Annual Report

Fiscal Year 2020

What Do We Do?

photo of jsl5 front by John Reed

Photo by John Reed, M.Sc.

The mission of the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute Foundation is to support the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, a research institute within Florida Atlantic University.

There are three ways we fulfill our mission:

• Through the careful investment and stewardship of our assets. In addition to an Endowment corpus, we own several parcels of land that may be used in the future to support FAU Harbor Branch, either by possible lease, sale, development, or donation.

• Through strategic and impactful grant funding to FAU Harbor Branch.

• Through ambassadorship by being fully educated about FAU Harbor Branch and helping to inspire the public about the scientific research and educational activities of FAU Harbor Branch.



The Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution was founded by J. Seward Johnson, Sr., whose deep concern for environmental preservation spurred his involvement in ocean research with famed inventor Edwin A. Link.

The Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution was founded in 1971 to understand and conserve the oceans through exploration, research, and education for the benefit of humankind. Its global reputation for excellence in marine science and technology can be traced directly to the efforts of founder J. Seward Johnson, Sr. and his friend, famed inventor Edwin A. Link. Mr. Johnson’s deep concern for environmental preservation spurred his involvement in ocean research. Mr. Link’s passion for sea exploration produced innovations that opened the depths to some of the world’s most talented scientists. This intellectual curiosity extended to near-shore ecosystems and prompted the 1973 start of the Indian River Lagoon Coastal Zone Study, a complete environmental evaluation of the lagoon and nearby ocean habitats.


Summer Internship Program established.

In 1974, Harbor Branch established its summer internship program, which has provided hands-on marine science and technology experiences to over 600 young minds since. Harbor Branch’s internship program historically and to date has received significant support from The Link Foundation. 

Late 1990s/Early 2000s

Education Division created leading to Harbor Branch’s first significant educational collaboration with Florida Atlantic University: Semester by the Sea and the Ocean Science Lecture Series.

In 2001, Harbor Branch and Florida Atlantic University executed a memorandum of understanding to undertake joint educational initiatives. Harbor Branch became involved in the educational programs of FAU, especially in the Department of Biological Sciences. Collaborative development of Ph.D. programs in Chemistry and Integrated Biology involved Harbor Branch teaching courses in these programs. In addition, Harbor Branch researchers were appointed to FAU Affiliated Faculty positions.


Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute Foundation and FAU Harbor Branch.

Harbor Branch and Florida Atlantic University began discussing how to best capitalize on a growing research and education relationship in 2006. At the end of 2007, Link’s Canal and the institution that grew up around it became the northernmost of FAU’s six locations, FAU Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute. And the governing Board of the former Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution then became the governing board of the rechristened Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute Foundation.


The Harbor Branch Foundation today.

The Harbor Branch Foundation continues to the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, a research institute at Florida Atlantic University (FAU), and directs annual proceeds from four Florida specialty license plates to further support marine exploration, research, conservation, and education at FAU Harbor Branch and other Florida organizations.

Katha Kissman, the Foundation's President & CEO, retired after leading us since 2014. Her inspiration and leadership transformed us. Her prior experience and skill brought discipline and efficiency to our grant making processes and license plate oversight. Most importantly, the size of our endowment grew substantially and millions of dollars were granted annually to Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute's scientists, supporting their research. While we miss her wisdom and guidance, her friendship endures and we hope retirement is very enjoyable.

Investment and Stewardship


In addition to donations from generous Board members, the Endowment corpus is comprised of two donor-restricted funds. The J. Seward Johnson, Sr., Charitable Trust Endowment Fund is a donor restricted term endowment fund established in 1994. The primary objective of the Fund is to provide a long-term flow of income to the Foundation. The Fund shall terminate on June 30, 2020, at which time, the Fund shall convert to a fund held by the Foundation for its exclusive long-term use, benefit or purpose. The bulk of our current Endowment corpus resides in this Fund. The Seward Johnson Trust Fund for Oceanography is a donor-restricted fund. Its primary objective was to operate and maintain the Johnson-Sea-Link submersibles, with a secondary objective to support underwater oceanography and for other oceanographic purposes. Since the establishment of this second fund, the Johnson-Sea-Link submersibles have been retired and the secondary objective has been its focus.

