A New Research Vessel for Moss Landing Marine Laboratories – San José State University

For nearly sixty years, Moss Landing Marine Laboratories and the San José State University Research Foundation have operated Research Vessels owned by the university and the National Science Foundation.  These ships and boats not only afforded our students the experiences of ship-board research activities during class cruises, but also offered invaluable collaborations at sea for our faculty researchers and students with ocean scientists from around the world. Since the sale of the R/V Point Sur to the University of Southern Mississippi in 2015, MLML has been searching for a replacement.

R/V Point Sur Antarctic Expedition 2013

Students on the back deck of the Pt. Sur

Today, San José State University and Moss Landing Marine Labs, in partnership with Ocean Planet Explorers (OPE), are designing and planning to build a purpose-built research vessel for the 21st Century, the OPE 111.  This sail assisted, hybrid-electric propelled 111 feet boat is large enough to carry more than forty students for a class cruise in Monterey Bay and sixteen scientists for multi-day expeditions, but small enough to be operated by a limited crew.

OPE 111 top side view showing solar panels and foredeck area


LOA  -  111’5”

LWL  -  98’4”

Beam  -  22’5”

Draft  -  12’4”

Air Draft  - 125’

Work Deck  -  885 sq ft


Dry Labs  -  920 sq ft

Complement Day Trips  -  50

Complement, over 12 hrs.  -  16

Displacement  -  200,000Lbs

Gross Tonnage (Regulatory)  -  78

Top Speed, Power  -  15 Kts


Top Speed, Sail  -  22 Kts

Endurance  - Trans Oceanic

Dynamic Positioning - Enabled

A-Frame  -  10,000 Lbs SWL

Mizzen Boom  -  10,000Lbs SWL

Sail Control  -  Electric/Hydraulic

This vessel, designed by Tom Wylie, is a paradigm shift from the “traditional” research vessel design. The OPE 111 utilizes wind power, not only for direct propulsion, but also power regeneration by dragging one or more propellers to recharge lithium batteries.  Photo-voltaic cells are incorporated into the top decks to recharge batteries for the hotel loads (i.e. electrical needs in excess of that needed for propulsion such as lighting, ventilation, auxiliary equipment, and science equipment).  This design not only greatly reduces carbon emissions but also allows the ship to operate silently for hours at a time using only electricity for propulsion and other power needs.  This is especially important due to the increase in noise pollution in our oceans, and it allows researchers to perform delicate acoustic experiments without having to filter out engine noise. Modular construction allows future technologies to be easily incorporated into a vessel designed to last for decades.

Schematic of the propose layout for the inside of the OPE 111

We envision that this vessel, besides training the next generation of marine scientists, will be used to examine the most pressing issues facing our oceans, including climate change, ocean acidification, harmful algal blooms, micro plastics and other pollutants, and the health of marine protected areas. The vessel will operate off California, but will able to conduct important research worldwide.
The vessel will be outfitted with state-of-the-art data collection, instrumentation, and sampling equipment such as multi-frequency bio-mass acoustic systems, bottom and water column mapping systems, acoustic doppler current profilers, and a CTD water sampling and profiling system that can measure water temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, pH, bioluminence, and other parameters throughout the water column.
This new style of research vessel will serve many purposes, including class cruises, day research trips, and longer duration research voyages. Classes from MLML, CSU campuses, and other local  academic programs (e.g. UCSC, Hopkins/Stanford, Naval Postgraduate School, and community colleges) will be able to take out up to 40 students for oceanographic and biological sampling, and observations of marine mammals and sea birds. The vessel will have the capability of moving up and down the west coast of North America so students from many locations will be able to have access to the sea. Research groups will be able to use the vessel operating out of various ports in central California (e.g. Moss Landing, Monterey, San Francisco, Half Moon Bay, etc.) to conduct coastal sampling programs that study formation of harmful algal blooms, distribution and abundance of plankton and nekton, condition of marine protected areas, physical factors affecting nearshore processes, and many more important topics of interest to California. And this vessel, with its unique and diverse propulsion capabilities, can undertake extended trips around the world to study important aspects of marine science worldwide.

Side view of OPE 111, showing A-frame for launching and recovering scientific gear, and the aft opening for dive operations and gear deployment. This view shows a large container placed on the rear deck to incrase wet lab capabilities for sample processing.

