Marine ecologist takes helm of national federation

FIU marine ecologist James Fourqurean has been elected president of the Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation.

Fourqurean will lead the organization, which is comprised of people who study and manage estuaries, with a plan to educate public officials about coastal science and resilience in a changing climate.

“Distrust of scientists seems to be at an all-time high when scientific understanding is really important to help us face the coming challenges of a changing environment,” said Fourqurean, director of FIU’s Marine Education and Research Initiative. “I hope to ease the dialog between elected officials and scientists so we can share ideas to ensure a better future.”

Fourqurean’s agenda has a three-pronged approach. He plans to promote research in estuarine and coastal ecosystems. He plans to support education of scientists, decision-makers and the public. And he hopes to facilitate communication among all of these groups.

James Fourqurean spoke about the importance of and threats to Biscayne Bay at the 2017 Biscayne Bay Marine Health Inaugural Summit.

Coasts are made up of different ecosystems from beaches and coral reefs to estuaries, mangroves and seagrasses. Estuaries, places where rivers meet the sea, are home to diverse plants and animals. They filter pollutants in the water, including herbicides, metals, nutrients, pesticides and sediments. They also act as buffers, protecting coastal communities from flood and storm damage. But the delicate ecosystems are threatened by pollution, urbanization and climate change.

Fourqurean has dedicated his career to studying seagrasses, conducting research in Florida Bay, Australia, Bahamas, Indonesia, Mexico, the Mediterranean and the United Arab Emirates. Seagrasses form extensive meadows that purify water, protect against coastal erosion, and are home to commercially and recreationally important fish. They also act as carbon sinks capable of storing as much carbon dioxide as forests. The biological sciences professor has made presentations worldwide and testified before the European Union championing Blue Carbon, a global initiative that allows regulated sources to buy credits for greenhouse emissions, helping restore and preserve seagrasses for mitigation.

As an undergraduate in the University of Virginia, Fourqurean attended his first scientific meeting with the Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation. He walked away inspired by scientists at different phases in their careers who encouraged him to pursue a career in marine and seagrass ecology.

“I have rarely missed a meeting since, and I have watched my role models in the field take their turns in the leadership of the organization,” Fourqurean said. “I am tremendously honored to lead the federation and to follow in the footsteps of the scientists I have always admired.”

Fourqurean has served as the principal investigator of more than $25 million in research grants and contracts at FIU. He has published more than 120 papers in peer-reviewed journals. The Marine Education and Research Initiative, housed in FIU’s Institute of Water and Environment, is dedicated to research, higher education, K-12 educational outreach, and community engagement in the Florida Keys. It features the Medina Aquarius Program which houses Aquarius, the world’s only underwater research laboratory.

The Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation is an organization of people who study and manage estuaries and the effects of human activities on these fragile environments. They serve as a source of advice by responding to requests for information from legislative and management organizations. It is open to researchers, public sector managers, teachers, consultants and students.