Zoologist appointed to advise National Ocean Council

FIU biology professor Philip Stoddard has been appointed by the White House to the Governance Coordinating Committee of the National Ocean Council.

He is one of just 18 state, local and tribal representatives in the country selected to recommend policies to the Cabinet-level National Ocean Council and facilitate collaboration and cooperation among different agencies and jurisdictions.

The National Ocean Council was created in 2010 by President Barack Obama to implement policies to protect, maintain and restore ocean, coastal and Great Lakes ecosystems and resources; enhance the sustainability of ocean and coastal economies; preserve maritime heritage and enhance the capacity to respond to climate change.

Philip Stoddard, FIU professor of biological sciences.

Philip Stoddard, FIU professor of biological sciences.

“It’s a huge honor,” said Stoddard, who also serves as the Mayor of South Miami. “I believe it’s important to govern, not in accordance with the loudest voices on issues affecting our environment, but in accordance to the best scientific knowledge. I feel it’s incumbent on me, as both a politician and scientist, to help bridge the divide. If I can help shape political thinking with evidence, that’s a good role for me.”

Stoddard is one of the few natural scientists in elected office. The incoming Governance Coordinating Committee will meet this month to discuss possible ocean policy issues and to provide recommendations to the National Ocean Council. For Stoddard, ensuring the health of estuaries is critical. Where freshwater meets saltwater, estuaries are some of the most biologically productive ecosystems in the planet, providing shelter and food to valuable marine life, protecting inlands from the force of storms, and serving as an outlet for floodwaters. They are also home to mangrove forests and sea grass beds, both of which absorb significant amounts of carbon dioxide and release oxygen into the atmosphere.

“Estuaries are the nurseries of the ocean,” Stoddard said. “If our efforts to protect land in the face of sea level rise inadvertently destroy the estuaries in the process, we will have far less marine life than we do today.”

A comparative zoologist, Stoddard has dedicated his career to understanding the evolution of animal communication systems. He studies electric fish, tiny cousins of the electric eel, because they communicate by generating electric signals and are ideal organisms for understanding evolution of the physiological links between ecology and mechanisms.