Marine scientist to explore Arctic shorelines, habitats

FIU Marine scientist Kevin Boswell is leading an effort to better understand the Arctic costal ecosystems and their contribution to Arctic productivity.

The project, Arctic coastal ecosystems: Evaluating the functional role and connectivity of lagoon and nearshore habitats, will specifically look at the lagoons and barrier islands on the Arctic shoreline. Because their shallow nature defies traditional survey methods, Boswell, an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, and a team of  researchers will use multi-faceted field- and lab-based surveys to examine them. Understanding nearshore habitats is key in sound fisheries development and management, transportation planning, marine mammal conservation, and oil development and oil spill response.

Kevin Boswell (left) works up a seine haul of nearshore arctic habitats off the Beaufort Sea in the Arctic Ocean.

The project, funded by the North Pacific Research Board, will start in 2013.

“Traditional research has overlooked the Arctic nearshore habitats because of their remoteness and inaccessibility, despite their importance for fisheries and as foraging habitat for protected mammals and seabirds,” Boswell said. “This project will not only provide better information on their contribution to Arctic productivity but promote awareness of their vulnerabilities to climate change and other changes caused by human activity.”

A native of Galveston, Texas, Boswell grew up in a coastal environment. During his undergraduate years at Texas A&M University, he served as an intern with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department. Boswell earned his bachelor’s degree in marine fisheries in 1998.

“I’ve always been intrinsically linked to coastal ecosystems,” Boswell said. “I grew up fishing, playing and working in the water. I never had a particular moment that inspired me to pursue a career in marine ecology. I just always felt drawn to the ocean and knew that’s what I wanted to do.”

Boswell’s journey to becoming a professor is not a traditional one. After graduating, he moved to St. Augustine, Fla. to work as fish farmer. Realizing acquaculture was not right for him, he then moved to California with his wife to work and surf. Boswell spent two years as a manager in a neuroscience lab at the University of California-Irvine. In 2000, he was an observer for the National Marine Fisheries Service, observing tuna and swordfish aboard fishing vessels in the Hawaii and the pacific.

Boswell decided to pursue graduate studies and earned a Ph.D. in oceanography and coastal sciences from Louisiana State University in 2006. For the next five years, he served as a postdoctoral research associate and assistant professor at the university.

Boswell came to FIU in 2011 to help the marine sciences program develop a focus on fisheries management, as a complement to the their strong emphasis in ecology. Despite his early years of working and playing in the Gulf of Mexico and Pacific Ocean, this is the first time he is being exposed to research in the tropics.

“Most of my research to date has taken place in Alaska, Iceland and Norway. I look forward to spending time in water you can actually see through,” Boswell said. “I’m so blessed to live in a place that’s as dynamic like this. South Florida’s ecological diversity make my recreational and research opportunities limitless. I hope to eventually transition into doing research in the tropics.”

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