein promotes how the liver produces sugar, in the form of glucose, to feed organs such as the brain under normal conditions. In diabetic mice, the protein goes back to its classic role as a cell cycle regulator.

Girnun made the move to SBU from the University of Maryland in 2013 and said at the time he was inspired by the opportunity to create something larger.

“I want to build a program in cancer metabolism,” he said. “I want to build something beyond my own lab.”

An attorney for Girnun did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

 

Donghui Zhu

By Daniel Dunaief

About 5 percent of people who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease have a genetic mutation that likely contributed to a condition that causes cognitive declines.

That means the vast majority of people with Alzheimer’s have other risk factors.

Donghui Zhu, an associate professor of biomedical engineering in the Institute for Engineering-Driven Medicine who joined Stony Brook University this summer, believes that age-related decline in the presence of the element magnesium in the brain may exacerbate or contribute to Alzheimer’s.

Donghui Zhu

The National Institutes of Health believes the former associate professor at the University of North Texas may be on the right track, awarding Zhu $3.5 million in funding. Zhu believes magnesium helps prevent the loss of neurons, in part because of the connection between this element, inflammation and the development of Alzheimer’s.

Numerous other factors may also contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s. Diabetes, lifestyle, a specific sleep cycle and low exercise levels may all play a role in leading to cognitive declines associated with Alzheimer’s, Zhu said.

According to some prior research, people with Alzheimer’s have a lower level of free magnesium in their body and in their serum levels than people who don’t suffer from this disease, he added.

In the short term, he aspires to try to link the magnesium deficiency to neuronal inflammation and Alzheimer’s disease.

Zhu plans to use some of the funds from the grant, which will run for the next five years, on animal models of Alzheimer’s. If his study shows that a lower level of magnesium contributes to inflammation and the condition, he would like to add magnesium back to their systems. Magnesium acts as an antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory agent.

“If we supply a sufficient amount of magnesium, can we slow down or reverse the process of this disease?” Zhu asked. “We hope it would.”

Any potential cognitive improvement in animal models might offer a promising alternative to current treatments, which often only have limited to moderate effects on patient symptoms.

In the longer term, Zhu would like to contribute to an understanding of why Alzheimer’s disease develops in the first place. Knowing that would lead to other alternative treatments as well.

“I don’t think my group or we alone can solve this puzzle,” he said. “We are all trying to chip in so the scientific community can have an answer or solution for the public.”

Like people with many other diseases or disorders, any two people with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis don’t necessarily have the same causes or type of the progressive disorder.

Women represent two-thirds of the Alzheimer’s population. Zhu said this isn’t linked to the longer life span for women, but may be more of a by-product of the change in female hormones over time.

In his research, he plans to study female and male animal models separately, as he looks to understand how the causes and progression of the disease may differ by gender.

In the human population, scientists have linked drug addiction or alcoholism with a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s. He plans to perform additional studies of this connection as well.

“It’s the consensus in the community that alcohol addiction will increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease,” Zhu said. People who consume considerable alcohol have reduced blood flow to the brain that can endanger or threaten the survival of blood vessels.

“This is another topic of interest to us,” he added.

Zhu is collaborating with other experts in drug addiction studies to explore the link with Alzheimer’s. 

In his research, he hopes to link his background in biology and engineering to tackle a range of translational problems. 

Stefan Judex, a professor and interim chair in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Stony Brook, is excited about the potential for Zhu’s work.

Zhu is “a fast rising star in the field of biomaterials and fills a gap in our department and the university,” Judex explained in an email. “He is well-equipped to apply his unique research skills to a number of diseases, ultimately aiding in preventing and treating those conditions.”

In addition to his work on Alzheimer’s, Zhu also pursues studies in several other areas, including nano-biomaterials, biodegradable or bio-resorbable materials, regenerative medicine for cardiovascular and orthopedic applications, and drug delivery device and platforms

During his doctoral studies and training at the University of Missouri in Columbia, he focused on dementia and neuron science, while his postdoctoral research at the University of Rochester involved engineering, where he did considerable work on tissue engineering and biomaterials.

Zhu decided he had the right training and experience to do both, which is how he picked up on tissue engineering, regenerative medicine and neuroscience.

“They are not totally exclusive to each other,” he said. “There are many common theories or technologies, methods and models we can share.”

Adults don’t generate or create new neurons. He hopes in the future that an engineering approach may help to reconnect neurons that may have lost their interaction with their neighbors, in part through small magnesium wires that can “help guide their reconnection,” which is, he said, a typical example of how to use biomaterials to promote neuro-regeneration.

