Campus News

Alber named UGA Marine Institute director

University of Georgia professor of marine sciences Merryl Alber will become director of the University of Georgia Marine Institute at Sapelo Island

Athens, Ga. – University of Georgia professor of marine sciences Merryl Alber will become director of the University of Georgia Marine Institute at Sapelo Island, effective Oct. 1.
She succeeds marine sciences professor William Miller, who served as UGAMI director from 2004 to 2013 and helped to enhance UGAMI’s capabilities despite a series of challenging cuts to its state budget. He will continue his research on chemical reactions of ocean and sunlight, and their potential role in removing carbon from the deep sea.
The appointment of Alber reflects a renewed focus on the pristine marine laboratory as a field station that supports world-class research and education in coastal ecosystems. UGAMI’s international reputation, dating back to the 1950s, is based on groundbreaking ecological research by scientists from UGA and beyond. The research conducted out of UGAMI today includes the Georgia Coastal Ecosystems Long-Term Ecological Research Project, which began in 2000 and was recently renewed for an additional six years. Alber serves as director of this project, which is focused on understanding how marshes and estuaries function, tracking changes over time and predicting how they might be affected by future variations in climate and human activities. The GCE project, along with other research efforts based at the Marine Institute, continue the long and distinguished history of UGAMI.
David Lee, UGA vice president for research said, “Merryl’s appointment as director reflects our goal of making UGAMI a destination for marsh and coastal studies by scientists not only from UGA, but from institutions across the University System of Georgia, and beyond. Our efforts in the coming months will focus on bringing scientists and students to conduct research at this world-class facility.”
“UGAMI provides us with access to a natural laboratory on the Georgia coast.” said Alber. “This is an exciting time at the Marine Institute, as we are renovating dormitories, nearing completion on a dining facility, and adding new laboratory space. I encourage researchers who have never been there, or have not been there in a long time, to come for a visit.”
Alber wants to expand research and creative scholarship at the Marine Institute, but also provide additional opportunities for student training and outreach. Each year, UGAMI hosts 50 to 60 groups of students who come from throughout the University System of Georgia, but also from as far away as the University of Wisconsin and Creighton University in Nebraska. Plans are underway to offer undergraduate courses on the Georgia coast, which would allow students to spend time at both UGAMI and the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography over the course of a semester.
“A visit to Sapelo can be life-changing for a student,” said Alber, who has been leading field trips with her marine biology class for many years. “I always tell students that this is an opportunity to get wet and muddy, but it’s also really rewarding to watch them experience things in the field that we have talked about in the classroom.”
As UGAMI director, Alber will be based in Athens, but will be in residence on Sapelo Island one week each month.
Alber, a faculty member at UGA since 1994, received her doctorate in 1992 from Boston University, and holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from Duke University. In addition to research and teaching responsibilities in the marine sciences department of the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, she is the founder of the Georgia Coastal Research Council, an organization established to facilitate scientific exchange between researchers and coastal managers in Georgia and to promote the incorporation of the best available scientific information into resource management. She is also the author of a children’s book, “And the Tide Comes In…” which is, fittingly enough, about exploring a Georgia salt marsh.