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Institute for Ocean Conservation Science Receives Grant from Phil Zwickler Charitable and Memorial Foundation Trust

First-ever environmental grant from the foundation will support analysis of effects of oil spill on menhaden fishery in the Gulf of Mexico
November 12, 2010

Tess Geers, a second-year candidate for a Master of Marine Science at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS) at Stony Brook University, has been awarded a grant from the Phil Zwickler Charitable and Memorial Foundation Trust ( to support her thesis work in the Gulf of Mexico. The $1,000 grant is the first award ever given by the foundation for an environmental project, as well as the first award from the foundation to the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science through which Ms. Geers will conduct her research.

“Our foundation helps empower people and groups who advance causes and issues that were important to Phil. He was especially devoted to protecting the environment, and I believe that he would have been outraged and saddened by the recent oil spill," said Caren Levine, co-trustee of the PZ Foundation and sister of Phil Zwickler. “Ms. Geers' research will provide us valuable information regarding the future of the Gulf coast ecosystem, and the foundation is extremely proud to develop this relationship with SoMAS and the Institute.”

Ms. Geers will apply the grant to support her analysis of the management of the menhaden fishery in the Gulf of Mexico and the impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Menhaden play an important role in the Gulf Coast ecosystem because they are the main prey of many top predators including seabirds, marine mammals, sharks, and other large fish. Furthermore, menhaden keep the ecosystem healthy by filtering microscopic plants from the water, thus preventing harmful algal blooms.

“While many people are not familiar with menhaden, it has been called ‘the most important fish in the sea’ because of the vital role it plays in marine ecosystems,” said Ms. Geers. “This grant will support my research by allowing me to travel to the Gulf Coast to study menhaden in their natural environment and observe firsthand the impact that the recent oil spill has had on this valuable ecosystem.”

With coursework focused on both international environmental policy and marine ecology, Ms. Geers received her undergraduate degree at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. After becoming acquainted with the work of Dr. Ellen Pikitch, Executive Director of the Institute, who is an internationally recognized fisheries management expert, Ms. Geers decided to pursue her master’s degree at SoMAS where the Institute is located.

“We are both excited and appreciative that the foundation has acknowledged the importance of Tess Geers’ thesis work focused on the menhaden fishery in the Gulf of Mexico,” said Dr. Pikitch. “Her assessment of how the recent oil spill and other factors are affecting these fish will be an important contribution to the knowledge of these vitally important foundation fish upon which the entire food web in the Gulf of Mexico depends.”

Traditionally, menhaden have been managed without taking into account the needs of predators that rely on these fish, many of which are commercially and recreationally important species in the Gulf of Mexico. Ms. Geers’ research will be done within the context of the recent oil spill, and will use ecosystem models to evaluate a number of different scenarios and analyze how they will play out over time, ultimately providing recommendations for ecosystem-based management of the menhaden fishery.

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