As of December 30, 2020, our Endowment corpus totaled $86,025,903. Our investment objective is to earn the highest possible total return, through capital appreciation and income return, consistent with prudent levels of risk. To best steward our Endowment corpus, the Foundation uses the investment services of the Atlanta Consulting Group. Our spending policy reflects the fundamental objective of preserving and enhancing the resources of HBOI, both at present and in the future. The spending policy rate is to be no more than CPI plus five percent of the assets, calculated on a rolling three year average of the market value; actual disbursements are 100% discretionary. Our Endowment is a philanthropic legacy of founder J. Seward Johnson, Sr. It is estimated that 90% of his lifetime charitable giving was for his love of oceanography.


The Foundation operates using a lean, efficient, and productive internal staff utilizing key external support.

Allocation of Grants & Operations

Taken from Statement of Functional Expenses FY20 Financial Statements
July 1, 2019 – June 30, 2020

pie graph of allocation of grants and operations

Love Your Lagoon  Funding for FAU Harbor Branch

Fiscal Years 2012 - 2020

bar graph of love your lagoon funding for fau harbor branch

Year End Market Value of Investments

Fiscal Years 2007-2020
*FY2014 represented the start of active grantmaking by the Foundation

line graph for year end market value of investments
Love Your Lagoon

2020 Sponsors

Mangrove Sponsors
Mr. Joseph Z. Duke, III and Mrs. Jennifer Johnson Duke
Mr. Michael O’Reilly and Mrs. Marie O'Reilly

Seagrass Sponsors
Ms. Marjorie Raines and Mr. Harold Baker

Dolphin Sponsors
Mr. Michael Brown, Sr. and Mrs. Mimi Brown
Mr. William J. Stewart, Esq. and Mrs. Laurie Kaneb Stewart and
the Law Firm of Rossway Swan Tierney Barry Lacey & Oliver, P.L.
Mr. Michael Toner and Mrs. Carol Toner

Manatee Sponsors
Mr. Robert E. Campbell and Mrs. Joan M. Campbell
Florida Power & Light
Dr. Ed Lippisch and Mrs. Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch
Mr. Ed Michelson and The Atlanta Consulting Group
Wells Fargo
Red Steel Properties
Westmark Construction Company 

Seahorse Sponsors
Adams Ranch • Mrs. Boots Carter and The Lucille B. and John A. Carter Family Foundation Inc.
Cleveland Clinic Martin • Dale Sorensen Real Estate • Dr. Joseph Ferro and Mrs. Olivia Ferro
Flare Media • Mr. George Frazza and Mrs. Maria Frazza • Ms. Katha Kissman
Kmetz, Elwell, Graham & Associates, PLLC • Metz, Husband & Daughton, P.A.
The Mikita Foundation • Oceans, Reefs & Aquariums – ORA
Mr. John Papa and Mrs. Barbara Papa • Mr. James Seitz and Mrs. Bonnie Seitz
Mr. Ed Tapley and Ms. Isabelle Tapley • Vero Insurance

Foundation Giving

FY20 Grants Commitments and Payments

Multi-Year Grants Life Of Grant Paid Out to Date
(Final Year) New Faculty Hires $5,481,051

Single Year Grants Annual Award
Florida Center for Coastal and Human Health $850,000
Enhancement and Expansion of the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute's Indian River Lagoon Observatory Network of Environmental Sensors (IRLON), Phase I $500,000
Promoting Faculty Recruitment, Retention and Research Excellence $520,000
Marilyn C. Link Memorial Scholarship $5,000
HBSA Volunteer Award $1,250
2020 Indian River Lagoon Graduate Research Fellows $101,600
2020 Indian River Lagoon Symposium $8,968
Love Your Lagoon Net Proceeds Raised Since 2012 $739,786

New Faculty Hire Program

This seven-year grant commitment of $5,481,051 provided FAU Harbor Branch a unique and competitive opportunity to recruit 8 new faculty/principal investigators by offering each three-year salary support and a major start-up package. As noted: “Investment in the faculty will transform Harbor Branch and provide substantial opportunities for collaboration across all of FAU. New faculty will also substantially increase our ability to contribute to the goal of doubling the research portfolio of FAU.” The grant was made to expand the faculty of Harbor Branch in key areas related to these initiatives:

• The Indian River Lagoon Observatory
• Ocean exploration platforms for the 21st century
• Integrated multi-trophic level aquaculture
• Advanced underwater sensory and communication technologies
• Core laboratory facilities for integrative molecular bioscience

Promoting Faculty Recruitment, Retention and Research Excellence

The Foundation has continued to provide salary support since the initial FY15 Ensuring Faculty Excellence grant. This funding has enabled FAU Harbor Branch to attract, hire and retain top level faculty and researchers, and to seek increased funding from other sources. The Foundation provided another Promoting Faculty Recruitment, Retention and Research Excellence Grant of up to 20% Salary Support for eligible faculty in the amount of up to $520,000 in 2020.

Florida Center for Coastal and Human Health

Warming temperatures, sea level rise, changing precipitation patterns and so called “tropicalization” coupled to population growth are creating documented ecological shifts in Florida Coastal Ecosystems. A $650,000 FY19 grant was provided to seed the creation of the Florida Center for Coastal and Human Health, and in FY20 another grant of $850,000 was made to support the Center’s leadership in addressing the health of Florida coastal ecosystems and communities. The five Center objectives of FAU Harbor Branch personnel and partners have included:

1. Measurement/Observation/Models
2. Multi‐"Omics”
3. Trophic Transfer of Harmful Algal Bloom Toxins
4. Toxins and Toxicity: Assays
5. Outreach and Engagement

To become involved in or support the Center’s work, please contact Dr. James Sullivan, Executive Director, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at FAU.

Love Your Lagoon and The Indian River Lagoon Observatory

Since 2012, the Harbor Branch Foundation has hosted a signature event, Love Your Lagoon. With $739,786 raised to date, each event has raised funds and generated greater awareness of the critical issues facing the Indian River Lagoon by supporting FAU Harbor Branch’s ongoing Indian River Lagoon Observatory research and outreach efforts.

• 2020 Indian River Lagoon Symposium
The Harbor Branch Foundation's Annual Love Your Lagoon Gala Dinner event was originally inspired to raise funds to raise awareness by mounting an Indian River Lagoon Symposium following the 2011-2012 algal blooms crisis. The Symposium is the result of a multi-institutional, multi-agency effort to provide a forum for discussing Indian River Lagoon science and its application to management of the Lagoon. The intent is to facilitate better communication among these groups so that the gaps between research and its application can be narrowed. Open to scientists, decision makers, students, education and outreach professionals, and the interested public, it draws over 600 participants over two days. 
• 2020 Indian River Lagoon Graduate Research Fellows Program
$101,600 in proceeds from the 2020 event will fund the work of students involved in HBOI’s Indian River Lagoon Graduate Research Fellows program in 2020-2021. The competitive process will result in support for salary, tuition, travel to present research, and/or materials necessary for the research project. Fellows will ultimately present their research at the Indian River Lagoon Symposium as well as at the FAU Charles E. Schmidt College of Science Graduate Research Day.

Other Grants

Purchase of a 36 Passenger Pontoon Boat for HBOI Immersion Tours and Other Outreach Opportunities: $150,000

Preservation of Historical Johnson-Sea-Link Submersible Video Tapes and Data for Research, Conservation, and Education: $89,989

Establish a Harbor Branch History Display at the Ocean Discovery Visitors Center: $7,190

Marilyn C. Link Memorial Internship: $5,000

HBSA Volunteer Award: $1,250

Operational Support

In addition, to hosting a visit from The Jefferson Project and a reception for Dr. Margaret Leinen of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, in FY19, the Harbor Branch Foundation also provided a total of $1,623.92 in operational support for various administrative functions and activities at FAU Harbor Branch.


photo of aquaculture specialty license plate

New Species and Technology Development for a Land-Based IMTA System
Dr. Paul Wills


Comparative Genomics of Trachinotus Genus: Tools to Enhance Food Fish Farming of Florida Pompano
Dr. Paul Wills

Protect Florida Whales

photo of protect florida whales specialty license plate

HBOI's Florida Whales Stranding and Population Assessment Program
Steve Burton, M.Sc.