View of the hull and the three electric propellers/thrusters that allow dynamic positioning and precise, quiet control of the vessels position when on station

With help from University Advancement at San José State University, Ocean Planet Explorers  AND MLML/SJSU hope to secure private funding (and possibly some State funding) for this vessel and lay the keel in 2022 with launch, commissioning, and donation to SJSU/MLML in 2023. If you are interest in supporting this exciting endeavor please contact Emily Lane (emily.j.lane@sjsu.edu) the Director of Development for the SJSU College of Science and MLML.


If you want more information about the design features and this project in general, please contact:


Brian Ackerman (MLML Marine Operations Manager) - backerman@mlml.calstate.edu
Jim Harvey (Director of MLML)  - Harvey@mlml.calstate.edu
See the Ocean Planet Explorers website for more information related to this project.

The Academic Village

Figure 1. Location of the Sandholdt Property adjacent to the Main Building of MLML. The yellow line represents the boundaries of the property.

In 2005, MLML and the SJSU Research Foundation purchased 9.2 acres adjacent to the main MLML building (Figs. 1 & 2) with the intent of building an Academic Village. Anyone that has attended MLML realizes that one of the main impediments to student life here is housing. It is a critical need for everyone, but students at MLML are particularly impacted because tuition and living costs have increased dramatically, housing in the area is scarce and expensive, and the cost of conducting field-based research also is increasing. We have always realized we needed housing and other amenities to remain competitive and better serve our students, so this property and the building plans are critical to our future.

Figure 2. Sandholdt Property, the future site of the MLML Academic Village

The Academic Village is a planned development to be built with state-of-the-art sustainable methods, and would provide housing for our residential graduate students, summer course participants, consortium classes, field trips for K-12 students, and visiting scientists (Fig. 3). The conference center/research facility would provide space for larger classes than are possible at the Main Lab building, and would provide lab space for collaborating scientists and classes (Fig. 4).  Our concept is to provide all of the activities listed above, greatly increase our capability of serving larger undergraduate courses, and maintain a sense of a marine science community using sustainable “green” building methods.


The Academic Village would include:

  • Small apartments or other housing structures for long-term housing
  • Larger dorm-like dwellings and possibly Yurts for short-term housing.
  • A research lab with running seawater, wet tables and tanks for holding live organisms for classes and researchers.
  • A multi-purpose conference space with cafeteria (Fig. 3)
  • Parking
  • Marine and freshwater wetlands that weave through the property which could be used as demonstration wetlands for class sampling, water quality improvements, and for habitat restoration
  • Demonstration of “green” building techniques (e.g. passive energy building techniques, integrated solar electricity and heating, cistern and other water storage capacity, and native vegetation)

Josh Nelson (faculty member in Industrial Design) and four of his students at SJSU helped develop a preliminary design of the Academic Village. MLML Faculty, staff, and students engaged in a number of meetings to provide concept designs and ideas for this space. After a number of iterations, the current plan unfolded. It incorporates the various buildings into a village concept with wandering paths connecting the buildings, various outdoor spaces (teaching, private discussions, and entertaining), and seawater and freshwater waterways (Fig. 3). The idea is to create a location that inspires learning, creativity, relaxation, and community.

Figure 3. Site plan for the Academic Village with conference building in upper area, classrooms and lab space in the "barn" structure on far left, and short- and long-term housing in the lower part of the acreage.


Figure 4. Image of the Conference Center in the foreground, the barn (classrooms, labs, offices) in the back right, and housing in the background from the flatlands (short-term) up onto the sloping hill (long-term).


This property is critical for the expansion of the lab so that it can serve more undergraduates, more classes, and more researchers. It also would provide affordable housing options for our graduate students that struggle with rental rates that are some of the most expensive in the country. Here is a short animation that depicts the various aspects of the proposed Academic Village at MLML.


Because State funding for such projects is extremely limited we will begin a major fund-raising effort in the near future. To learn more about how you can help support the Academic Village, our students, and our programs at MLML with cash, stocks, or an estate gift please contact Jim Harvey.


Figure 5. Barn and waterway in the Academic Village to the left with the MLML main building in the upper right and the Salinas River in the foreground.

Our New Aquaculture Program at MLML


Possibly some of you are aware of the statistics from the FAO report that are contained in the “State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture”:

  • 31% of commercial wild fish stocks are overfished
  • Yet global per capita fish consumption has increased to 20kg annually
  • Minimal increase in wild caught seafood since 1980 (see graph below)
  • But an exponential increase in seafood consumption worldwide since 1980
  • All this increased capacity for seafood is from aquaculture

Worldwide production of aquaculture and wild-caught seafood from 1950 to 2010. (FAO 2012)

Because of the increased demand for seafood but the environmental, political, and social concerns regarding former aquaculture practices it was apparent to us that MLML could play a key role in helping to establish sustainable, healthy, and productive aquaculture practices for California and elsewhere.

