The University of the West Indies (UWI) is celebrating 70 years since operations got underway – but there are some other anniversaries worth marking and maybe not as well known. For instance, did you know that UWI’s Discovery Bay Marine Lab, on Jamaica’s north coast, was on the leading edge of global marine research when it was established more than fifty years ago?

While the building of the current lab structures got underway in 1968, after land was obtained from Kaiser Aluminum for the project, the lab had already been founded from 1965 by coral reef research scientists, Tom and Nora Goreau. They had been doing pioneering work on reef ecosystems since their arrival in Jamaica in 1951, then working at the founding UWI Mona campus where Tom worked in the Department of Physiology before moving to Life Sciences. Nora’s focus was on lab work and the experiments that they designed on samples gathered by Tom (the world’s first diving marine scientist) and the divers he trained. Together, they pioneered Jamaica’s marine sciences infrastructure and created the Discovery Bay Lab.

The UWI Museum’s Honorary Research Fellow, Mark Figueroa, who grew up at Mona, remembers the Goreaus and their three children Tom, Peter and Stefan. Peter and his daughter, Tara, attended recent anniversary celebrations at the Lab where Tara also painted a mural honoring her grandparents. Peter remembers seeing experiments set up at the Goreau home at Mona, and that Tom Goreau would make his own lead weights for diving. He spoke about his parents’ work in a special broadcast May 25, 2018 on WGDR Goddard College Community Radio, where he hosts a weekly programme, ‘Spanning the Chasm’.

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Before coming to Jamaica to do research on Caribbean reefs, Tom had sampled reefs at the Bikini and Enewetak atolls, following US Pacific nuclear bomb testing there in the second half of the 1940s; and it was radiation exposure that would lead to his death from cancer in 1970, at age 45 years. Their work was continued by Nora, along with collaborators, students and successors at units on all the UWI campuses, but notably at the Centre for Marine Science (CMS) at Mona, which is responsible for the DBML and its counterpart at Port Royal; and at the Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies (CERMES) at the Cave Hill campus in Barbados. A history of the Discovery Bay Lab is being written by Phil Dustan, Judy Laing and Peter Goreau.



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