HBOI's Florida Whales Marine Mammal Pathology, Tissue Archives, and Database Program
Dr. Annie Page-Karjian

Protect Wild Dolphins

photo of protect wild dolphins specialty license plate

HBOI's Florida Dolphins Stranding and Population Assessment Program
Steve Burton, M.SC.


HBOI's Florida Dolphins Marine Mammal Pathology, Tissue Archives, and Database
Dr. Annie-Page-Karjian

Save Our Seas

photo of save our seas specialty license plate

The Indian River Lagoon Observatory (IRLO): Ecosystem Function of a Nationally Important Estuary in Transition
Dr. Dennis Hanisak


Improving methods of phytoplankton and harmful algal bloom monitoring in the Southern Indian River Lagoon
Dr. Malcolm McFarland


Understanding the production and regulation of the neurotoxin Saxitoxin in Pyrodinium bahamense isolated from IRL
Dr. Goujun Wang


Implementing metabolomics methodologies to rapidly assess specialized metabolites of Florida marine biodiversity
Dr. Amy Wright


Development of a novel method to determine oceanic particle composition
Dr. Mike Twardowski


Comparative Metagenomics of Florida Sponge Populations with Biosynthetic Potential
Dr. Goujun Wang


Differential Gene and Protein Expression on Triple Negative Breast Cancer Cells Treated with a Marine Natural Compound
Dr. Esther Guzman

Board of Directors

A nonprofit Board of Directors, collectively and individually, commits to act in the best interests of the organization in which it serves. In this case: the Harbor Branch Foundation and its mission to serve FAU Harbor Branch. Individuals representing local, regional, and national geographic areas and affiliations comprise our board of directors. Each board member is strategically recruited to best support the fulfillment of mission. The Foundation is intent on building a board composition complimented with a palate of differing skills, experience, and strengths to bring key support and diversity of perspective to our decision-making processes. Per our bylaws, we shall have no less than five (5) and no more than twenty-five (25) members serving three year terms, with the eligibility to be re-elected for a second term. We also have ex officio, designated, appointed, and non-voting Directors. We elect Directors on a staggered term basis for leadership continuity.

photo of Michael O'Reilly

Michael O’Reilly

2020 Chair

photo of michael toner

Michael Toner

2020 Vice Chair

photo of marjorie raines

Marjorie Raines

2020 Treasurer

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William J. Stewart, Esq.

2020 Secretary/Legal Counsel
Ex Officio

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Michael J. Brown, Sr.

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C. Amos Bussmann

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Robert Campbell

photo of joseph z duke the third

Joseph Z. Duke, III

Emeritus, Ex Officio

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Joseph Ferro, MD

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George Frazza

photo of john papa

John Papa

photo of jim seitz

James Seitz


photo of katha kissman

Barbra Kavanaugh

Interim Executive Director

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Cyndi Permenter

Office Manager and SLP Marketing

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Staci Barney Rosalia

Grants Coordinator

2020 Committees

Audit Committee

John Papa, Chair
Michael J. Brown, Sr.
Michael Toner

Finance Committee

Marjorie D. Raines, Chair
Michael O’Reilly
John Papa
Michael Toner

Governance Committee

William J. Stewart, Esq., Chair
George Frazza
Michael O’Reilly
Marjorie Raines
Michael Toner

Grants Committee

Michael Toner, Chair
Michael J. Brown, Sr.
Joseph Ferro, MD
Michael O’Reilly

Nominating Committee

Joseph Ferro, MD, Chair
Joseph Z. Duke, III
Michael O’Reilly
Marjorie D. Raines
William J. Stewart, Esq.

External Support

William J. Stewart, Esq.

Legal Counsel
Rossway, Swan, Tierney, Barry, Lacey, and Oliver

Ed Michelson

Managing Director & Founder
Atlanta Consulting Group

Andy Palmer
Allison Liby-Schoonover 

Metz, Husband & Daughton, P.A.

Brian Elwell
Jim McGuigan

External Accountant
Kmetz, Nuttall, Elwell, Graham CPAs


FY20 External Auditor

Diane Zukowsky
Ally Cutter

FLARE Media Agency

How You Can Support

There are four ways you can support the important work of the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute:

photo of love your lagoon invitation

Sponsor or attend our annual Love Your Lagoon Gala Dinner!