In his lab, he works on the intersection between engineering and medicine. The interdisciplinary and translational nature of the research attracted him to the new Institute for Engineering-Driven Medicine at Stony Brook.

He described Stony Brook as the “total package for me” because it has a medical school and hospital, as well as an engineering department and entrepreneurial support.

He has already filed numerous patents and would like to form start-up companies to apply his research.

Judex wrote that he is “incredibly pleased and proud that Dr. Zhu joined” Stony Brook and that it is “incredible that he received this large grant within the first few months since his start.”

In his career, Zhu would like to contribute to new treatments.

“Some day,” he said, he hopes to “put a real product on the market.”

 

A Walmart customer donates to Stan Feltman’s fundraising efforts for fellow veterans. Photo by Rita J. Egan

On a recent December morning, while many shoppers rushed into the Middle Island Walmart to take care of some holiday shopping, others paused in the vestibule to throw some money in a bucket.

The container sat in a shopping cart filled with articles and wartime photos that feature veteran Stan Feltman, 93, the man standing behind the cart. Feltman is a familiar face at the store as he stands there practically every day, all year long, collecting money for his fellow veterans with the recognizable red poppies in his hand. Some days he takes a break, but only from his usual spot. He then moves on to collect money at the Walmart in Centereach or East Setauket.

Feltman said he’s met so many generous people through the years. He usually can collect between $80 and $100 after standing there for two hours. One day a gentleman shook his hand and noticed he was cold and bought him a jacket from the store. One woman gave him a $20 bill one day saying it was for him to keep.

“I took the $20, and when she left I threw it in the pot,” he said. “I don’t need the money.”

A member of the Jewish War Veterans of the USA Col. Mickey Marcus Post 336, Feltman brings the donations to the post’s monthly meetings where he and his fellow members decide where the money should go. Post Comdr. Norman Weitz said over the last few years they have been able to donate more than $21,000 thanks to Feltman’s fundraising efforts. The post is a regular contributor to many veterans efforts, including the Long Island State Veterans Home at Stony Brook University.

“A common theme you will see in the veterans community is that veterans are dedicated to giving back to helping other veterans.”

– Jonathan Spier

In 2017, the post donated $5,000 to LISVH. Jonathan Spier, deputy executive director of the vets home, said the donation was used to purchase oxygen concentrators for the patients. He said the JWV has been a partner with the home for more than 20 years and other donations from them have been used for recreational therapy programs. The post also assists Jewish vets to attend Shabbat and holiday services.

“A common theme you will see in the veterans community is that veterans are dedicated to giving back to helping other veterans,” he said.

Spier added he is in awe of Feltman’s fundraising efforts.

“It’s really incredible to see that passion and that energy and the effort that he puts in to help veterans,” he said.

As for his war record, Feltman was a B-29 tail gunner in the U.S. Army Air Corps from 1943 to 1945. He was a double ace, meaning he shot down 10 enemy planes. Weitz said he admires Feltman, who one time when he was shot down had to escape on a raft. When Feltman’s fellow soldier slipped off the raft into shark-infested waters, he dived down to save him and grabbed him by the collar. Feltman earned the Bronze Star Medal for saving the man’s life. The medal wasn’t the only one earned during his service, as he gained four medals in total throughout his time in the Air Corps, even though they are no longer in his possession.

“My wife was so proud of them when she passed away, I put them in her coffin,” he said.

Weitz said he believes there are more heroic acts that Feltman doesn’t talk about, and the office of U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) is trying to see if his medals can be replaced by writing to the Air Force Historical Research Agency, which has access to after-action reports. The post commander has also nominated Feltman for membership in the Legion of Honor of The Chapel of Four Chaplains, which recognizes veterans who have gone above and beyond their required duties and contribute to their community.

In addition to raising money for veterans, Feltman has participated in lectures at schools and senior groups, including Erasmus Hall High School where he attended while growing up in Brooklyn. He also has been interviewed for the Library of Congress Veterans History Project, an initiative established to collect and preserve firsthand remembrances of wartime veterans.

Weitz calls Feltman amazing and said he is worthy of all the accolades he has received.

“The record amount of money he’s collected allows us to distribute thousands and thousands to local veterans organizations,” he said.

