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Stony Brook University

Ellen Pikitch. Photo from Stony Brook University

By Daniel Dunaief

Preserving the oceans of the world will take more than putting labels on sensitive areas or agreeing on an overall figure for how much area needs protection.

It will require consistent definitions, guidelines and enforcement across regions and a willingness to commit to common goals.

A group of 42 scientists including Ellen Pikitch, Endowed Professor of Ocean Conservation Sciences at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University, recently published a new framework developed over more than 10 years in the journal Science to understand, plan, establish, evaluate and monitor ocean protection in Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

“We’ve had MPAs for a long time,” said Pikitch. Some of them are not actively managed, with activities that aren’t allowed, such as fishing or mining, going on in them. “They may not be strongly set up in the first place to protect biodiversity. What this paper does is that it introduces a terminology with a lot of detail on when an MPA qualifies to be at a certain level of establishment and protection.”

These scientists, who work at 38 institutions around the world, created an approach that uses seven factors to derive four designations: fully protected, highly protected, lightly protected, and minimally protected.

If a site includes any mining at all, it is no longer considered a marine protected area.

Fully protected regions have minimal levels of anchoring, infrastructure, aquaculture and non-extractive activities. A minimally protected area, on the other hand, has high levels of anchoring, infrastructure, aquaculture and fishing, with moderate levels of non-extractive activities and dredging and dumping.

Using their own research and evidence from scientific literature, the researchers involved in this broad-based analysis wanted to ensure that MPAs “have quality protection,” Pikitch explained. “The quality is as important, if not moreso, than the quantity.”

The researchers are pleased with the timing of the release of this paper, which comes out just over a month before the United Nations’ Convention on Biological Diversity, which will meet virtually in October. Over 50 countries, including the United States, have already agreed to protect 30 percent of the ocean by 2030.

Pikitch called this a “critical time to get this information in front of decision makers.” The meeting will occur in two parts, with the second one set for an in-person gathering in China in April.

The point of the paper is to “help clarify what is an MPA, how do we distinguish different types and their outcomes,” Pikitch added.

The people who attend the CBD meeting range from high level government officials all the way up to the president of small countries.

About a decade ago, an earlier convention targeted protecting 10 percent of the oceans by 2020. The world fell short of that goal, with the current protection reaching about 7.7 percent, according to Pikitch.

Indeed, amid discussions during the development of this new outcome-based approach to MPAs, some researchers wondered about the logic of creating a target of 30 percent within the next nine years even as the world fell short of the earlier goal.

Some people at the meetings wondered “should we be pushing these things when a lot of them are failing?” Pikitch recalled of a lively debate during a meeting in Borneo. “Part of the answer is in this paper. These [earlier efforts] are failing because they are not doing the things that need to be done to be effective. It definitely helped us inform what we should be thinking about.”

Enabling conditions for marine protected areas go well beyond setting up an area that prevents fishing. The MPA guidelines in the paper have four components, including stages of establishment, levels of protection, enabling conditions and outcomes.

The benefits of ensuring the quality of protecting marine life extends beyond sustaining biodiversity or making sure an area has larger or more plentiful marine life.

“More often than not, it’s the case that MPAs do double duty” by protecting an environment and providing a sustainable resource for people around the area, Pikitch said. Locally, she points to an effort in Shinnecock Bay that provided the same benefits of these ocean protection regions. 

In the western part of the bay, Pikitch said the program planted over 3.5 million hard clams into two areas. In the last decade, those regions have had an increase in the hard clam population of over 1,000 percent, which has provided numerous other benefits.

“It demonstrates the positive impact of having a no-take area,” Pikitch said.

At the same time, the bay hasn’t had any brown tides for four straight years. These brown tides and algal blooms can otherwise pose a danger to human health.

By filtering the water, the clams also make it easier for eel grass to grow, which was struggling to survive in cloudier waters that reduce their access to light. With four times as much eel grass as a decade ago, younger fish have a place to hide, grow and eat, increasing their abundance.

Being aware of the imperiled oceans and the threats humans and others face from a changing planet has sometimes been a struggle for Pikitch.

The marine researcher recalled a time when four hurricanes were churning at the same time in the Atlantic.

“I went to bed and I have to admit, I was really depressed,” Pikitch said.

When she woke up the next morning, she had to teach a class. She regrouped and decided on a strategic message.

“This is reality,” she told her class. “We have to accept this is the world we made. Everything we do that can make a positive difference, we do.”

Pikitch is encouraged by the work done to develop a new MPA framework.

