BOLINAS, CA—A uniquely positioned research and education lab was given the final green light needed by the College of Marin (COM) Board of Trustees, paving the way for the College to restore the property. The Bolinas Marine Laboratory is located about 15 miles from San Francisco, yet overlooks an idyllic and undisturbed marine ecosystem. COM Marine Biology Professor Joe Mueller says this is precisely the reason that makes the field station an invaluable resource for students.
“Especially in this area, this field station is really about three things: location, location, location,” said Mueller, citing co-located marine protected areas and national parks, as well as many top researchers who are already working in the area.
The former U.S. Coast Guard station is something of a historic relic on the California coastline. Previously known as the Bolinas Bay Lifeboat Station, the facility opened in 1918. This location allowed for the Coast Guard to quickly assist sea vessels in trouble until the facility was deactivated in 1947. COM purchased the buildings in 1955 and fashioned them into a working research and education lab.
Perhaps Mueller knows the importance of the locale and its research potential because he was once a student there, learning under COM instructors Al Molina and Gordon Chan. Both Molina and Chan were evangelists for the field station, advocating and improving upon the facility during their decades-long teaching careers.
These are the legacies that Mueller feels compelled to continue. The lab was a favorite site for countless students and researchers until 2006 when it was shuttered due to safety concerns. It sat idle; its future uncertain.
Since then, advocates have been working to get the facility opened and running once again. After some legal analysis, advocates were pleased to find that a law initially believed to bar COM from refurbishing the building had been misinterpreted, and that the College could move forward with restoration.
The lab has unique access to an undisturbed coastline thanks to its location in the secluded town of Bolinas. It is also located next to two important ecological sites. Students and top researchers have long been attracted to Bolinas Lagoon and the Duxbury Reef, a nearby protected marine area. The Bolinas Lagoon itself is a Ramsar site, a designation indicating that it is a wetland of internationally-recognized ecological importance. It is one of only seven North American marine estuaries designated as such.
COM has pushed for greater diversity, equity, and inclusion across all disciplines. This includes within its science departments, which Mueller believes, is a conduit to greater access to science for underserved communities as it is one of only two community colleges that has a coastal field station in the state. Students who would like to study marine biology or oceanography but cannot afford a more expensive university like Stanford, will still be able to experience field research, without the costly tuition.
COM is not alone in the effort to increase equity in the sciences in Marin County. Just across the Lagoon at Stinson Beach, nonprofit conservation group Audubon Canyon Ranch has been working with diverse student groups and bringing them to various important ecological sites around the Bay Area. The field station, Mueller said, could become another site for them to visit.
The community has almost unanimously approved restoration of the buildings and bringing them into working order once again, Mueller said. The field station was approved to move forward with renovations in 2019, costing an estimated $4.9 million and will be paid for through bond funds, private donors, and grants. COM anticipates the project will be completed in time for the start of the 2023-2024 academic year.
The building will include a lab, faculty offices, indoor and outdoor classrooms, a parking lot, and a dock with public access. It will be used across disciplines as needed for COM courses and potentially to regional high schools. Mueller said his hope is that the Bolinas Field Station will preserve the love of nature into future generations and inspire them to become advocates of preserving the planet.
“The reason that I teach is my concern for a planet that is dying. And at the foundation, I think that we can save it, but only if people care about it,” Mueller said. “We have to find it in our hearts and our souls to save nature. We don't save what we don't love and connect with.”
Reflecting on the rich history of Bolinas, Board of Trustees President Wanden Treanor spoke about the significance of the field station within the community.
“Thanks to the vision and commitment of Al Molina and Gordon Chan in creating the first—and one of only two—community college coastal field stations, College of Marin will continue their vision with the construction of a new field research facility,” said Treanor. “We will be able to increase access to underserved communities by sparking dreams to learn more and for many to pursue careers to save our planet.”
In anticipation of the demolition of these buildings, and in partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard, the College celebrated the historic role these buildings played in Bolinas and in protecting this coastal region. The Coast Guard lowered the flag one last time in a ceremony held April 29, 2021.
“Our simple, but beautiful, flag ceremony allowed us to honor the history of these buildings and celebrate the future opportunities we are creating by continuing to use this land to education future generations, especially those students who will protect our oceans,” said Treanor, who received the flag on behalf of the District.
Learn more about STEM and other programs offered at COM: http://academics.marin.edu/.