Interns Nylette Lopez (rear) and Stephanie Taboada characterize catalysts as they attempt to convert carbon dioxide and methane into synthesis gas this past summer at Brookhaven National Laboratory. Photo from BNL.

By Daniel Dunaief

This article is part two in a two-part series.

Local medical and research institutions are aware of the challenges women face in science and are taking steps to ensure that women receive equal opportunities for success in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (or STEM). Times Beacon Record News Media reached out to members of each institution and received an overview of some initiatives.

Brookhaven National Laboratory 

The Department of Energy-funded research facility has created a number of opportunities for women, including Brookhaven Women in Science. This effort has been active for over four decades and its mission, according to Peter Genzer, a BNL spokesman, is to support the development of models, policies and practices that enhance the quality of life for BNL employees and emphasize the recruitment, hiring, promotion and retention of women.

BWIS offers annual awards, outreach events and various networking opportunities in the lab and community, while the lab’s Talent Management Group partners with BWIS to bring classes and speakers to discuss issues specific to women.

In October, the group hosted Kimberly Jackson, a vice chair and associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Spelman College, who gave a talk titled “Realigning the Crooked Room in STEM.”

The Leona Woods Distinguished Postdoctoral Lectureship Award at BNL, meanwhile, celebrates the scientific accomplishments of female physicists, physicists from under-represented minority groups and LGBTQ physicists and to promote diversity and inclusion. BNL awarded the lectureship this year to Kirsty Duffy, a fellow at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.

For the past five years, BNL has also partnered with a local chapter of Girls Inc., which helps to “encourage young women towards careers” in STEM, Genzer explained in an email.

BNL has also collaborated with the Girl Scouts of Suffolk County to organize a new patch program that encourages Girl Scouts to work in scientific fields. As of September, county Girl Scouts can earn three new Brookhaven Lab patches, and the lab hopes to extend the program nationwide across the Department of Energy complex.

BNL also provides six weeks of paid time off at 100 percent of base pay for a primary caregiver after birth or adoption and one week of full pay for a secondary caregiver. BNL is exploring plans to enhance support for primary and secondary caregivers, Genzer said.

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory has taken several recent steps as part of an ongoing effort to encourage gender diversity.

In October, a group of four CSHL administrators traveled to the University of Wisconsin in Madison to discuss mentoring. The goal was to train them on how to design and deliver mentoring training regularly to the faculty, postdocs and graduate students on campus, said Charla Lambert, the diversity, equity and inclusion officer for research at CSHL. The first version of the training will occur next spring. The ultimate goal is to ensure the research environment at CSHL emphasizes good mentoring practices and is more inclusive for all mentees.

CSHL has also hosted a three-day workshop in leadership practices for postdoctoral researchers and junior faculty since 2011. The workshop, which is run through the Meetings & Courses Program, trains about 25 postdoctoral researchers and junior faculty each year and has about one per year from CSHL, addresses how to hire and motivate people, while providing constructive feedback.

Lambert said family-friendly policies were already a part of CSHL policies, which include a child care facility. Members of the faculty receive extra funding when they travel to conferences to provide additional child care.

Lambert, who is a program manager for extramural Meetings & Courses overseeing diversity initiatives, has worked to get the demographic data for participants centralized, analyzed and used in developing policies. She believes this kind of data centralization is an area for potential improvement in the research division, where she is working to ensure an equitable distribution of resources among CSHL scientists.

Throughout her nine-year career at CSHL, Lambert said she has worked with the meetings and courses division to make sure the 9,000 scientists who visit the facility each year include women as invited speakers. She also works to reach course applicants from a wide range of institutions, including outside of prestigious research schools.

Ultimately, Lambert is hoping to help change the culture of science among the researchers with whom she interacts from a wide range of institutions. She feels that those people who leave the STEM fields because something about the culture of science didn’t work for them represent a “huge loss” to the field and creates a “survivorship bias.”

Stony Brook University 

For Stony Brook, gender diversity is “very important,” said Latha Chandran, the vice dean for Academic and Faculty Affairs at the Stony Brook University Renaissance School of Medicine. 

Chandran said more men entered the field of medicine 14 years ago. That has completely changed, as women have outnumbered their male counterparts in medicine for the last three or four years.

Chandran cited a number of statistics to indicate changes at the medical school. For starters, women faculty constituted 38 percent of the total in 2011. This April, that number climbed to 48.1 percent. That puts Stony Brook in the top 79th percentile of medical schools in terms of female representation.