So, on the old shorelab site we have built a new Aquaculture Facility at MLML with funding from the Packard Foundation and our own internal funds. San José State University also provided financial support and managed the project, with the new building dedicated on 22 August 2014 (Figure below).

We are rapidly expanding our aquaculture and seawater capacity by:

  • Increasing the amount of seawater we pump from 300 gallons per minute (GPM) to 450 GPM with financial assistance from MBARI who also receives a portion of the seawater.
  • Adding 24 new 200-gallon tanks to investigate the potential for seaweeds to mitigate the effects of ocean acidification on shellfish growth (funding from CA Sea Grant to Mike Graham and Scott Hamilton)
  • Adding a new trailer with computer controls to allow precise control of pH in 20 new tanks to assess the impacts of changing ocean acidification on rockfishes (funding from NSF to Scott Hamilton).
  • With funding from Anthopocene Institute and a collaboration with Kerstin Wasson (Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve) we have started a hatchery for the native Olympia Oyster with the intent of restocking impacted populations of this oyster in Elkhorn Slough and possibly later in San Francisco Bay. Use this link to read more: https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/Science-Institute/News/how-aquaculture-will-shape-the-future-of-olympia-oysters-at-elkhorn-slough.

Opening of the aquaculture facility at the shore lab at MLML.

One of the exciting developments regarding adding new aquaculture expertise at MLML involves the hiring of Dr. Luke Gardner, a new California Sea Grant Extension Specialist in aquaculture (photo below). Luke received his Ph.D. from Queensland University of Technology in Australia, and most recently was a postdoc with Barbara Block’s lab at Hopkins Marine Station.  Luke will be teaching courses in aquaculture, advising students, and conducting research in addition to his duties as a Sea Grant Extension Specialist.  More info: https://caseagrant.ucsd.edu/profile/luke-gardner

Dr. Luke Gardner

Luke’s research interests broadly involve the development of sustainable aquaculture. Specifically, in working with industry to apply advanced and emerging technologies to help solve issues limiting aquaculture growth. Luke has used biotechnology to study physiological systems in marine organisms including reproduction, bio-mineralization, toxicology, and nutrition.  Current research interests include: (1) using high-throughput sequencing and bio-informatics to develop biomarkers for valuable traits in cultured aquatic organisms, and (2) development of alternative fish-free feeds. He has experience with fishes, shellfish, and seaweeds.

We have a number of industry partners using the facility and supporting MLML graduate students:

  • Monterey Abalone Company is using our facilities for their hatchery and nursery before the young abalone are sent off to their Monterey farm for grow out.
  • Monterey Bay Seaweeds farms a number of sustainable seaweed species at the MLML Aquaculture Facility that then make their way to high end restaurants along the west coast.
  • Anago-USA has tanks at MLML housing hagfish before they are sent off to markets in Korea and elsewhere. They likely also will be funding a number of research projects for students.
  • TwoXSea and Bill Foss have donated an experimental fish-feed mill that will allow us to experiment with the composition of various fish feeds. The ultimate goal is to greatly reduce the amount of fish products used in producing fish meal to the point where we have removed fish entirely from the diet. This mill will be one of only two on the U.S. west coast, and will allow MLML to lead the way in developing fish-free pellets for culturing marine fishes.


We are in the final stages of developing a Center for Aquaculture in collaboration with the San José State University.

The goals of the Center are to:

  • Coordinate the interests and activities of CSU and UC scientists/teachers,
  • Provide research and infrastructure to lead in sustainable aquaculture practices,
  • Help decision-makers with solving issues associated with permitting and management,
  • Assist with policy making regarding responsible aquaculture practices in California and elsewhere, and
  • Provide education and resources for the new entrepreneurs in aquaculture.

We also have plans to develop a curriculum in Aquaculture Science and Practices:

  • Courses in culturing algae, shellfish, and fishes; aquaculture systems, permitting and policy; design and implementation; and entrepreneurship
  • New M.S. degree or certificate in Aquaculture
  • Develop partnerships with other institutions and companies

We expect MLML to help lead the way for sustainable, restorative aquaculture done the right way in California. Check out the MLML Aquaculture Facility website for more information.