Nineteen senior scientists, administrative personnel and a librarian with more than 30 years at Harbor Branch were fired, with plans for its library - considered one of the foremost marine science research facilities in the state - to close.

The layoffs were a result of plans to consolidate the seven divisions within the not-for-profit institution - aquaculture, biomedical research, marine mammal research, engineering, marine education, marine science and marine operations - into two.

"I'm hoping it will help people better understand what we do, to focus on two major research areas where we have expertise," she said. "We're not disbanding any of the programs."

Grant Gilmore, a biologist who left Harbor Branch in 2004 to run his own marine research company, said the marine science library was the best between Miami and Charleston, S.C.

"It's a very significant event for the research community of this region that the library would close down," he said. "It's a tremendous regional resource of all the work that's been done on this coast in Harbor Branch and elsewhere as well."

"It's a very excellent library for the marine sciences, and their librarian was excellent," she said. "It would definitely negatively impact us."

Pomponi said the library was a "luxury" that institution officials could not afford to maintain for the scientific community in the face of rising insurance and utility costs.

The institution's $25 million annual budget is supplemented by revenue from specialty license plate sales and private donations, but much of the research is funded by state and federal grants. Those grants - especially on the federal level - have become exceedingly difficult to receive, she said.

"We're not in the red, but we're eating into our endowment," Pomponi said. "It's less of reducing expenses and more to increasing our ability to be able to compete and bring in more revenue to the organization."

Megan Davis, who is the current director of the aquaculture division, will head up the Center for Coastal Research. Peter Tatro, currently the director of the engineering division, will lead the Center for Ocean Exploration.

Some of the employees in administrative jobs that were eliminated with the restructuring will be able to apply to work in four newly created administrative jobs, Pomponi said.

Three of the four senior scientists - some of whom had been with Harbor Branch for more than 20 years - were already on "leave" and will be able to continue working on externally funded projects, she added.

"This institution had been a national asset. It's not just a regional, local asset," he said. "The public and the region should consider the fact that we're going to lose this ... if we don't think of the long-term future with all the expertise and technology we have here right now."

Officials with the Harbor Branch Foundation - the institution's name before an official change in 1986 - laid off 10 scientists, as well as the assistants working under them, in the wake of a lawsuit over founder J. Seward Johnson's $500 million estate.

The Environmental Laboratory Division - now a for-profit subsidiary of the institution - was cut by 34 employees when the lab narrowed its focus to water quality, cutting out research on air quality, soil, pesticide and organic materials.

The 11-member crew of the Edwin Link, one of Harbor Branch's research vessels, was laid off when federal grants were insufficient to cover research trips. That boat was later sold.

Harbor Branch officials don't renew the contract of its pontoon tour boat captain, ending the lagoon boat tour program. They later end popular campus tours.

Nineteen jobs were eliminated in a restructuring effort that consolidated the institution's eight different divisions into two. Senior scientists, the librarian and administrative personnel were fired, and the scientific library closed.

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