A Slice of Heaven WWU's Marine Lab is Unforgettable

Since 1954, Walla Walla University has enjoyed ownership of the Rosario Beach Marine Laboratory near Anacortes, Wash. WWU's biology majors spend a summer studying marine biology at Rosario and all of them look forward to their turn with anticipation and excitement.

"I'm so excited about spending an entire summer at Rosario," says Nicholas Will, senior biology major. "That should tell you something right there — what college student wants to take summer classes?"

Jim Nestler was one of those students back in 1983. As an undergraduate student he attended classes at Rosario, explored the water and surrounding land, and learned alongside experienced WWU scientists. He has returned each summer since as a graduate student, a faculty researcher, a course instructor and now as director of the marine laboratory.

Due to its cold water and ocean currents, the waters off Rosario Beach are filled with nutrients. This leads to an abundance of marine invertebrate life for study, including crabs, anemones, sea stars, sea cucumbers, barnacles, whelks, chitons, clams and scallops.

Faculty from other Adventist and non-Adventist colleges and universities often teach and do research alongside their WWU colleagues at Rosario during the summer. This summer, faculty from Southern Adventist University and Andrews University are teaching courses. In addition, a faculty member from the Maine Maritime Academy and a graduate student from Washington State University are conducting marine research projects.

Rosario's ideal location has also caught the attention of the international scientific community. In 2011, more than 200 scientists from South, Central and North America will gather for the North American Echinoderm Conference. This will be the first time the 20-years-old conference will be held on the West Coast.

"As a marine laboratory, the hands-on experience is unparalleled," Will says. "With the spiritual emphasis so prominent there, God feels closer than ever at Rosario. I've never felt more welcomed and like part of the family. It's a place that brings a whole new meaning to the phrase, ‘a slice of heaven.'"

Each summer, the Rosario "family," as Nestler refers to it, is between 70 and 80 people. The size of this small group contributes heavily to the friendly, close-knit community and the comfortable atmosphere of the beach laboratory.

"Our students are at an especially pivotal stage in their lives, and it's wonderful for them to be able to study science surrounded by the Christian atmosphere here at Rosario," says Nestler. "It helps them to affirm their belief in the Creator-God."

August 01, 2009 / Walla Walla University
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Becky St. Clair, WWU GLEANER correspondent