BEALS, Maine — The nonprofit Downeast Institute for Applied Marine Research and Education has received a $2 million grant that will be used to expand the institute’s facility on Great Wass Island.

The grant, awarded by Blue Hill-based Next Generation Foundation, will be used to construct additional space for research, including more storage for live marine organisms and more square footage for processing samples collected at sea and along the shore, the institute indicated Monday in a prepared statement. Plans also call for new office space for scientists and their staff, a reception area for visitors, and a 50-seat conference center.

“The grant will allow DEI to expand research opportunities in eastern Maine for marine scientists and their students, to create new opportunities for marine business incubation, and to increase the scope of existing educational programs with K-12 schools,” institute officials indicated in the release.

Lynn Alley, chairman of the institute’s board of directors and a science teacher at Jonesport-Beals High School, said in the release that the grant will help with the institute’s mission to strengthen the viability of coastal Maine communities by fostering applied marine research, collaboration with public and private partners, and promoting public education of marine resources.

“This tremendously generous gift will allow us to begin a process that has been a vision of ours for the past 15 years to create the easternmost marine research laboratory and education center in the United States,” Alley said.

Dr. Brian Beal, director of research at the institute and professor of marine ecology at the University of Maine at Machias, said that the “exciting and important” grant will help fund research in eastern Maine, where it is needed.

“Most marine research in Maine is restricted to areas along the southwest coast where much of the physical infrastructure exists for marine scientists and their research teams,” Beal said. “The near-shore environment from Frenchman Bay to Cobscook Bay is as essential to the downeast economy as Casco Bay is to the coastal towns in Cumberland County, yet few marine scientists venture this far east because they have no facilities from which to conduct their work.”

Downeast Institute’s origins can be traced to 1987, when Beal and six Washington County coastal towns teamed up to start a waterfront softshell clam hatchery on Moosabec Reach in Beals.

The institute moved in 2003 to a former lobster storage facility at Black Duck Cove on Great Wass Island and, in 2010, built and opened an attached 1,000-square-foot marine education center. In 2012, construction of a new 100-foot pier was completed at the site.

Since its early days, research at the institute has expanded to include cultivation and resource management techniques for blue mussels, arctic surf clams, hard-shell clams, green crabs, scallops and lobster.

Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....