These protected areas “provide a sustainable pathway to ensure a healthy ocean and to provide a home for future biodiversity,” she said.

Maurie McInnis speaks at the Three Village Chamber of Commerce. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Stony Brook University’s new president wants to work with the community.

At its Sept. 15 breakfast, the Three Village Chamber of Commerce welcomed SBU President Maurie McInnis. While the members had participated in a Zoom meeting with her last year, this was the first time they had the opportunity to meet her in person. The university president took over the position July 1, 2020, after the departure of Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr.

“We have this sort of mutually reinforcing and synergistic positive relationship.”

— Maurie McInnis

McInnis said it was nice to be able to meet everyone during the breakfast instead of just seeing faces on a screen.

“I’m really happy to get a chance to meet with all of you,” she said. “The relationship between the university and its community is so vital, really, to the success of both in an ideal world. We have this sort of mutually reinforcing and synergistic positive relationship, and I’ve heard how much work you all have done to help us get to that place.”

After reviewing the history of SBU, the university president provided the attendees with some updates.

McInnis said the university and hospital have become the largest single site of employment on Long Island. There are 15,000 employees at Stony Brook which serves 26,000 students.

“That means we’re kind of a little city of 40,000 people right here in your backyard,” she said. “And, that means extraordinary opportunities for our community to be a really strong place working closely together.”

McInnis added the majority of students, 12,000, come from Long Island as well as nearly 7,000 from the five boroughs and 2,500 from other parts of New York state. SBU gives out 40% of degrees to STEM students and another 20% who majored in health studies.

“We were founded in many ways on the rise and excitement of science in the 1960s, and that has long been part of what this campus does,” she said.

McInnis said one of the challenges SBU and other universities face is having enough funds to educate students. Institutions have two primary sources, she said, tuition and — if it’s a public university — state support.

For SBU, she said state support has been flat for the last decade and is significantly lower from what New York provided before the 2008 recession.

“It went down, and then it’s been flat ever since,” she said. “And for the most part, our tuition has been flat in that decade as well. So, we continue to face funding challenges and continue to try to work with our partners in Albany to help them understand, for us to be great, we’re going to need additional support.”

During the presentation, McInnis announced that Dr. Harold Paz of Ohio State University has been named as the new executive vice president for Health Sciences and will start Oct. 4. She described him as “one of America’s leading health care experts.”

“He will be a transformational leader for the next chapter of Stony Brook Medicine,” she said.

During the pandemic, McInnis said, “Stony Brook really became the epicenter for COVID care in Suffolk County.” The university has also worked to help get Long Islanders vaccinated.

“We have been all over Long Island trying to make sure that all communities have access to vaccinations,” she said. “Not only did we run for this state one of the mass vaccination sites, which we did on our R&D campus — and in those early days when we still had a lot of people wanting to get vaccinations, we were vaccinating 3,000 people a day at the R&D Park — we’ve given over 350,000 vaccinations all over Long Island.”

She added Stony Brook Medicine also provided pop-up vaccination sites all over the Island to not only help people get vaccinated but to educate them on the importance of vaccines. She said one comment people would bring up is that the COVID-19 vaccine was created quickly.

“The technology for this vaccine had been in research and development at America’s leading research universities for over a decade,” she said.

McInnis said thousands of COVID-19 patients were treated at the hospital, and doctors continue to see people with the virus.

“Unfortunately, it continues to be a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” she said.

McInnis thanked community members who in the last year donated personal protection equipment, meals, iPads and more.

She said on the SBU campus there were no major outbreaks last academic year, partially because fewer students were on campus and due to precautions taken by the school. She added the fall semester is pretty much back to normal but everyone is wearing masks inside. As of Sept. 10, 99% of campus residents and 88% of in-person commuters have been fully vaccinated. The percentage of university employees vaccinated is 70%, while 77% of medical employees have received the full dose.

A few attendees asked McInnis questions at the end of the presentation.

Lee Krauer, chair of Friends of Stony Brook Road and a member of Stony Brook Concerned Homeowners, thanked McInnis for her presentation.

“I think that the university really is a wonderful place and is a tremendous asset to all of Suffolk County,” Krauer said.

She added that residents in her area off Stony Brook Road have had problems with traffic due to the university. In the past, the community groups have also cited issues with students living in houses and not taking care of them properly.

She said residents between Route 347 and 25A haven’t felt heard by past presidents and asked McInnis if she would be open to meet with members of the committees.

“People who live where I live can’t get out of our blocks,” Krauer said.