While the overall numbers are higher, women are still underrepresented in the top tiers of the medical school, as 18 percent of the department chairs are women. She hopes more women can lead departments and that they can serve as role models that others can aspire to follow.

As for harassment, Chandran said Stony Brook was above the national mean in 2011. For almost all categories, Stony Brook is now below the national mean.

In 2011, Stony Brook created We Smile, which stands for We can Eradicate Student Mistreatment in the Learning Environment. The goal of this program is to educate people about harassment and to ensure that any mistreatment is reported. Through this effort, Stony Brook medical students are aware of the policies and procedures surrounding reporting.

Stony Brook is also addressing any bias in admission procedures by prospective applicants, who receive a standardized scenario to address with an admissions officer. In 2025, admissions officers will not have any information about the qualifications of the individual and will evaluate his or her response during interviews only based on response to scenarios.

Stony Brook University has almost finalized its search for a chief diversity candidate. Chandran expects that the medical school will “continue to make progress.”

by -
0 451

As the saying goes, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. So, the Sierra Club, state and local elected officials in Brookhaven are making noise, calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles and target the Long Island Rail Road for electrification.

So far, the group, which held a press conference in Stony Brook Dec. 9, has accumulated more than 7,500 signatures, and hopes for 10,000 from Long Islanders by Dec. 12. It may be enough to grab the governor’s attention, but why not help expand the campaign, since people from many other communities along the line benefit from such a long-awaited move.

We ask readers, and their affiliated organizations, to join the effort. The Town of Smithtown, for example, recently announced the construction of a new apartment complex to be built across from Town Hall on Main Street in Smithtown. The appeal of that project was promoted as a good housing option for young professionals who regularly commute into Manhattan. 

Town Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) and town council members should push for electrification. Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) attended the groundbreaking to applaud that project. He and the other legislators should also appeal to the governor for electrification of the Huntington-Port Jeff line. 

In Huntington, state Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) has been involved with the MTA overhaul. He is pushing for the idea, and it might help if industries and businesses along the commuter rail line organize their own letter writing campaign. 

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and Stony Brook University are both along the Port Jefferson Branch. The governor has acknowledged, when he delivered this year’s budget plan, that both institutions were key components to growing Long Island and the state’s economy, extolling his intent to make the area a premier research hub in the United States. So, why not address that slow commute with high-speed service between these research centers, New York City and the region’s airports? Let’s not forget it might also reduce the number of cars on our busy roads.

Grassroot efforts are impactful and should be regularly exercised. On this and many other issues it has a way of instilling a community’s faith in the democratic form of government. 

The outcome can not only reduce emissions in the transportation sector and benefit the economy. It will also improve quality of life. For example, the 4:18 train on Dec. 10 from Stony Brook to Penn Station was 35 minutes late from Port Jeff, effectively making the journey to New York an unacceptable 2 1/2 hours. As a result two staff members had their respective evening’s entertainment truncated. 

The Sierra Club has an online petition which can be found at: sc.org/55×35. To submit petitions from a letter writing campaign to the governor directly, his press office recommends using the postal address: Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, New York State Capitol, State Street and Washington Avenue, Albany, NY 12224. 

Plastic presents a difficult but necessary to address challenge for the world's oceans. Photo courtesy of United States Coast Guard

By Herb Herman

There appears to be no end to plastic. We use it, live with it, discard it and we can never rid ourselves of the stuff. It comes as food wrappers, bottles, toys, containers of all kinds, and is so pervasive that plastic is very much an omnipresent part of our world. 

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) along with other legislators propose plastic legislation. Photo by David Luces

The numbers are staggering. More than 400 million tons of plastic are produced globally every year. And when we finish with plastic, we throw it out, try to recycle it, hide it in landfills, incinerate it, but, by far, most of the plastic debris we no longer have use for ends up in lakes, waterways and in the ocean. Some 80 percent of this litter comes from land sources, while 60-to-90 percent of beach litter is comprised of plastic. It is not encouraging to learn that Americans use approximately 100 billion single-use plastic bags annually, and around a trillion are used globally. The persistence of plastic waste is legendary, a plastic water bottle lasting 450 years. Much has been written of the plastic floating islands in the Pacific Ocean, and the apparently futile means to get rid of them. The National Geographic pleadingly offers us the “Planet or Plastic?” initiative, but the seemingly endless mass of plastic waste continues to grow like a cancer on the Earth.

