There have always been two key sides to Eckerd's relationship with its local environment. There has been an early commitment to treat the unique waterfront campus environment as a kind of living, breathing classroom, where education about the local plant, animal and marine life merges with a mission to preserve it. Perhaps the most significant early expression of this commitment was the definition of Core 202: Environmental Studies by Prof. Robert Hatala in 1971.

Shortly thereafter, in June of 1972, the St. Petersburg Evening Independent featured the results of the first Core 202 research in a special issue entitled, "Making peace with our environment." The reports dealt with local environmental issues such as sewage regulation, urban planning, and population density. The approaches taken in studying and reporting on these issues took from multiple disciplines, a way of thinking about environmental issues mandated in the course syllabus itself.

The College's commitment to the environment continued through the following decades with notable highlights such as the presence of Prof. Bill Halstead and Eckerd students valiantly attempting to resuscitate tarpon during the annual Boca Grande Club Tarpon Tournament, or the work of Prof. Bill Sayre in fighting the erosion of local beaches, and the various greening events that took place on campus throughout the years. These efforts, as well as the approach outlined in the Environmental Studies concentration saw further fulfillment in the creation of the Environmental Studies Major in 1994, which was the result of collaboration between faculty from a variety of disciplines over a five-year period. Environmental studies is now one of the top three most popular majors at Eckerd.

While the campus environment itself provided a kind of living lab for study, the physical location of the campus opened up the opportunity for the College to become a local steward of marine safety in the area. The result of this was, of course, the founding of Eckerd College Search and Rescue in 1971. Originally founded to provide safety services for the college's watersports activities, EC-SAR found itself in the national spotlight when it was called to respond to the Skyway Bridge disaster in 1980. It is now one of the most respected search and rescue organizations on the west coast of Florida.

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