McInnis told Krauer who to contact to follow up so they could talk about the possibilities.

Earlier in her presentation, McInnis touched on college housing. There are more than 10,500 beds on campus, which is more than other SBU campuses, according to the SBU president. Recently, after Hurricane Ida, two dormitories had 7 feet of water in the basements and 400 students were relocated to other beds on campuses, many in the dining halls.

“I know that we will continue to work with you all to work with our community to make sure that for our students living on campus, that they are good neighbors,” McInnis said, “And, we will continue our partnership with the town and 6th Precinct and community leaders always to address any behavior or landlord issues that come our way.”

SBU President Maurie McInnis, SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras, Graduate Student Organization speaker Helena Van Nieuwenhuizen, Undergraduate Student Government President Manjot Singh, Kevin Law from the Stony Brook Council, and Dean of Students Ric McClendon join SBU mascot Wolfie to cut the ribbon. Photo by Kimberly Brown

Updated. The student union is currently closed due to damage after Hurricane Ida.

Stony Brook University officially opened the newest addition to its campus, the remodeled Stony Brook Union center, Wednesday, Aug. 25. With performances from the Seawolves Marching Band for the ribbon-cutting celebration, as well as free drinks and food, students were eager to explore the 177,000-square-foot building.

“We want students to consider this as a resource, to relax, to study, to learn, to perform, to meet new people and pursue new interests,” said Maurie McInnis, president of SBU. “There is so much to be discovered in this impressive space.”

The renovations for the Stony Brook Union center took three years to complete at $63.4 million. The finished building has three levels that include student services, an IT help desk, comfortable studying sections with couches and powered stations, as well as collaborative spaces.

SBU President Maurie McInnis. Photo by Kimberly Brown

“As we are fully reopening our campuses, we are feeling a renewed energy and optimism from everyone around,” said Jim Malatras, State University of New York chancellor. “Our students deserve this and it matches the outstanding education they receive from this university, one of the best in the world.”

The Stony Brook Union will be a central location for faculty and staff offices that will provide easy access for students to use at their convenience. Some of the new offices include Student Community Development, Student Engagement and Activities, Fraternity and Sorority Life, and Commuter Student Services. 

“I’m excited to see the new opening of the student union because I think it’s a great place to go to get some studying in, but also for socializing at club events,” said Jessie Lin, a SBU student.

The lower level of the building includes expanded space for the Stony Brook Food Pantry and resources such as the Interfaith Center, Club Hub, Esports Club and the Science Fiction Forum. 

With more than 26,000 students attending the university this year, the Stony Brook Union center will provide a large, welcoming space for undergraduates to enhance their studying practices. 

“Seeing the student union being built from my freshman year to now being fully completed as a senior gives me nostalgia,” said Tania Thomas, a SBU student. 

Maurizio Del Poeta in his laboratory at Stony Brook University. Photo by Antonella Rella

By Daniel Dunaief

Researchers at Stony Brook University, the University of Arizona and Wake Forest University School of Medicine in North Carolina may have found an enzyme that drives the worst COVID-19 symptoms. Secreted phospholipase A2 group IIA, or sPLA2-IIA may lead to severe symptoms and death, making this enzyme a potential therapeutic target.

P116, Maurizio DelPoeta, Microbiology

In an examination of plasma samples from 127 patients hospitalized at Stony Brook University Medical Center between January and July 2020 and a mix of 154 patient samples from Stony Brook and Banner University Medical Center in Tucson between January and November 2020, scientists including Distinguished Professor Maurizio Del Poeta of the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University found that 63 percent of people with concentrations of the enzyme that were over 10 nanograms/ milliliter generally died. Most healthy people have circulating levels of the enzyme around 0.5 nanograms/ milliliter.

“It is possible that sPLA2 levels represent a tipping point and when it reaches a certain level, it is a point of no return,” said Del Poeta.

The collaborators involved in the study, which was published this week in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, were encouraged by the finding.

“This is exciting as it is leading to really novel connections for COVID-19,” Yusuf Hannun, Director of the Cancer Center at Stony Brook and a contributor to the research who participated in the discussion and data analysis, explained in an email. “It may lead to both diagnostics (for risk prediction) and therapeutics.”

Looking closely at the levels of sPLA2-IIA together with blood urea nitrogen, or BUN, which is a measure of the performance of the kidney, the researchers in this study found that the combination of the two measures predicted mortality with 78 percent accuracy.

“That is an opportunity to stratify patients to those where an inhibitor” to sPLA2-IIA could help patients, said Floyd Chilton, director of the University of Arizona Precision Nutrition and Wellness Initiative and senior author on the paper, said.

