GERS President’s Address 07 May 2012
Dear members of the Gulf Estuarine Research Society,
I am truly honored and humbled to have an opportunity to serve the society for the next few years. I hope our journey together will be a positive one for the society and for the gulf aquatic ecosystem we study. Unlike many other professions, our work as scientists, managers, and decision makers is never really done; most of us don’t punch a clock and perhaps sometimes to the dismay of our family and friends we take our work home (or bring them into the field or lab to do “just one quick thing”). This relationship to our work naturally extends to our study subjects and the greater ecosystem; aren’t we lucky that locations others visit for vacation are our places of business! This unique connection to subjects and systems of beauty and fascination may be the very reason we don’t mind too much that our work intermingles with our personal lives. I am proud of and remain challenged by adding the northern Gulf of Mexico to my personal list of reasons to work overtime.
As a transplant to the U.S. Gulf Coast, I have been fascinated by how often the natural patterns and responses of our coast’s physical, chemical, biological, political, and social system do not fit patterns defined in other coastal systems. The Gulf of Mexico coast also has a tumultuous history as among the most developed regions in the U.S. at the end of the 19th century, but repeated hurricane activity has been credited with curbing intensive urbanization and associated developments in technology and the economy that occurred in other regions. Today, much of the Gulf Coast economy depends on water dependent activities and tourism. Our coast is also unique in being comprised of land from three different countries in relatively close proximity on which human activities inland, at coastal margins and in the water have altered and continue to alter the GOM ecosystem. While urbanization may be less intense than in some other coastal systems, our relatively tight links between the water and the economy mean we are susceptible to the same environmental pressures as most coastal areas around the globe; rapid population growth in coastal zones, various forms of habitat and water quality degradation, variation in freshwater flow and sedimentation, invasive species introduction, episodic and sustained hypoxia, species loss, resource extraction (fisheries harvest and offshore drilling are two), climate change, sea level rise, and others. Hence, although our system is unique and perhaps relatively poorly understood, our scientific, environmental and resource management concerns are just as pressing and pervasive.
I find it equally interesting that the Gulf of Mexico Coast is sometimes given the humble moniker “Third Coast”, in deference to her larger Atlantic and Pacific sisters. Ironically this term is also applied to highly urbanized areas along the U.S. Great Lakes, which are a poor analog to the Gulf of Mexico system. This misnomer, however, may highlight real or perceived data gaps that can translate into a lack of recognition for and funding for study of the Gulf of Mexico system. While there is much yet to be discovered in and about the Gulf of Mexico, and many data gaps we will strive to fill, we no doubt also have documentation gaps and gaps in archiving long-term datasets. Some of these data and documentation gaps were brought to the forefront during the recent MC252 Deepwater Horizon Oil spill. Many groups worked quickly to build collaborations and document the depth and breadth of data and knowledge we know resides among the research institutions along our coast. As members of the gulf community and leaders in data collection, interpretation, and sharing, we have a great task and great responsibility before us; to not only expand and enhance our own research and data collections but also to foster cooperation and communication regionally, nationally, and globally on a daily basis and in the absence of a major motivating catastrophic event.
We know that the current research and funding climate demands a broad scale research vision, including enhanced data management and dissemination efforts. Archiving data sets with national depositories and improving our communication skills within and among institutions along our coast in the U.S. and elsewhere is going to be essential. I hope that one positive outcome from the DWHOS is greater attention to research needs in our region, including more and stronger links to our research colleagues around the world and greater opportunity for future collaborations and research efforts. I hope this time of change will also be a time for us to step forward and do what affiliate societies like GERS are designed to do; embrace and foster cooperation, exchange ideas, and build capacity as we move ahead.
What can you do?
- Share your thoughts and ideas with GERS leadership so that we can do our part to promote long-term research collaboration and foster communication within the Gulf of Mexico research community and beyond.
- Join us by joining GERS if you have not already done so.
- Attend the GERS biennial meeting at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab on Dauphin Island, Alabama 8-9 Nov 2012
- Join our international parent organization, the Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation (CERF) and attend the next biennial business meeting at CERF 2013 in San Diego, CA.
- Share ideas for programs, projects, and initiate discussions on our Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Gulf-Estuarine-Research-Society/243019765759149
- Visit www.gers.us for more information or to join GERS!
Ruth H. Carmichael, Ph.D.
GERS President 2011-2013