Scientists make waves in D.C. at Capitol Hill Oceans Week

–By JoAnn Adkins for FIU News
Marine scientists Mike Heithaus and James Fourqurean hope to turn scientific solutions into policy for the world’s oceans.
The marine predator expert and seagrass expert joined Capitol Hill Oceans Week, an annual event hosted by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation where marine scientists, conservationists, wildlife experts, climate scientists, fishing industry leaders and others convene to advocate for improved conservation and management. The FIU College of Arts, Sciences & Education hosted the panel on The State of Shark and Ray Conservation.
Heithaus joined Guy Stevens from the Manta Trust, Alejandra Goyenchea from Defenders of Wildlife and Jen Sawada from Pew Charitable Trusts on the panel to explore the most innovative initiatives to protect and restore populations of the oceans’ great predators. U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul from Texas opened the discussion which was moderated by Lee Crockett, director of the Shark Conservation Fund.
“Although many shark and ray conservation and management efforts are starting to gain momentum, the trends are still in the wrong direction for many species, Heithaus said. “We need substantial global action to ensure healthy shark and ray populations as well as healthy marine ecosystems.”

From left, Alejandra Goyenchea from Defenders of Wildlife, FIU’s Dean Mike Heithaus, Lee Crocket from the Shark Conservation Fund, and Guy Stevens from the Manta Trust discuss the status of shark and ray conservation during Capitol Hill Oceans Week.

Heithaus, who serves as the dean of the College of Arts, Sciences & Education, leverages a number of cutting-edge technologies, including drones and animal-borne cameras, to unravel the mysterious lives of hard-to-study marine creatures. His work in Shark Bay Australia is the most detailed study of the ecological role of sharks in the world. His lifetime of work, resulting in more than 150 research papers, has been used as an underpinning for important policy decisions in marine conservation. He is also a lead scientist on Global FinPrint, the largest ever attempt to survey the world’s reef shark and ray populations. The team, led by FIU marine scientist Demian Chapman, uses baited remote underwater video surveillance to monitor species abundance and distribution, hoping to fill critical data gaps and guide conservation strategies throughout the world. The project has received core funding from the foundation of Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen.
Heithaus and Fourqurean spent much of their time in D.C. promoting FIU’s innovative research programs in marine conservation, both during Capitol Hill Oceans Week events and in meetings with Congressional staffers. They also hosted potential collaborators and stakeholders at the FIU in DC office.

U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse from Rhode Island met with FIU’s Mike Heithaus and James Fourqurean during the 17th Annual Ocean Awards Gala at Capitol Hill Oceans Week in Washington D.C.

Fourqurean is the director of FIU’s Center for Coastal Oceans Research in the Institute of Water and Environment and was instrumental in saving Aquarius, the world’s only underwater research laboratory. Now a part of FIU, Fourqurean oversees the Medina Aquarius Program, which hosts scientific research missions, unique training opportunities and K-12 educational programming at Aquarius. Fourqurean has dedicated his career to saving the world’s seagrasses and is one of the lead scientists in the International Blue Carbon Working Group. Fourqurean also serves as a scientific representative to the International Blue Carbon Policy Working Group. These groups have been successful in bringing the importance of carbon cycling in coastal ecosystems for climate change mitigation into the spotlight and helped influence the inclusion of coastal ecosystems into national greenhouse gas inventories.
Following the public conference and exhibits, the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation will host Hill Day, providing participants with the opportunity to network with members of the ocean conservation community, administration officials and members of Congress and their staff. To learn more, visit marinesanctuary.org.
To learn how you can support research on critical marine life and ecosystems at FIU, visit NextHorizon.FIU.edu