New coral institute set to open in Hadley

  • A pristine coral reef near the remote Millennium Atoll in the central Pacific. A new coral institute will soon open in Hadley. JENNIFER SMITH

Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 03, 2018

HADLEY — It’s a vacant storefront facing Route 9, but later this winter the space inside Mill Valley Commons will have 15 tanks where 150 unique specimens of coral will be growing.

Primarily designed for coral propagation, the Pioneer Valley Coral and Natural Science Institute facility at 1 Mill Valley Road will be a site where researchers from the University of Massachusetts, Northeastern University and Harvard University will be able to conduct various scientific tests, including for potential treatments of cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, and purifying water.

“It’s the new rainforest,” Roderick Anderson said of coral, the marine invertebrates typically found in tropical seawaters, and which are being affected by climate change.

Anderson, executive director of the Springfield Institute think tank, is the brainchild behind the first New England coral growing facility. In addition to research, it will be a coral bank for wholesalers to acquire the product for pet stores, will serve as a place to inspire area schoolchildren in the sciences, and will create six jobs at the start.

The concept comes from Anderson’s doctoral dissertation at UMass in the department of anthropology, which focused on Afro-American civic leadership, social movement theory and critical theory.

One of Anderson’s long-standing goals is to have a place for community education and participation by underrepresented groups — including African-Americans, women and persons with disabilities — in the so-called STEM field of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The headquarters will be the nearly 2,500 square feet situated next to The Taproom.

Academic partnerships

Inside, the troughs, each measuring 96 inches long by 24 inches wide and a foot deep, will be able to hold about 1,500, 1-inch coral fragments in 78-degree water, Anderson said. These fragments will be used both for research on-site, and sold to scientists and hobbyists who use them in home and large aquariums.

Anderson has already created partnerships with the Massachusetts Biomedical Initiatives in Worcester, which is doing cancer research, and UMass, where neuroscience researchers looking into Parkinson’s disease will examine nudibranchs and sea sponges.

Lily Rajic at Northeastern will test water filtration devices, based on electromediation technology, which will determine how effective they are at purifying water for coral and human consumption.

Anderson wouldn’t divulge the cost of establishing the center, but he is getting funding from a private benefactor. It’s been a project in the works for several years. He previously looked for a site in Holyoke, but was unable to find a suitable location without major infrastructure improvements.

As a licensed facility for coral aquaculture, Anderson has already gotten permits from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and U.S. Fish & Wildlife.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.