A Short History of the Ocean Studies Institute

A Consortium of California State University (CSU) campuses in the Southern California region.

During the late 1960s, a group of marine scientists working at CSU campuses in southern California advanced the concept of forming an institute that would provide a common focal point for marine programs in the region. House Resolution No. 7, authored by Assemblyman Vincent Thomas, was approved in 1967 requesting that the Trustees of what was then called the California State Colleges study the feasibility of establishing an Institute of Marine and Ocean Engineering in the Los Angeles region. In November of 1969, the Trustees declared an interest in establishing an Ocean Studies facility for the joint use of the six State Colleges in the region. Preliminary discussions were held with the City of Long Beach beginning in 1971 to develop a formal agreement for obtaining a site for the proposed consortium. In 1971, the CSU purchased the R/V Nautilus for use by the six CSU campuses in the Los Angeles basin. The CSU Trustees passed a resolution in January of 1972 declaring its intent to develop the consortium when adequate financial support became available. In 1972, the Articles of Operation of what was to known as the Southern California Ocean Studies Consortium (SCOSC) were drafted and approved by the Trustees and the Presidents of the six founding campuses (Dominguez Hills, Fullerton, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Northridge, and Pomona). In the same year, operation of the R/V Nautilus as a floating marine laboratory commenced.

In February of 1973, the SCOSC moved into an office complex in the Port of Long Beach Administrative Building and in July received its first general operating budget from the CSU. CSU Long Beach was chosen to serve as the administrative campus for the SCOSC. The proposed model envisioned for the SCOSC by its founders and the Trustees was to offer instructional programs, house faculty, and operate out of a permanent laboratory facility in a manner analogous to that enacted at Moss Landing for the central California CSU campuses. Dr. Donald Bright (CSU Fullerton), Dr. Earl Segal (CSU Northridge), and Dr. Murray Dailey (CSU Long Beach) were particularly instrumental in the founding of the SCOSC. Dr. Murray Dailey was the first Director of the SCOSC and Dr. Donald Bright served as the first Chairperson of the SCOSC Board of Governors.

While working to obtain a permanent shore side facility, the SCOSC focused on developing the R/V Nautilus to support instructional programs offered by the six CSU campuses and began to seek opportunities to engage in cooperative research projects involving faculty at the various member campuses. The first inter-campus research project (a review of the state of knowledge of marine systems in the Southern California Bight) was completed for the Bureau of Land Management (U. S. Department of Interior) in 1974. This report was subsequently edited (M. Dailey, D. Reish, and J. Anderson) and published in a book entitled the “Ecology of the Southern California Bight” (University of California Press, 1993). Many more research projects and contracts were conducted by CSU faculty through the SCOSC during the 1970s and 1980s.

During the mid-1970s, the SCOSC was close to obtaining the envisioned shore side facility. In 1975, the Long Beach City Council earmarked $65,000 to aid in site development after appropriate building permits, and fiscal commitments were secured by the Office of the Chancellor. A shore side site in the Port of Long Beach was put into the Port’s master plan for future development. Work began to design and develop preliminary architectural plans for the SCOSC laboratory building and the needed permits were secured from the California Regional Water Quality Control Board, the U. S. Army Corp of Engineers, the California Coastal Zone Conservation Commission, and the Los Angeles County Sanitation District. SCOSC faculty developed and wrote an inter-campus academic program that received approval from the Office of the Chancellor in 1976. In 1978, however, the political climate in the State had changed and the State’s reallocation of funds for the working drawings was withdrawn during the budget building process.

In the 1980s, the SCOSC Board of Governors actively sought funds to replace the aging R/V Nautilus with a larger and more effective vessel. Through a special allocation from the Office of the Chancellor, and with the direct support of Chancellor Reynolds, the R/V Yellowfin was procured in 1986 to replace the R/V Nautilus. During the period from 1978 to 1993, the SCOSC administrative offices were moved from the Port of Long Beach to the CSU Long Beach campus, and several different locations were used for docking vessels and storing vessel equipment and supplies. Efforts also began to consolidate OSI Scientific Diving and the Diving Safety Officer (DSO) responsibilities that had been carried out by each individual campus. The official name of the SCOSC was changed to the Ocean Studies Institute (OSI). SCOSC/OSI went through changes in leadership until Dr. Lon McClanahan became the fourth person to hold the Director’s position, during the early 1990s.

Under Dr. McClanahan’s guidance, the OSI renewed its efforts to obtain an effective shore side facility. In late 1992 and early 1993, a series of meetings were held to create a new alliance of universities with interest in the marine sciences in southern California. The mission of the new alliance was to support education and research in the marine sciences, to engage on behalf of its members in contract and grant activity, and to develop public outreach and awareness programs. This alliance, known as the Southern California Marine Institute (SCMI), involved the OSI (which consists of the founding six CSUs, and also now the campuses at San Bernardino and San Marcos), the University of Southern California (USC), and Occidental College. In August of 1993, the OSI moved its staff, research vessel, and equipment to an existing facility at Fish Harbor in the Port of Los Angeles, and in May of 1994 all appropriate legal documents were filed to qualify the SCMI as a non-profit corporation. In August 1994, final agreements were signed with USC to turn over the Fish Harbor facilities (valued at > $1 million) to SCMI. In April 1995, leasing arrangements for the Fish Harbor facility were transferred from USC to SCMI by the Port of Los Angeles. Dr. Larry Allen is the current SCMI Director. The OSI continues to operate out of the Fish Harbor facility and is actively working together with USC to build the SCMI.

During fall 1998, OSI faculty from CSU Northridge initiated a semester in residence for students at the USC marine laboratory (the Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies or WIES laboratory) on Santa Catalina Island. This CSU Marine Biology Semester program provides opportunities for OSI faculty to offer long-envisioned instructional programs at a marine laboratory. The faculty for this program and funding for classes and facility use are now being provided by departments and colleges from individual OSI campuses. The OSI, now as part of the SCMI, continues to work to secure funding to operate and maintain its vessels, offer its semester in residence, oversee its diving safety activities, and to develop and support its programs.