While they found a difference in the amount of the enzyme between healthier and sicker patients, the scientists recognize that this could reflect a correlation rather than a causation. The progression of the disease and the threat to people’s lives may come from other contributing factors that also intensify the severity of the illness.

“These studies do not establish causality at the moment, but the strength of the correlation and the known functions of this enzyme raise the possibility of participating in the pathology of the disease,” Del Poeta explained.

Floyd Chilton. Photo from University of Arizona

Indeed, Chilton has studied sPLA2-IIA for over three decades and has described some patterns in other diseases, including sepsis.

The enzyme performs an important role in fighting off bacterial infection by destroying microbial cell membranes. When the concentration of sPLA2-IIA rises high enough, however, it can threaten the health of the patient, as it can attack and destroy cells in organs including the kidney.

The enzyme “plays a critical role in host defense,” said Chilton. “These same systems can really turn on the host.”

In order to determine a causative link between sPLA2-IIA and the progression of the disease, Chilton, Del Poeta and others will need to increase their sample size.

“We’ve been very fortunate at getting individuals at some of the top global organizations… who have connected me with medical centers” that have a larger patient population, Chilton said. These executives may be able to expedite the process of expanding this study.

In the 1990’s, scientists studied an inhibitor that had the ability to act on the enzyme. 

That effort had mixed results in phase 2 clinical trials.

“In 2005, the first phase of the phase 2 clinical trials were highly encouraging,” Chilton said. “It really inhibited mortality at 18 hours” by reducing severe sepsis. The second part of those tests, which used a slightly different protocol, failed.

While he’s not a clinical trials expert, Chilton is hopeful that researchers might find success with this same drug to treat COVID-19.

Only clinical trials would reveal whether inhibitors would work with COVID-19, scientists said.

As with many drugs, inhibitors of sPLA2-IIA have side effects.

By blocking the activity of these enzymes, “we do also decrease the production of arachidonic acid, which is a precursor of prostaglandins,” said Del Poeta. “In condition of hyperinflammation, this is a good thing, but prostaglandins are also important in a variety of cellular functions” including blood clots and starting labor.

Chilton pointed out that sPLA2-IIA is similar to the active enzyme in rattlesnake venom. It can bind to receptors at neuromuscular junctions and disable the function of these muscles, he explained.

In nature, some animals have co-evolved with snakes and are no longer susceptible to these toxins. Researchers don’t yet understand those processes.

While copying such evolutionary solutions is intriguing, Chilton said he and his collaborators are “much more interested in the inhibitors” that were taken through clinical trials in 2005 because that might present a quicker solution.

The research collaboration started with Chilton, who partnered with Arizona Assistant Research Professor Justin Snider. The first author on the paper, Snider earned his PhD at Stony Brook, where he knew Del Poeta well.

Snider “knew what a great researcher [Del Poeta] was. I also knew [Hannun] in a former life. We were both working on similar biochemistry 20 to 25 years ago,” Chilton said.

Chilton called the efforts of his Stony Brook collaborators, including Research Assistant Karen You, Research Associate Professor Chiara Luberto and Associate Professor Richard Kew,  “heroic” and explained that he and his colleagues recognize the urgency of this work.

“I’ve been continuously funded by the [National Institute of Health] for 35 years, and I’m very grateful for that,” Chilton said. “There is nothing in my life that has felt this important,” which is why he often works 18 hour days, including on weekends.

After studying the effects of variants on the population, Chilton recognized that building a firewall against COVID-19 through vaccinations may not be enough, especially with the combination of lack of access to the vaccine for some and an unwillingness to take the vaccine from others.

“We may have to go to the other side of the equation,” HE said. “We’ve got to move to specific therapeutics that are agnostic to the variant.”

A screenshot of the app created by Christopher Gobler and Sung-Gheel Jung of Stony Book University.

Stony Brook University’s Christopher Gobler, endowed chair of Coastal Ecology and Conservation, and Sung-Gheel Jang, faculty director in the Geospatial Center at Stony Brook University, have created a free app that provides information on water quality on Long Island.

Through the downloadable Long Island Beach and Water Quality App, also known as LIBAWQA, residents can gather information that can connect to a person’s location, indicating the health and safety of beaches, bays, estuaries or waterways near them.

Gobler’s lab provides the water quality data, which comes from measures they make in 30 locations from East Hampton to Hempstead.