The Love Your Lagoon Gala Dinner, hosted by the Board of Directors of the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute Foundation, has raised funds and generated greater awareness of these critical issues for the past 6 years. Since our first event in 2012, over $739,786 has been raised to support FAU Harbor Branch’s ongoing Indian River Lagoon Observatory research and outreach efforts. Sponsorships help underwrite the event costs so that 100% of the net proceeds serve this purpose.

Traditionally, HBOIF has named an honoree at each of its previous events. Past Honorees have included the Florida environmental pioneer, Nathaniel Reed, in 2012; the late, great land and lagoon protector, Alto “Bud” Adams, Jr. in 2013; Vero’s First Lady, Alma Lee Loy, in 2014; lagoon advocate, Florida Oceanographic Society’s Mark Perry, in 2015; the Smithsonian’s early lagoon champion Dr. Mary Rice, in 2016; the woman who coined the name “Indian River Lagoon” as well as so much more, Diane Barile, in 2017; in 2018, the twenty-six HBOI Principal Investigators proudly funded by HBOIF: Matt Ajemian, PhD; Steve Burton, MS; Laurent Cherubin, PhD; Fraser Dalgliesh, PhD; Nick Dickens, PhD; Esther Guzman, PhD; Dennis Hanisak, PhD; Mingshun Jiang, PhD; Brian Lapointe, PhD; Susan Laramore, PhD; Jim Masterson, PhD; Marilyn Mazzoil; Peter McCarthy, PhD; Greg O’Corry-Crowe, PhD; Bing Ouyang, PhD; Annie Page-Karjian, PhD; Shirley Pomponi, PhD; John Reed, PhD; Marty Riche, PhD; Adam Schaefer, MPH; James Sullivan, PhD; Michael Twardowski, PhD; Joshua Voss, PhD; Anni Vuorenkoski Dalgliesh, PhD; Guojun Wang, PhD; Paul Wills, PhD; Amy Wright, PhD.; in 2019, former Florida Senate President Joe Negron, and in 2020, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

For sponsorship ticket information, contact Cyndi Permenter,
at or 772-466-9876, ext. 300.

Purchase a Harbor Branch Specialty License Plate!

photo of aquaculture specialty license plate

Did you know that half of the seafood we eat comes from aquaculture, also known as fish farming? Fish, clams, shrimp and plants are items grown for food and for restocking overfished areas. The Aquaculture license plate, designed by marine wildlife artist and conservationist Guy Harvey, supports the research that Harbor Branch scientists do to advance the industry, like testing land-based culture methods that reuse water and limit waste while growing healthy and safe seafood.

($25 plus registration fees)

photo of protect florida whales specialty license plate

Several whale species can be found in Florida waters, including the most endangered of all great whales: the North Atlantic right whale. Designed by marine life artist Wyland, the Protect Florida Whales plate supports protection of these endangered species through public education and conservation. Plate proceeds also fund Harbor Branch’s 24/7 emergency response for whales that become stranded.

($25 plus registration fees)

photo of protect wild dolphins specialty license plate

The Protect Wild Dolphins plate, designed by marine artist Steve Diossy, enables 24/7 emergency response for dolphins that become stranded or entangled in fishing gear or other items foreign to the oceans or estuary ecosystems. Harbor Branch’s marine mammal teams also conduct a variety of studies to help understand dolphin health, life history, and the environment where they live.

($20 plus registration fees)

photo of save our seas specialty license plate

The Guy Harvey-designed Save Our Seas license plate funds Harbor Branch’s research on Florida’s waters and coral reefs. Harbor Branch scientists investigate the health of coastal waterways by utilizing a network of automated water quality measurement stations that allow researchers and the public to track conditions in popular boating and swimming spots.

($25 plus registration fees)

An annual donation to one of Harbor Branch’s special funds at the
Florida Atlantic University Foundation! 

Private gifts are essential for the continued growth and development of Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute.

Ensure the legacy of Harbor Branch by making a planned gift!

Supporting the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute Foundation through a planned gift ensures that there will always be an income stream for operations and special projects and initiatives for Harbor Branch. Gifts of cash, stocks and bonds, retirement assets, real estate, and/or insurance policies are all examples of planned giving through estate planning. For more information, contact Cyndi Permenter at or 772-466-9876, ext. 300.