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George H. Burgess

George Burgess

As the Florida Program for Sharks Director at the Florida Museum of Natural History, George Burgess has been involved in shark research and conservation for over 40 years. The Florida Program for Shark Research is one of four programs comprising the National Shark Research Consortium. The objectives of this consortium are to increase the scientific knowledge of sharks and to develop public outreach and conservation initiatives. The Florida Program for Sharks also includes the International Sawfish Encounter Database and the International Shark Attack File and hosts the distinguished website focusing on shark research, fishery management and conservation.

The Florida Program for Sharks collection of nearly 220,000 shark specimens is contained in bottles that range in size from very small pill-sized bottles to large tanks. This extensive collection is one of the top 10 in North America and is located in the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida. With the steady decline in shark populations these are an immensely important record of the many shark species.

The International Shark Attack File is a digital and paper collection of records housed at the Florida Museum of Natural History. The records include thousands of files of medical records, victim interviews and photographs of shark-related wounds. The File was started in 1958 with Navy funding and moved from several locations until ending up in Gainesville in 1988. It was originally created in an attempt to develop a shark repellent for the Navy. George Burgess along with shark biologist from around the world use these records for their research studies. It’s significant to note that the collection has helped shatter the myths about how often bites occur and their severity, and lead to better medical treatment for bite victims.

According to Florida Today, “Burgess’ fascination with the ocean’s apex predators has continued for the four decades that he has studied sharks professionally. ‘No matter how much research is done, he said, there is always more to learn.’

Sharks are about 400 million years old and have been ‘fine-tuning an evolutionary plan that has helped them survive that long, and developed them into fine predators,’ he said. ‘That’s largely built around their senses. They’re basically swimming sensory machines.’

As a kid, Burgess would linger over undersea pictures of sharks in Jacques Cousteau’s 1953 book “The Silent World.” He was fascinated by the ocean’s most “charismatic” predator. But he was scared of the water, because he had asthma and feared he could not breathe. His parents bought him a snorkel and mask, which opened up his world.
He began collecting specimens, pickling them in formaldehyde.

“I had jars in my bedroom, much to the chagrin of my mother,’ Burgess said. ‘You couldn’t throw away a mayonnaise jar in my house. That was a specimen jar.’

Burgess spent decades aboard boats for field work to study and tag sharks and rays and sawfish.” He has worked for more than 40 years to further the study of sharks, debunk the myth that they are man-eating monsters and promote conservation of these important apex predators.

Research Interests

Life history, ecology, systematics, fishery management and conservation of elasmobranchs (sharks, skates and rays); shark attack; systematics and biogeography of fishes; management and conservation of aquatic ecosystems and their faunas and floras, especially the marine environment.

Ongoing Fieldwork

  • Survey of the marine ichthyofauna of southwestern Florida, particularly the Florida Keys and Straits of Florida
  • Movements of reef-dwelling elasmobranchs through reef passages in Belize
  • Life history of western Atlantic elasmobranchs
  • Management of western Atlantic elasmobranch populations
  • Systematics of squaloid sharks
  • Conservation of elasmobranchs internationally
  • Maintenance, growth and analyses of the International Shark Attack File

 

Outreach Projects

  • Project Shark Awareness, a program aimed at teaching educators about elasmobranch life history/ecology and the fishery management/conservation needs of the group, so that they can pass on the messages to their students
  • Development and maintenance of a world-class web site focusing on the biology, management and conservation of fishes and elasmobranchs
  • Work with IUCN/SSC Shark Specialist Group (as Vice Chair), promoting sustainable fisheries and conservation of the world’s elasmobranchs

 

Featured in Science Stories:


Louie Psihoyos

Louie Psihoyos, Executive Director of OPS (Oceanic Preservation Society), is recognized as one of the top photographers in the world. He was hired directly out of college to shoot for National Geographic and created images for the yellow-bordered magazine for 18 years. His ability to bring humanity and wit to complicated science stories carries over to his filmmaking.