The New York State Department of Health provides updates on about 200 beaches across the Island, while the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation offers shellfishing data for more than 500,000 acres of bays, harbors and estuaries.

Jang, whose expertise is in the mapping related to geographic information systems, or GIS, helped build a service he targeted for the general public.

Instead of calling the county to find out if their favorite summer destination is open, residents can “use the app and you will know the current water quality,” Jang said.

Shellfishing and bathing restrictions use different criteria to determine the safety of swimming or pulling up clams and other shellfish.

“This is the beauty of the app,” Gobler said. One day last week, he noticed that a site in Center Moriches allowed swimming but not shellfishing. “The beach right next to it” allows shellfishing. “Which one would you rather go to?”

The app, which is available by installing ArcGIS AppStudio Player from Google Play, the App Store or the Microsoft Store and using a QR code on a camera, can show the health history of a beach.

While the system, which Gobler described as being in “version 1.0” doesn’t have text alerts, it does provide real-time information.

Users can track their location on the map in the app, checking on the shellfish or bathing status of nearby waterways.

The idea for this app came about a couple of years ago when Jang visited Gobler’s lab and the two Stony Brook researchers talked about collaborating.

“I was impressed by [Gobler’s] work,” Jang said. “His lab collected water quality data for many, many years.”

Jang suggested creating an easy-to-use mobile app. Gobler wanted to add other information beyond the water quality data his lab collected regularly.

Gobler and Jang expect to modify and enhance the information by next summer, when it could include a crowdsourcing opportunity, in which participants share updated information, including limitations on parking or beach closures.

Gobler and Jang said they would need to provide a filter before posting information to ensure it contains quality data.

The service isn’t available in the Google or Apple app stores yet.

“By next summer we hope we can release a new version,” Jang added. “We wanted to show we have a working app first.”

Scientists of any age, from primary school through postdoctoral researchers, can use the information for their own research papers or studies, Jang said.

Anyone who is interested in accessing and using the data for their own research projects can contact Jang through his email at [email protected]

The scientists have received funding from the Rauch Foundation and The Chicago Community Trust. The pair will seek renewals from both sources this fall.

Photo from Kevin Wood

The PJ-SBU shuttle is back!

Starting Thursday, Aug. 19, Stony Brook University students can come Down Port to shop, eat and enjoy what the village has to offer.  

Created in 2019 as a partnership between the Port Jefferson Parking and Mobility Department, the university’s office of Community Relations and the Port Jefferson Business Improvement District, the program had to stop in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Kevin Wood, the village’s parking and mobility administrator.

Now, nearly a year and a half later, students can take advantage of it again.

“When Stony Brook came back from remote learning, it signaled to me that we should bring the bus back,” Wood said. “The university is looking at Port Jefferson as its downtown, so the bus makes it a direct link there now.”

Photo from Kevin Wood

The shuttle is free to students and runs four days a week — Thursdays through Sundays. It starts at the university’s SAC circle and then moves to the Hilton Garden Inn Hotel, SBU’s Chapin Apartments, Stop and Shop East Setauket, Arden Place in the village and ends at the LIRR before heading back to the campus. 

“Stony Brook University is proud to partner with Port Jefferson and the Business Improvement District to provide the student shuttle service for shopping, dining and entertainment in the village,” said SBU Community Relations Director Joan Dickinson.

Wood added that the shuttle is a 19-passenger vehicle and is ADA compliant. 

“Anytime we can bring visitors who spend money to the village without having to park is a win,” he said. 

Mayor Margot Garant said the village welcomes all SBU students, staff and residents.

“The shuttle is important to connect the Brook to Port Jeff Village, and to ensure the student body are welcome and have safe, easy access to our shops and restaurants,” she said. “We encourage them to sit back and enjoy the ride!”

Stony Brook University's played in the summer Olympics with Team Puerto Rico's women's basketball team. Photo from India Pagan

Stony Brook University’s India Pagan, competing in the Olympics for Puerto Rico, took several shots against China in the preliminary round of the basketball tournament, but none of them went in.

India Pagan at the summer Olympics opening ceremony. Photo from India Pagan

Against Belgium, the 6-foot-1-inch forward finally put the ball through the hoop, something she’d done so frequently at Stony Brook that she scored over 1,000 points as a Seawolf.

“I remember the first one I made” at the Olympics, said Pagan. “I didn’t have to stress anymore. I couldn’t stop smiling.”

Pagan, who was on Puerto Rico’s first women’s Olympic basketball team, scored two baskets and sank two free throws, scoring six points in that game.

