Posted by: The Amoeba | June 7, 2010

Take Care Of This Place

A few days ago, Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba received a disquieting piece of email.

A marine biological research station in Italy is in danger of being shut down (it read), and would I sign a petition in support of its continued existence?

Like I said. Disquieting.

The station in question isn’t just any marine biological research laboratory. It’s the Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn (Anton Dohrn Zoological Station) in Naples. Founded in 1872 by Herr Doktor Dohrn, a German zoologist and early acceptor of Darwin’s theory of evolution – which theory was developed, in large part, through Darwin’s studies on marine invertebrate animals (barnacles, in particular).

Dohrn and his associates envisaged an international network (this being the 19th century, he was thinking ‘railways’, not the Internet) of permanent laboratories, in each of which the inquiring scientist could reside for awhile and conduct research on marine biology and (yes) evolution, at the completion of which the scientist could proceed to the next station.

The Naples laboratory was the first station to be built (by Dohrn, who also ran it) on this hoped-for network – which did in fact come to pass. Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba works at a place very much like the Statione Zoologica.

And some policy-maker in the Italian government (which, along with the rest of Europe, as you may have heard, is sweating some big-time financial bullets these days) was out gunning for Grandad.

Not that he didn’t have company. Even before the global economic downturn, many stations in Dohrn’s network were under duress. For example: the Kewalo Marine Laboratory at the University of Hawai‘i at Mânoa has been under threat of closure for years. Always (of course), in the name of saving money.

After all. Like with all the laboratory sciences, it costs something, in equipment and space, for a relatively small number of marine biologists to do their work. Lots more, say, than to take tuition payments from history majors, who need little more than a big room and a professor with a computer to do their things.

The Victorian gentlemen of Dohrn’s day simply reached into pockets, their own or their patron’s, to meet these costs.

Today’s marine biology researchers, who typically live from grant to mouth (and the grants are in short supply)? Not so much.

Which, of course, means that today’s marine biology researchers are not earning their keep and have to be gotten rid of. Hence the attempts on the Stazione Zoologica and the Kewalo Marine Laboratory.

As it happened, I didn’t wind up signing any petitions. I went to the Stazione Zoologica website to do just that, and found that the petition had been pulled. It was no longer needed. The Stazione gathered four thousand signatures in four days, and that was sufficient to get the First Marine Lab pulled off Italy’s political / financial Death Row. For the present.

Might could be that it occurred to someone that pulling marine biological research stations off the map is not the brightest public relations exercise right now. Not to anyone to whom the name Deepwater Horizon rings a bell. More than half of the organisms that live in the sea don’t even have names yet. It’s going to take a couple of cruise missile’s worth of a budget for the marine biologists to figure out what all that spilled oil is going to do to them – and therefore, to us.

Anton Dohrn’s marine biological research stations have survived a great depression, two world wars, and even – so far – Milton Friedman’s economic theories. In 1945, US Navy personnel came to the main door of the Misaki Marine Biological Station, University of Tokyo – which had been used as a midget submarine base. On that door they found a handwritten note.

This is a marine biological station with her history of over sixty years.

If you are from the Eastern Coast, some of you might know of Woods
or Mt. Desert or Tortugas.

If you are from the West Coast, you may know Pacific Grove or Puget
Sound Biological Station

This is a place like one of those.

Take care of this place and protect the possibility for the continuation of our peaceful research.

You can destroy weapons and the war instruments.

But save the civil equipments for Japanese students.

When you are through with your job here notify to the University
and let us come back to our scientific home.

— The Last One to Go (Dr. Katsuma Dan)

The note, obviously, survived. So did the Misaki Station. If We the People could see our way clear to do that, then … well, I hope I don’t have to see – or post – any more petitions.

  – O Ceallaigh
Copyright © 2010 Felloffatruck Publications. All wrongs deplored.
All opinions are mine as a private citizen.



  1. Save the barnacles!

    • Dude, you’ve obviously never led a team of students into the rocky intertidal. It’s ‘save me from the barnacles’!

  2. Oh that note — thank you for sharing it.
    And congratulations to the ‘Stazione’ (for now) for surviving. … for now.

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