The Chesapeake Bay Institute, a Johns Hopkins University facility that has earned a reputation for its marine and estuarine research, is being slated to close because of funding problems, university officials have announced.

The institute, founded in 1948 and one of four major research centers on the Chesapeake, is responsible for research that scientists have called vital to the bay, including studies on pollution and nutrient dispersion, intrusion of seawater and freshwater systems, plankton and ocean circulation systems.

The other research centers are the Smithsonian Institution, the College of William and Mary's Institute of Marine Science and the University of Maryland's Center for Environmental and Estuarine Studies.

The decision to close the prestigious institute has surprised environmentalists, who frequently look to the academic research facilities to buttress their arguments for more money to clean up and preserve the Chesapeake Bay. Some also criticized the move, saying that now with government officials as well as the public focusing on the ecological problems with the bay and the decline of life in the water, the time is ripe for increased research and not a retrenchment.

Jared Cohon, vice provost for research at Johns Hopkins, said the university will close the institute in December 1991.

Cohon said the university's funding for the institute ran from $200,000 to $300,000 a year. Cohon also said that the quality of the work at the facility had declined since it moved its main offices in 1979 from the university's home campus in Baltimore to Shady Side, Md.

"There had been good research relations and collaborations between {the institute} and other university staff, and I think that when they moved {the physical separation} contributed to the decline, but there were undoubtedly other factors" for problems at the facility, he said. "Because of the demands for discretionary funds we saw that {the institute} would decline in quality and none of us wanted that."

James Ebert, the director of the Chesapeake Bay Institute, declined to comment on the university's decision to close the facility.

The institute's disbanding will lay off 10 scientists and 25 support staff members. A second part of the Hopkins research facility at Shady Side that is called the Applied Ecology Group will become part of the University of Maryland. Three scientists from the Applied Ecology Group will be employed by the University of Maryland, while the rest of their staff, about 18 contractors, will either continue with the group at the University of Maryland, or work elsewhere.

According to Cohon, the Applied Ecology group has been responsible for work that is directly under contract to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and is more important to the state than the Chesapeake Bay Institute's research, which had been of a more basic nature on the needs of the bay.

Despite the institute's closing, the university will continue to be involved in environmental issues, Cohon said.

"Johns Hopkins has over $20 million in grants and contracts in environmental research, primarily in the engineering school and the school of public health. Johns Hopkins is in no way abandoning the environment," he said.

Nonetheless, the planned closing has disappointed people working on issues concerning restoring the health of the bay.

"I think it is a serious loss to the bay," said Anne Powers, vice president and general counsel of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. "They have distinguished themselves in the field. It's really a shame, especially now that we are clearly recognizing a need for research on these issues."

Powers said she was surprised by the move because the facility was located on donated land and Virginia and Maryland have helped finance it since its founding.

"It has not been a huge capital investment, it has brought in a lot of research money, and it has brought prestige to the university. It seems an odd choice," she said.

Joe Mikursky, a professor at the University of Maryland and president of the Chesapeake Research Consortium, the umbrella group that publicizes the work of the four research facilities, calls the decision "a disappointment. The Hopkins facility was one of the founding institutions of the consortium and it has always played an important role. It has an excellent staff with excellent intellectual capabilities. It is a world-class institution."