Despite the challenges and restrictions created by the Delta variant of COVID-19 and the three losses the Puerto Rican team had in games against China, Belgium and Australia, Pagan had plenty of reasons to smile as she enjoyed everything from the opening ceremonies to taking selfies with some of the best athletes in the world to some limited sightseeing.

After a lengthy journey to the other side of the world, Pagan cheered her way through an opening ceremony full of familiar pageantry, but devoid of its customary shouting spectators.

“It was surreal to me,” Pagan said. “I watched this on TV a couple of years ago. Walking with the flag, with the whole delegation of Puerto Rico, seeing the stage, the torch, the dances, the acts of music, everything, it was just so beautiful.”

Pagan said she cried three or four times during the ceremonies.

Behind the scenes, Pagan said the time spent waiting for the ceremonies to begin and the hours on their feet amid the excitement took their toll.

“By the end of the night, all of our backs hurt, our feet hurt,” she laughed. “Thankfully, we didn’t have practice the next day, so we had a little time to recover.”

Around the games, Pagan soaked in the atmosphere and reveled in the moment on one of the world’s largest, albeit emptiest, athletic stages.

One of the big stories to come out of the Olympics involved American gymnast Simone Biles, who pulled out of most of the competition amid concerns about her mental health and her ability to get her bearings while flying and twisting through the air.

“We understood the mental health aspects” of Biles’s decision, Pagan said. “She’s got to do what’s best for her. We did feel for her.”

Pagan said the Puerto Rican basketball team met with their coach, who told them they could speak with a doctor or a psychologist if they needed support.

Pagan missed her family and friends but didn’t need those mental health services during her time in Tokyo.

Pagan was thrilled to run into several superstars in their sports, taking selfies with National Basketball Association star Jayson Tatum from the Boston Celtics, and with Spanish basketball sensations Marc Gasol, who currently plays for the Los Angeles Lakers and his brother Pau, who retired from the NBA in 2019 after an 18-year career. She also ran into Serbian tennis great Novak Djokovic.

“Seeing those people was cool for me,” Pagan said.

Pagan takes a photo with Spanish basketball sensation Pau Gasol. Photo from India Pagan

Everyone had to wear face shields in the dining hall which made conversations, even among teammates, challenging.

“It was tough to interact” while she was eating, Pagan said.

She did, however, have the opportunity to speak and play games with other masked athletes in a recreational area. Pagan and teammates Jada Stinson and Jacqueline Benitez visited with athletes from the South African soccer and track teams, and several teams from Ireland, Italy and Iran while playing table tennis, pool and darts.

During her stay in Tokyo, Pagan recalled the lives of two people she and her family recently lost. She wrote the names of Tatiana Mayas, one of her closest childhood friends, and Gloria Sotomayor, a friend of her mother’s, on a white ribbon and pinned them on a memorial tree.

While the athletes couldn’t explore Tokyo on their own or travel much outside the Olympic village, they took a bus tour to Mt. Fuji, which, at 12,380 feet, is the tallest mountain in Japan.

“If we got off the bus and the [International Olympic Committee] found out, they would have kicked us out of the Olympics,” Pagan said.

Pagan remained appreciative of an opportunity she didn’t take for granted, especially since she has no guarantee that she or the Puerto Rican team will return for the 2024 Olympics in Paris.

“I was ready for anything and I was grateful for anything,” Pagan said.

In addition to returning with a collection of memories, photos and selfies, Pagan brought back numerous souvenirs for herself and her family.

She purchased a letterman jacket that she said she “had to have,” because it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

She also purchased shoes, shirts, key chains, umbrellas, pins and notebooks.

“It was like Christmas,” she laughed. The gifts were worth the money, as her family’s faces “lit up” when she produced their presents.

During her Olympics, she appreciated the outpouring of support for her and for the team.

“My phone has never blown up as much as it did when I was at the Olympics,” said Pagan, who is returning to Stony Brook to earn her master’s this fall and to use a fifth year of eligibility the National Collegiate Athletic Association granted to athletes amid the pandemic.

She left North America with 6,000 Instagram followers and returned with 11,000.

One of the first things she did when she returned, after sharing presents, crying and catching up with family, was to get behind the wheel.

“I couldn’t wait to drive my car and be free and go wherever I wanted to, instead of being restrained and told to stay in one place or being locked up in a room,” Pagan said.

She hopes the team will return to the next Olympics in Paris in 2024.

“Hopefully, we’ll be back,” she said. “This experience will definitely help us grow as a program. We’re on our way up.”

