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Cooperative Oxford Laboratory

Cooperative Oxford Laboratory
We help local decision-makers understand the pressures on the Chesapeake Bay watershed, among them: climate change, urbanization, and pollution.

The Cooperative Oxford Laboratory (COL) research mission is to combine the unique scientific, response, and management capabilities of NOAA, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, and U.S. Coast Guard to identify and evaluate actions and policies that will protect, restore, and secure the health of the Chesapeake Bay and other threatened coastal marine ecosystems.

Major research programs include:

  • The effects of land use on coastal ecosystem health: We assess how land use impacts the ecosystem and the communities and economies that depend on a healthy ecosystem. We work with regional managers to ensure our forecast models, outreach materials, and other products can be used for informed ecosystem management decisions.
  • Finfish health investigations: Our fish population health assessments and quantitative models of fish habitat suitability and recruitment help advance the implementation of ecosystem-based fisheries management plans.
  • The Fish and Wildlife Health and the Oyster Disease Programs: We investigate and respond to health issues for a variety of wildlife species, including marine mammals and sea turtles, and recreationally and commercially important species such as striped bass and oysters. We assist with protected species restoration and conservation issues as well.
  • The NOAA Environmental Science Training Center: We provide training and in-depth experiences for environmental education professionals to advance their abilities to convey the latest information on science, technology, engineering, and math to teachers, students, and stakeholders.
  • Ecosystem and Ecological Modeling Program: We develop tools that support ecosystem-based management of the Chesapeake Bay and its natural resources, including fisheries. Our mathematical models synthesize information about many complex features of an ecosystem, allowing us to understand the relationships among these features for better ecosystem-based management decisions.

Located on Chesapeake Bay in Oxford, Maryland and administered by NOAA's National Ocean Service, the laboratory is a collaborative research facility with on-site partners, including: NCCOS, NOAA's Chesapeake Bay Office, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, and the U.S. Coast Guard. This structure benefits NCCOS, and the COL by providing a greater diversity of scientific expertise required to address complex coastal ecosystem issues.

NOS NCCOS: Marine Disease and Restoration Ecology Branch

Leadership: Suzanne Skelley, Director, 410-226-5193

We are charged with defining the cause and effect relationships between ecosystem stressors and the health of coastal resources, and with creating products, models, and advice that will inform public policies and coastal management decisions at local, state, and national levels.

Key actions and accomplishments:

  • Ecological Assessment of the Choptank River Complex: A recently completed coastal ecosystem assessment report of three Chesapeake Bay watersheds (Corsica, Magothy, and Rhode Rivers) defined linkages between land-use and resulting aquatic ecosystem health. This project will expand on this recent report with ecological base line data that will aid in assessing the effectiveness of management actions to improve water quality and to protect and restore the Chesapeake Bay’s estuarine and coastal habitats.
  • Land Use and Ecosystem Health – Decision-making Tools for Coastal Planning in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed: We are building models that show the consequences of land-use choices on the health of Chesapeake Bay and its local economies. This suite of consequences from different land-use scenarios is allowing decision-makers to compare impacts to the Chesapeake Bay’s aquatic ecosystems and determine which land-use plan best enhances a community’s overall interests and goals.
  • Bacterial and Pharmaceutical Pollution from Agricultural Lands in the Chesapeake Bay: We studied how the use of animal waste as fertilizer on agricultural lands might influence the health of the surrounding water bodies. We analyzed the rainwater runoff and receiving waters for the presence of antimicrobial-resistant bacteria and pharmaceuticals associated with animal waste fertilizer and detected both in varying concentrations. These efforts will help agricultural communities make land use decisions and plans that reflect their interests and goals for Chesapeake Bay.
  • Forecasting Chesapeake Bay Fishery Resources: We are developing a model to forecast striped bass recruitment in the Chesapeake Bay and are partnering with NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service to incorporate the model in fish stock assessments and fisheries management decisions. Unlike other models, this one accounts for weather and climate variability, as well as fishing pressure. We issued accurate forecasts in 2009, 2010, and 2011.
  • Pathogen Forecast: We are developing a forecast for the marine disease-causing bacteria Vibrio vulnificus in the Chesapeake Bay. State and local health officials will use this information to generate beach health forecasts, monitor pathogen outbreaks, and protect beachgoers and fishermen.
  • Chesapeake Bay Climate Sensitivity Assessment: We are using weather, water, biological, and climate data from a variety of sources and a state of the art biophysical model (the Chesapeake Bay Ecological Prediction System) to address the needs and goals of the Chesapeake Bay NERRS, the Chesapeake Bay Program, and NOAA’s Chesapeake Bay Sentinel Site Cooperative.
  • Coral Disease and Health Consortium (CDHC) – Solutions Today for Reefs Tomorrow: The CDHC is a network of scientists and managers supporting conservation, restoration, and management goals to protect and restore coral reef ecosystems. Created in 2002, the CDHC was developed in response to the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force's National Action Plan to Conserve Coral Reefs, Resolution 16.6. The International Registry of Coral Pathology maintains a centralized repository of coral histology (tissues of healthy and diseased corals) at COL for use by the coral research community.
  • Where is the Fish Food? Chesapeake Bay Mesozooplankton Abundance and Composition: We are providing an update on mesozooplankton status in the Chesapeake Bay by conducting monthly sampling from stations throughout the bay. We also sampled juvenile fish during the spring for additional data for Striped Bass and Perch spawning habitats. These data will point out spatial and temporal trends or changes in the last decade in the food web in relation to water quality. Since mesozooplankton is an important link between primary producers and higher trophic level fish and shellfish, this program enhances understanding of Chesapeake Bay’s environmental condition and allows managers to make informed decisions.

Facility and Personnel

Leadership: Suzanne Skelley, Director, 410-226-5193

The Cooperative Oxford Laboratory is located on the shores of Chesapeake Bay in Oxford, Maryland. COL was established in 1960 by the U.S. Bureau of Commercial Fisheries for the primary purpose of investigating oyster diseases that struck Chesapeake and Delaware Bays in the late 1950s. The facility became the Cooperative Oxford Laboratory in 1987, through an agreement between the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the NOAA National Ocean Service to share the facility and to cooperate in research. The Chesapeake Bay Office of NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service is also a partner, and the U.S. Coast Guard Oxford Station is also located on the campus.

The laboratory is operated by the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science. NOAA and Maryland DNR staff work together in the 16,000 square-foot main laboratory. The laboratory has a 55’ research vessel that cruises at 18–20 knots. The vessel’s research platform provides for a wide variety of missions and its centrally located port permits expeditions throughout the Chesapeake Region. There are also facilities for fish and shellfish pathogen exposure experiments; flow-through seawater systems; challenge facilities; a library; modeling and assessment capabilities; and histology, molecular, and microbiology capabilities. These capabilities, along with deep partnerships in the region, provide resources to plan and conduct research and develop predictive models for coastal management applications, with particular emphasis on Chesapeake Bay.