If one were to carry out a literature search on plastic waste scientific publications the number of citations would exceed 450,000. The tangible impact of plastic waste is well documented. Most of the articles cited address the problem of plastic distribution around the world, from India to countries in the west, even the Antarctic, and at depths of 6,000 meters in the world’s oceans. Much research concentrates on sea animals and birds the world over, either through ingesting plastic particles or becoming tangled in plastic nets and fishing gear. Many of these plastics break down to fine, toxic particles leaving numerous bird species and sea animals with a high percentage of toxins in their guts. 

Crustaceans and fish are well known to consume plastic particles. Since we eat these animals, we also eat plastics. The long-term health consequences of plastic ingestion on sea creatures and humans are still unknown. Enormous quantities of micro-sized particles of plastics from personal hygiene products get deposited in water systems and also float around the world as airborne pollutants. There appears to be no end of plastics in various forms proliferating the earth. 

Of course, scientists are constantly seeking solutions. Landfills reach enormous proportions, with no guarantee that the waste plastics thus disposed of will remain where they are placed. Incineration is also used, sometimes to supply energy as a spin-off from the heat produced, but this approach leaves pollutants escaping into the environment. Of course, recycling appears to be the panacea for ridding ourselves of plastic. Unfortunately many plastic materials do not readily lend themselves to this gratifying solution, and recycling depends to a large measure on citizens acting responsibly, collecting candidate plastic products and properly disposing of them. Furthermore, those recyclable plastics that can be conveniently collected and segregated need to be sent to appropriate facilities for processing, and there are far too few of these plants. There will probably never be sufficient numbers of such facilities for the recycling of the vast quantities of plastics, which are continually produced.

Microplastic scooped from the surf off Kamilo Beach, Hawaii, where there seems to be more plastic than sand. Photo by Erica Cirino

What then to do? One can clearly appreciate the great need that exists and the challenges faced by planners and engineers who are tasked with dealing with this overwhelming problem. Academies of sciences and governments the world over have met and discussed this global problem. Some plastic-producing industries have pledged to carry out manufacturing measures and use materials that would ensure plastics can indeed by readily recycled. Governmental organizations have outlawed the use of plastics bags, and even paper straw bans have been introduced. The use of single-use plastic bottles has been vigorously discouraged. Non-governmental organizations have made the public aware of the seriousness of the problem. The list goes on, but millions of tons of plastics continue to be produced annually, and beachgoers continue to use plastic utensils and fail to discard them responsibly. 

It is imperative to formulate policies and mechanisms through which plastic litter can be controlled. For starters, the production of biodegradable, nontoxic plastics must be encouraged. A ban on single-use plastic bags should be incorporated in any waste-controlling legislation. Government research funds should be allocated for developing cost-effective chemical and mechanical recycling technologies, and perhaps most important is the education of the public on the matter of plastic’s effect on the marine ecosystem. The time has come to act to save the planet from this scourge of plastic.

Herb Herman is a distinguished professor emeritus from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Stony Brook University.

Ellen Pikitch, left, with Christine Sanora, taken in 2015 while the two scientists were researching Shinnecock Bay. Photo by Peter Thompson

By Daniel Dunaief

It’s one thing to make a commitment to a good idea; it’s another to follow through. Ellen Pikitch, endowed professor of ocean conservation science in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University, is making sure countries around the world know where and how they can honor their commitment to protect the ocean.

In 2015, the United Nations had agreed to designate at least 10 percent of the oceans as Marine Protected Areas, which would restrict fishing and foster conservation. The goal of the proposal is to reach that figure by next year. 

Three years ago, with the support of the Italian Ministry of Environment and private donations, Pikitch started the labor-intensive process of finding ocean regions that countries could protect. 

Ellen Pikitch, right, with Natasha Gownaris at the United Nations Ocean Conference in June of 2017. Photo Courtesy of IOCS

She published the results of her analysis in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science. Her research could help countries move from the current 7.8 percent of oceans protected to the 10 percent target, and beyond that figure in the ensuing years.

The United States has met its target, although most of its marine protected ares are far from human population centers, so the coverage is uneven, Pikitch explained. The rest of the world has some gaps in high priority areas.

“I’m hoping that the study will light a fire under the policymakers so that they do meet their commitment,” said Pikitch. “It’s quite feasible for them to meet the goal. We’ve given [policymakers] advice in this paper about how exactly it could be done.”

The maps in the paper show areas that are within the current jurisdiction that are priority areas and are unprotected.

“There is quite a bit of area that meets this description — more than 9 percent — so there is flexibility in how countries can use the results and reach or exceed” the 10 percent target by next year, Pikitch explained in an email.