As for what’s next, she plans to rest and recover from the exhausting and exhilarating trip and to add the Olympic rings tattoo to her leg.

Pagan appreciates the opportunity to play a game she loves at the Olympic level.

“It was a blessing and an honor,” Pagan said.

Photo from Stony Brook University

A Commencement, double White Coat Ceremony and extended orientation to start the school year on the right foot 

The COVID-19 Pandemic has taken many recognitions and rights of passage away from those who have worked hard to reach their goals. Case in point: Commencement for an entire graduating class was celebrated virtually, if at all. An entire class of first-year students were unable to begin their college experience on campus. And, other professional students were unable to mark their hard-earned accomplishments with the proper pomp and circumstance.

Stony Brook University is now ensuring that all of these students will be able to finally have the opportunity to throw their caps, get to know their campus and ceremoniously put on their white coats, marking a return to some normalcy on campus.

Photo from Stony Brook University

On August 15, The Renaissance School of Medicine At Stony Brook University will host two white coat ceremonies. One of these is for the students in the Class of 2021, who will start their medical school journey this fall. The other is for the students who make up the incoming Class of 2020, who were unable to experience this milestone occasion because of restrictions caused by the COVID-19 Pandemic. Now these students can proudly participate in this right of passage by donning their white coats in front of friends, family, colleagues, faculty and staff. These ceremonies will take place in the Staller Center.

Stony Brook University will also be celebrating the graduating class of 2020, with an in-person Commencement ceremony. Taking place on Friday, September 10 at 4 p.m., this special commencement event will allow those students who were part of the 2020 graduating class a chance to create special memories with friends and family. Invitations were sent to more than 7,500 graduates and to date, more than 900 have indicated they will attend. More information will continue to be posted here.

As the Fall 2021 class of first-year students makes its way to campus, so will the 2020 class who did not have the opportunity to start their college experience off the way so many have done before them. To ensure everyone feels welcome and gets acclimated to the college campus, Stony Brook is kicking off New Seawolf Welcome Week. The week will kick off with move-in day on Monday, August 16 and the multi-day experience will be filled with workshops, meet-and-greets and more.

For more information on the White Coat Ceremony, or to attend, please contact [email protected]edu.

For more information on the upcoming Commencement or orientation plans, please contact [email protected]

Photos courtesy of Stony Brook University. 

Photo from Pixabay

Looking out the window on a sunny day, one might notice a not-so-subtle haziness in the sky. However, that haze isn’t harmless clouds or fog, it’s smoke that’s traveled a far distance across the nation from raging wildfires in California and Canada.

As concerns grow over the impact of these wildfires stretching their way over to the East Coast, Long Islanders are beginning to become uneasy about the repercussions the hazy smoke might have among residents. 

With multiple reports of poor air quality in the past few weeks, people who have vulnerable conditions such as asthma, emphysema, or heart disease need to be wary and avoid going outside or doing strenuous activity. 

“There is something called fine particulate matter, which is very small ash,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “The cause of concern is that this is the type of material that causes respiratory ailments. It irritates the throat and respiratory system, but most importantly fine particulate matter can lodge in your lungs and make microscopic perforations, much like asbestos.”

According to Esposito, It is highly likely the ash will also be deposited into Long Island’s estuary and could affect the marine environment. However, it is uncertain exactly how much will accumulate due to the variables of wind speed and the amount of ash that will be pushed toward the Island. 

“The East Coast should absolutely have an increased concern of weather events associated with climate change,” she added. “What we are having right now is an increase of torrential rain, and an increase in intensification of storms which means that hurricanes that might normally be a Category 1 [the lowest] now have the ability to reach 2, 3, or 4.” Esposito said. 

Kevin Reed. Photo from Stony Brook University

Although air pollution issues are nothing new to New York, there are always certain times of the year, particularly in the summertime, that fine particulate matter can get trapped. The question of the future frequency of surrounding wildfires still stands.

While Long Island is experiencing a rainy season, California is currently facing one of the worst droughts in history. Within a two-year period, rain and snow totals in parts of the West have been 50 percent less than average.  

“Just because Long Island is having a really wet season right now doesn’t mean it couldn’t shift later this year,” said Kevin Reed, a Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences researcher. 

According to Reed, the winds that blow from out West don’t always streamline toward the East Coast. Direction in wind patterns could cause the air flow to “wobble,” so it is uncertain whether or not Long Island may face more smoke pollution in the future. 

“Drought is certainly becoming more severe, potentially longer lasting, and at a larger extent, which means larger parts of land will be susceptible to wildfire,” Reed said.

