Posted by Doreen Higgins on Nov 12, 2018
Our island and the Institute of Oceanography are tied together by their interwoven history. The Roebling family forms the interconnection. Dr. William Savage of the Institute told us of this piece of history on Wednesday morning. Dr. Savage, (“Bill,”) has a PhD in Oceanography from North Carolina State University and specializes in continental shelf oceanography and the interactions between the biology, chemistry and physics there. He researches how the extensive salt marshes of Georgia modify the water composition of water moving from our rivers to the sea. Bill’s talk spoke of the years from around 1935 to the present.

The Institute’s major benefactor, Robert C. Roebling, and his family moved to the north end of Skidaway Island in 1935, motivated by a wish to move away from the Depression in the northern part of the US. Robert Roebling was a grand nephew of Washington Roebling who built the Brooklyn Bridge in New York and who amassed an industrial empire to which Robert Roebling was an heir. Although the Roebling family came to Skidaway to “get away from it all,” they soon became prominent in the life of Savannah. They established a successful business raising Angus cattle for auction; they farmed the land for their own sustenance and took a major part in the social and intellectual life of Savannah. Robert Roebling was an accomplished musician; he helped found the Savannah Symphony and was an amateur composer. He was an auto enthusiast and racer and helped build what is now the Roebling Raceway in Bloomingdale.

Enter the beginnings of the Institute of Oceanography – the Roebling cattle business began to fade and Robert Roebling decided to deed his Skidaway Island property to the State of Georgia in and around the mid- 1960s. At this time the State was looking to establish an Ocean Science facility; in 1968 the state established the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography as a part of the University of Georgia. At first the Institute concentrated its focus on its “Front yard,” the Atlantic Ocean off the southeast coast of the US. In the 1980s the then current oceanographers at the Institute had a more global view and looked to such areas as Siberia, Brazil, New Guinea and the Black Sea.

As time went on the focus of oceanographic research turned away from the physical collection and analysis of specimens to the techniques of placing instruments in the ocean to collect data for analysis. A separate laboratory, part of the Institute, was set up on Ossabaw Island with the objective of closer observation of Georgia’s Barrier Islands and their interaction with their surroundings. Recent times have also brought the Institute a new ship, the RV Savannah, which now does most of its work at sea between Cape Hatteras and Cape Canaveral. The Institute, in 2013, became more closely integrated into the University of Georgia and has begun to focus more closely on education. It remains, however, a primary center of ocean research for the United States.
Below is a photo of George Sedberry and Bill Savage.