To determine where nations can enhance their ocean protection, Pikitch, Assistant Professor Christina Santora at the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at Stony Brook University and Stony Brook graduate Natasha Gownaris, who is now an assistant professor in environmental studies at Gettysburg College, pulled together information from 10 internationally recognized maps indicating the location of global marine priority areas.

“We are standing on the shoulders of giants, capitalizing or leveraging all the hard work that has gone into other maps,” said Gownaris. 

One of the most unexpected findings from the study for Pikitch is that 14 percent of the ocean was considered important by two to seven maps, but over 90 percent of those areas remained unprotected. A relatively small part of this area is on the high seas, while most is within exclusive economic zones, which nations can control.

To preserve this resource that continues to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while serving a critical role in the world’s food chain, conservationists have focused on marine protected areas because they provide the “one thing we felt was going to be the most effective single step,” said Mark Newhouse, the executive vice president for newspapers at Advance Publications and president of the Ocean Sanctuary Alliance. “It could happen overnight. A country could say, ‘This area is off limits to fishing,’ and it is.”

Countries can protect areas within their exclusive economic zones “more quickly than figuring out a way to solve global warming,” Newhouse added.

Santora explained the urgency to take action. “The situation in the ocean is worsening and we can’t wait to have perfect information to act,” Santora wrote in an email. “What we can do is put strong, effectively managed MPAs in the right places, with a high level of protection, that are well managed and enforced.”

Members of the Ocean Sanctuary Alliance, which counts Pikitch as its scientific officer, recognize that the 7.8 percent figure includes areas where countries have announced their intention to protect a region, but that doesn’t necessarily include any enforcement or protection.

“Intentions don’t protect the environment,” Newhouse said.

Ambassadors from several nations have reached out to OSA to discuss the findings. 

These diplomats are “exactly the people we want paying attention” to the research Pikitch and her team put together, Newhouse said.

Pikitch also plans to reach out proactively.

According to Pikitch’s recent analysis, the largest gaps in policy coverage occurred in the Caribbean Sea, Madagascar and the southern tip of Africa, the Mediterranean Sea and the Coral Triangle area, although they found additional widespread opportunities as well.

Pikitch calculated that an additional 9.34 percent of areas within exclusive economic zones would join the global marine protected area network if all the unprotected area identified as important by two or more initiatives joined the MPA network. 

“When effectively managed, when strong protections are put in place, they work,” Pikitch said.

Indeed, one such example is in Cabo Pulmo, Mexico, where establishing a marine protected area resulted in an 11-fold increase in the biomass of top predators within a decade. Many MPAs become sites for ecotourism, which can bring in hefty sums as people are eager to see the endemic beauty in their travels.

Pikitch hopes this kind of study spreads the word about the benefit of protecting the ocean and that policymakers and private citizens recognize that protecting sensitive regions also benefits fisheries, refuting the notion that environmentally driven policy conflicts with the goal of economic growth.

The groups involved in this study are already discussing the new goal for the ocean. Several diplomats and scientists would like to see the bar raised to 30 percent by 2030, although the United Nations hasn’t committed to this new target yet.

“Studies show that 10 percent is insufficient — it is a starting point,” Santora wrote. “I do think that targets beyond 2020 will increase.”

Pikitch said the ocean has always been one of her passions. Her goal is to “leave the world in better shape than I found it” for her children and six grandchildren.

 

Close to 100 veterans were on hand for a Veterans Day tribute at the Long Island State Veterans Home at Stony Brook University Nov. 8.

Highlights of the tribute included a performance from New Lane Elementary School students who sang a number of patriotic songs for the veterans and performed the Armed Forces Medley dedicated to the five individual armed services.

Fred Sganga, executive director for the LISVH, spoke on the importance of veterans’ sacrifices.

“Today we honor more than 56 million Americans who proudly wore the uniform on behalf of a grateful nation,” he said. “We all know the burdens of young men and women that they bear in America’s fight against terrorism and tyranny.”

Thomas DiNapoli, New York State comptroller and keynote speaker for the ceremony, said the holiday is a reminder of the strength that comes when people join together in a just cause.

“Every day should be a day to thank our veterans,” he said. “So much of what we now take for granted in our nation was guaranteed by each of you. And the sacrifices of countless men and women who helped preserve democracy and freedom in America and around the globe.”

Since opening in October 1991, the LISVH has provided care to more than 10,000 veterans.