Adding that wildfires are typically a natural occurrence and benefits land by replenishing it, Reed said the extent of the current wildfires is most likely a result of climate change and has potential to harm people and the environment.

“Air pollution could really affect our human health, especially to certain groups that are more susceptible to issues with air quality,” he said. “Even if it’s here for one day it could have an impact and of course the impact is going to be multiplied if it’s a longer-term event.” 

H. Reşit Akçakaya during a recent bird watching expedition. Photo by T. Lybvig

By Daniel Dunaief

In the world of conservation, scientists and policy makers have relied on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species to understand just how likely species are to go extinct, often as a result of human actions.

When a species moves from one threat level to another, conservationists typically spring into action, taking steps to protect individuals within a species and the habitat in which that species lives.

A team of over 200 scientists in 171 institutions tested a new measure, called the Green Status, that is designed to measure how effective those conservation efforts have been.

“There are always stories about conservation successes,” said H. Reşit Akçakaya, one of the leaders of the effort who helped develop the methodology for this new metric. The scientists wanted to “create a standard, objective way of recognizing the success and effectiveness of conservation measures. That is very important. We need optimism. People don’t act unless there is hope.”

The Green Status monitors a species recovery, measuring the impact of past and future conservation efforts. Researchers including Akçakaya, who is a Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at Stony Brook University, came up with a formula to determine Green Status. 

The formula includes elements conservations consider important: it should be safe from extinction, it should have a large enough population to have all its natural interactions with the other parts of the ecosystem, and it should be represented in every ecosystem in which it naturally exists and has existed.

The scientists considered the trade-offs between practicality in aiming for a system that is feasible to apply to many species and comprehensiveness, which incorporates relevant aspects of, and factors involved in, species recovery, Akçakaya explained in an email.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature Green Status of Species will join the IUCN Red List to provide a more complete update on a species’ conservation condition, which includes their extinction risk and recovery process.

In a new paper, published in Conservation Biology, scientists from around the world contributed to creating preliminary Green Status for 181 species.

It took seven years from the time the scientists came up with the method, developed it further to make it applicable to all species, published papers, organized workshops and other consultations to get feedback and tested the method.

Akçakaya, who has been involved with the Red List since 1999, said the new system provides information about the status of the species that goes beyond the risk of extinction.

“It’s not sufficient to prevent extinction,” Akçakaya said. “We want them to recover as well.”

One of the challenges in developing this method was in deriving definitions that apply across all species and that are not specific to the conditions and threats any one species faces.

Extinction is difficult to measure but easy to conceptualize, he explained. Recovery, on the other hand, is “not as clear cut.”

The first goal of this enterprise was to come up with ways of standardizing how to measure the recovery of a species that would reflect whether conservation efforts were working.

A species on the Red List might have been critically endangered over a decade earlier. After considerable conservation effort, that species may still be critically endangered, according to the same Red List.

That, however, does not indicate anything specific about whether the conservation efforts are working.

The Red List “doesn’t tell us how much more we need to work to get to a level that we can call recovered,” Akçakaya explained.

The Green Status is not currently a part of conservation policy decisions, particularly because it has only been applied to 181 species. The IUCN, however, which is the world’s largest network of conservationists and conservation scientists, has approved it.

Getting from 181 to tens of thousands will take several years, although Akçakaya said he “has a good start” and he has interest from different people who are involved in conservation.

“We are on our way” towards creating a metric that affects conservation policy, he said. “It will take several years to be used” to affect conservation policies for threatened species.

When the Green Status is more broadly available for a wider collection of species, Akçakaya believes it will provide a way for government officials to make informed decisions.

The IUCN, however, does not tell local and national officials what to do with the information provided with the Red List or with the Green Status.

In developing the Green Status, Akçakaya worked with numerous scientists and conservationists. For this methodology, the researchers received hundreds of comments from people who  shared insights online. They also announced the work within the IUCN network, through which they received feedback.

Part of the larger advances in the context of the Green Status came from looking not only at the resilience of the species, but also at what the species is doing in the ecosystem. “Is it fulfilling its ecological role and its function in the ecosystem?” Akçakaya asked.

The Stony Brook scientist is pleased with the Green Status work. The intelligence of the group is larger than the intelligence of any one person, he said.

The group “had the same goal,” he added. “It was a really satisfying experience in terms of how we came up with a system.”

The Green Status can help balance the conservation news. While conserving biodiversity is urgent, one of the things this measure can achieve is to formalize the successes.