GoMRI Mourns the Passing of Dr. John Reynolds

Dr. John E. Reynolds. Photo curtesy of Mote Marine Laboratory

It is with deep sadness that we share the news that Dr. John Elliot Reynolds passed away on Saturday, December 23, 2017. One of Reynolds many roles was co-Principal Investigator with the Center for the Integrated Modeling and Analysis of Gulf Ecosystems (C-IMAGE) funded by the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) conducting marine life impact studies after the Deepwater Horizon incident.

GoMRI Research Board member William Hogarth said that Reynolds’ legacy will be honored at the 2018 Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and Ecosystem Science Conference stating that, “The GoMRI community was fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with John.  His commitment to conservation and seeking a balanced strategy to sustain our ecosystems was unmatched.  Although John’s GoMRI research lived on the fringe of the typical GoMRI research, we are extremely grateful for his unwavering enthusiasm and supportive energy.”

Reynolds, described as one of the most influential scientists at Mote Marine Laboratory, helped the Lab become a beacon of conservation-focused science, particularly through his leadership of Mote’s Manatee Research Program. Reynolds advised plans for manatees’ reintroduction to Guadeloupe and worked closely with Mote’s Environmental Laboratory for Forensics scientists on studies of vulnerable species including manatees, dugongs, bowhead and beluga whales, polar bears and sturgeon, often collaborating with and working to benefit subsistence communities that rely upon marine resources.

“There are so many lives that were deeply touched by John in his capacity as a professor, researcher and presidential appointee for leadership in marine mammal conservation,” shared Mote Marine Laboratory Senior Scientist and longtime research partner and friend of Reynolds, Dr. Dana Wetzel. Wetzel, also a co-Principal Investigator with the C-IMAGE group, continued, “John was truly dedicated to the conservation and protection of the environment and his legacy will live on in his comprehensive work and through his mentorship of others. The loss of John will be felt deeply and for a long time, by many across the world.”

Following the Deepwater Horizon incident, the C-IMAGE consortium established an oil exposure test facility at the Mote Aquaculture Park to understand how contamination pathways (water, sediment, food) affects adult fishes. Researchers there have been testing fish responses to chronic and acute exposures of dispersant and oil and evaluating mutagenicity and genotoxicity in contaminated water and sediment exposures.

“John’s partnership with the Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium oil-exposure trials was invaluable, but his emphasis towards conservation is what made our studies all the more impactful,” said University of South Florida fisheries biologist and marine ecologist Steven Murawski, Director of the C-IMAGE research consortium.

Richard Wallace, a colleague with the C-IMAGE group, offered these sentiments, “John was modest to a fault, eschewing the limelight, especially when he could shine a light on others’ efforts.” Wallace explained that Reynolds was the foremost authority on Florida manatees and worked on species and in ecosystems around the world, and particularly loved working in the Arctic. “Two years ago, John asked me to join him and our colleague Sherryl Gilbert at the University of South Florida in a project assessing the results of research conducted in the Gulf of Mexico since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Our goal is to produce, from the research, lessons that can improve conservation in the Gulf, specifically recommendations for strengthening the regulation of oil and gas development. Although it was John’s project, at his urging, I took the lead on the manuscript which is almost done, and which Sherryl and I will submit for publication in the next couple of weeks. I am so sad that John won’t see the fruit of this work, but hopefully its influence will honor his memory. I am forever in debt to this wonderful mentor, supporter, leader, and friend.”

Reynolds established an International Consortium for Marine Conservation in 2013, which helped to build and strengthen relationships among scientific and conservation partners around the world. He worked with the United Nations Environment Programme to develop and implement a Caribbean-wide Marine Mammal Action Plan. Three U.S. Presidents of different political parties appointed Reynolds to lead the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission, the federal agency with oversight for all research and management of marine mammals. The Society for Conservation Biology recognized the agency’s accomplishments with a distinguished service award.

His leadership roles included Professor of Marine Sciences and Biology and Chairman of the Natural Sciences Collegium at Eckerd College, where he helped to establish a multi-million dollar marine science center. He was Senior Scientist for Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida, where he served as Director of the International Consortium for Marine Conservation and Director of the Center for Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Research. He served as co-Chair of the IUCN Sirenian Specialist Group and President of the international Society for Marine Mammalogy.

His many honors included the Florida Wildlife Federation Award for Research Excellence; the Robert A. Staub Distinguished Teacher Award, Eckerd College; the John M. Bevan Teaching Excellence and Campus Leadership Award, Eckerd College; and the Alumni Award for Professional Achievement, McDaniel College, Westminster, MD.

Reynolds received a B.A. in Biology from Western Maryland (now McDaniel) College and a M.S. and Ph.D. in Biological Oceanography from the University of Miami, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. He published more than 300 books, book chapters, papers in peer-reviewed journals, and other publications.

The GoMRI science community extends sincere sympathy to Dr. Reynold’s family, friends, and colleagues.


The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative or GoMRI is a 10-year independent research program established to study the effect, and the potential associated impact, of hydrocarbon releases on the environment and public health, as well as to develop improved spill mitigation, oil detection, characterization and remediation technologies.  An independent and academic 20-member Research Board makes the funding and research direction decisions to ensure the intellectual quality, effectiveness and academic independence of the GoMRI research.  All research data, findings and publications will be made publicly available.  The program was established through a $500 million financial commitment from BP.  For more information, visit https://gulfresearchinitiative.org/.

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