Research Vessel Pluteus

The Oregon Institute of Marine Biology's boat, Research Vessel Pluteus, is old and in need of replacing. 

It's 42 feet in length, 12 feet across, over 40 years old and has been the research boat for the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology, the marine studies wing of the University of Oregon, for the better part of the last couple decades.

But now, OIMB said that the Research Vessel Pluteus has simply become too old. That's why the institute and a group of Oregon state lawmakers are attempting to obtain funding for a replacement.

Craig Young, director of the institute, said that the current vessel is a small trawler, constructed in 1973 at the University of Delaware, and named after the larva of a sea urchin. “It was designed for teaching and research. Most of the research it did in those early years was in the Atlantic Ocean in estuaries, or in the tropics, so it was actually designed for use on relatively calm waters,” he said. Young said the boat is used by OIMB for similar purposes.

It was Young who in 2002 brought the boat to OIMB, which is based in Charleston, Oregon. “Already it was pretty old at that time,” he said. 

After so many years of service, Young said the need for a replacement has been apparent for some time. Not only is the boat suffering from issues like aged wiring, but it’s not able to accommodate increasingly larger classes of marine biology students. 

“The University of Oregon started an undergraduate degree in marine biology in 2005 with just a couple of students, and it's been on an upward trajectory ever since,” Young said. “Now, in the typical freshman class, we have more than 200 students enrolled.”

The increase in students means that it’s more difficult for full classes to go out on the water at once. “Some of the best places to take students are about an hour-and-a-half-away,” Young said. “Even though our classes meet all day long, it's virtually impossible to split our classes into two parts, take half out for half the day, and take the other half out the other half of the day. We need a boat that's large enough to take our classes out as a single unit.”

It is a bipartisan group of state legislators that stepped up to support the funding effort in the 2019 legislative session and that plans to do so for the 2020 session, which convenes Feb. 3. 

Senator Arnie Roblan (D-Coos Bay) and Representatives Caddy McKeown (D-Coos Bay) and David Brock Smith (R-Port Orford) were the chief sponsors of SB 255 during the 2019 session, which would have appropriated $500,000 to correspond with private investments for a replacement vessel. The bill, which would have taken effect July 1 of 2019, ultimately failed.

“We started having conversations with OIMB a few years ago about how do we get a boat,” said Roblan, “so they put it out to bid, and it ended up as a local business opportunity for one of our boat builders.” 

Roblan said the plan is to ask for around half a million dollars in state funds. “We looked at the draft of what the cost is going to be, and it does mean that the university's going to have to come up with at least 50%, maybe a little bit more, of the money necessary to get it.”

So far, Young said the general specifications for a potential new craft have been designed. The new vessel would have the capacity to carry a class of 25 students.

Young said there are no plans yet for what to name a replacement, but that there is a tradition of naming crafts after marine life or famed scientists. “I predict it will probably be the name of some organism that members of the public won't realize,” said Young, “but it means something to the marine biologists.”