Gift Will Fund New Research Boats at Duke Marine Lab and Support Student Field Trip

June 19, 2013

Tim Lucas, 919-613-8084,

DURHAM, N.C. – The Nicholas School of the Environment has received a gift from Neil Smit Jr. (T’ 80) and Barbara C. Smit (T ’79) to fund the purchase of two new research boats at the Duke University Marine Lab. The gift also helps underwrite the costs of an annual student field trip to tour sustainable fisheries in Mexico’s Gulf of California.

The Smits are members of the Nicholas School’s Board of Visitors.

Their gift advances progress toward the Nicholas School of the Environment’s $55 million campaign goal – part of the university-wide $3.25 billion Duke Forward fundraising campaign.

“We are deeply grateful to Neil and Barbara Smit for their generous support. This gift meets critical needs and helps us continue to provide our faculty and students with the best tools and training possible, at a time when marine research and conservation are no longer luxuries but imperatives,” says Nicholas School Dean William L. Chameides.

The Smits’ gift will enable the school to purchase a 23-foot V-hull boat with trailer for deepwater research and a 24-foot 350-horsepower airboat for wetland and marsh research.

The boats will support research by Brian Silliman, Rachel Carson Associate Professor of Marine Conservation Biology.  He is widely cited for his studies on community ecology of salt marshes and rocky shores, conservation of coastal wetlands, and reef fish populations.

The Smits’ gift also supports an annual student field trip on sustainable fisheries management in Mexico’s Gulf of California.  Xavier Basurto, assistant professor of sustainability science, leads the trip each April as part of a course he teaches on community-based marine conservation.