Located in the heart of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s 88-acre wetlands preserve is the Erwin J. Ernst Marine Conservation Center (EMCC). Named after Dr. Erwin J. Ernst, the Center has been an important part of WMHO for more than 50 years.
Throughout his career, Dr. Ernst worked to preserve marine life and the environment. His passion was contagious as he taught thousands of students at Southampton College, the New York Aquarium, Ward Melville High School and on-site at WMHO’s Wetlands Preserve. In fact, many of Ernie’s students changed their career path and went on to careers in marine biology and environmental science.
Dr. Ernst’s intensive six-week summer course began at the Marine Conservations Center in 1965 at West Meadow Creek. At the same time, the Town of Brookhaven was making plans to carve out a marina in the wetlands. Dr. Ernst convinced Mr. Melville to save the wetlands from being developed and Mr. Melville began to purchase parcels of land from individuals. He then designated the entire 88-acres as a Wetlands Preserve. Mr. Melville subsequently deeded the preserve to WMHO. It continues to be one of the most pristine wetlands on Long Island and in fact on the Eastern Seaboard.
The Marine Conservation Center houses two classrooms, a learning lab, microscopes, touch tank and video conferencing equipment. The on-site program allows students to explore the salt marsh ecosystem and learn the importance of salt marshes and food web interactions. The hands-on program enables students to identify plants, animals, shells, rocks and marsh grasses.
Realizing how important it is for students all across the country to learn about a salt marsh, WMHO developed a distance learning program “Electronic Explorations – The Salt Marsh Ecosystem.” Wearing a specially equipped pair of eyeglasses the naturalist teaches right from the water’s edge. Now, students from all over the United States, who may never have the opportunity to see a salt marsh, can explore the plants and animals native to a salt marsh, see live specimens, and converse with the naturalist in real time. WMHO won an International Award for this unique program.