On Sept. 26, the Apalachicola Times wrote an article where Noah Lockley, chairman of the Franklin County Commission, criticized FSU for not including watermen, or African Americans on the Apalachicola Bay System Initiative (ABSI). (See Times. Sept. 26 “Lockley critical of new FSU advisory board”) I learned that I was in good company, because I too was rejected from serving on FSU’s board of advisors.
I have been gravely concerned about the health of Apalachicola Bay and the decline of the oyster fishery, and supported the Triumph Gulf Coast decisions to grants the FSU marine lab $8 million to work on oyster aquaculture and the Apalachicola Bay. So several months ago I called Robert M. Jones, the director of the FCRC Consensus Center at FSU (FCRC) and expressed my desire to become a member of either the scientific or a stakeholder citizen committee overseeing the ABSI projects which was part of the criteria for their grant. Our state representative Jason Shoaf urged me to apply for both positions.
After graduating Leon High School, I started Gulf Specimen Marine Lab in 1961, by collecting marine specimens from the back of a shrimp boat working in Apalachicola Bay. Over the past 40 years I collected large quantiles of marine invertebrate’s fish, and algae for the National Cancer Institute, and helped develop the drug Bryostatin, which has been effective in treating cancer, and has shown promise as an anti-Alzheimer’s drug. I presented our accomplishments, working with the Howard Hughes Medical institute chartering local shrimp boats to drag for electric rays off St. George Island that were being used to study neurotransmitters, and might one day lead to a better understanding of brain degenerating diseases.
Unlike the FSU Marine Lab, who has done little to help the economy of Franklin County, we helped the beleaguered commercial fishing industry by developing markets for rock shrimp and bulldozer lobsters and cannonball jellyfish which brought in millions of dollars into the local economy over the years.
I further explained to Jeff Blair on the FCRC, that my late wife Anne and I were experienced in riverine ecology, having published two articles in National Geographic: “The Suwannee. Our Wild and Scenic Rivers” in July 1977, and “Trouble in Bayou Country, Louisiana’s Atchafalaya,” in Sept. 1979. We assisted the Trust for Public Lands in acquiring the Tate’s Hell Swamp to protect East Bay, which drains into Apalachicola Bay. Our book, “Shrimp: The Endless Quest for Pink Gold,” has a chapter on the role of the riverine systems in the shrimp’s life history. We also developed a program of growing oysters on trees, and discussed the ongoing research we conducted at our Living Dock in Panacea.
A month later Bob Jones, the director told me that even though their organization recommended me for the positon, we did not make the cut. Dr. Felicia Coleman, director of the FSU Marine Lab, Sandra Brooke and Gary Ostrander, who are running the $8 million grant from Triumph Gulf Coast, made the decision to exclude me.
It’s possible that I was rejected because I criticized Triumph for their inconsistencies, shoddy economic analysis and favoritism in deciding who gets the billions of Deep Water Horizon Oil Spill. I petitioned the governor and Florida Legislature urging them to dissolve and replace the Triumph Board for failing to help the individuals, businesses and nonprofit organizations impacted by the oil and damaged by Hurricane Michael.
But it’s equally possible that I was rejected because of academic snobbery and arrogance since I only have a high school education, and no college degree. But I do not understand why the ABSI Committee has excluded, or failed to contact prominent scientists like Dr. Robert J. Livingston, who pioneered research on the bay system since the ‘70s, and together with his 19 graduate students, published over 100 scientific papers on the subject. His book, “The Ecology of the Apalachicola Bay System: An Estuarine Profile” published by NOAA is the definitive work on the bay. He was never contacted nor asked to be involved.
Dr. Sean McGlynn, who now runs McGlynn’s Labs, was one of his graduate students and did all the water quality testing for him back in the ‘70s. He has maintained a strong interest in the bay, and organized several of the of the Florida Lake Management Society’s symposiums on the Apalachicola Bay watershed. Sean contacted Felicia Coleman, left an in-depth message offering to help, but his call was never returned. I don’t know whether they contacted researchers at FAMU, who spent decades studying the heavy metal concentrations in oysters in Apalachicola Bay, but they’re not on the board.
I plan to attend their meeting on Dec. 18 at the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve and advise them that I am still ready to serve. I hope others will attend and urge the ABSI Board to expand its numbers to include working watermen, and individuals who might have different opinions on how to solve the problems of Apalachicola Bay. I will also suggest they pay them because the professors are drawing hefty salaries from the Triumph Grant and should share the wealth.
Gulf Specimen Marine Laboratories, Inc.