An ardent diver and dive photographer, he feels compelled to show the world the decline of our planet’s crucial resource, the oceans. Psihoyos’s life mission is to elevate the awareness and engagement of the global community around the plight of endangered species and our oceans at large by using cutting edge media that ignites global movements.

OPS, the non-profit he founded in 2005, uses film, photography, collaboration, and story-telling to inspire the global community to take action around key environmental issues that threaten endangered species and our oceans at large. Psihoyos’s first documentary film, The Cove, won the 2009 Academy Award for Best Documentary and over 75 other awards around the world. The film garnered immense critical praise and has been seen by millions of viewers worldwide. Additionally, this film has led to at least a 50% decline in dolphin slaughters in Taiji, Japan – the area where his lens was focused for this film project. A worldwide movement to end this brutal tradition was ignited by the film The Cove.

His second film, Racing Extinction, follows a team of artists and activists as they expose the hidden world of extinction with never-before-seen images that will change the way we see the world. The film premiered on Discovery in 220 countries and territories over the course of one day, was seen by over 36 million viewers and sparked the #StartWith1Thing movement.

Always looking for new, innovative ways to bring a spotlight to the issues, Psihoyos was also the creative mind, along with Obscura Digital, behind the unprecedented large-scale building projections onto the United Nations Headquarters and Empire State Building – documented in Racing Extinction. The projections themselves have become a traveling phenomenon, most recently being produced on St. Peter’s Basilica at The Vatican which reached over 147 million people via traditional media, along with 4.2 billion social media impressions. Psihoyos is currently in production on a feature documentary about plant-based super athletes.
This film is due to be released in 2017.

Reference. It is my sincere pleasure to nominate Louie Psihoyos for the Eleanor Fletcher Award as he is a man who personifies artistry, activism, and compassion. Louie has truly dedicated his life to bringing a voice to the voiceless. There is not doubt that Louie has turned his camera lens towards those that need to be in the spotlight the most – those that are unable to speak for themselves, protect themselves, or advocate for themselves. Threatened and critically endangered species are disappearing at one hundred to a thousand times faster than ever previously recorded; Psihoyos is a man is on a mission to shine a light on this issue and strives to ensure that future generations will be able to witness the myriad of species that are all part of a fragile ecosystem we must better protect.

For decades, Louie has been diving the world oceans documenting the beauty and the atrocities that are occurring with dolphins in Taiji, Japan, or the blue whales, mantas, and sharks in corners of the world like Indonesia. And this artist always has one clear intention: use the universal power of film, photography, and cutting edge media to generate attention that will help to protect endangered and threatened species. His work around conservation issues is far from over; Louie is dedicated to making more films, taking more captivating images, and pressing on with global initiatives that serve as a wake-up call for all of humanity. He seeks to create tipping points that galvanize the public around addressing key environmental initiatives before it’s too late.

In addition to film and photography, Louie is a visionary artist and activist that thinks outside of the box. His latest mission to project images of endangered species on iconic buildings around the world is another example of how he is willing to make bold statements in order to bring attention to the plight of endangered wildlife. These projection events require years of negotiating around everything from permits to associated costs, but Louie never gives up on advocating for wildlife; he always presses on as his sense of urgency and passion for conservation is part of every cell in his body. And Psihoyos walks the walks, living as a vegan and working full-time for his non-profit, OPS, and on film projects that address these time sensitive issues around conservation.

I believe he’s quite worthy of being honored with the Eleanor Fletcher Award based on his accomplishments to date, and I’m confident he will continue his important work for many years to come that inspires literally millions of people around the world.


Wolcott Henry

Wolcott Henry is an accomplished underwater photographer with a dedication to marine conservation. As president and chair of the Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation and The Henry Foundation, he has aligned himself professionally with foundations which not only share in his commitment to conservation, but are dedicated to support on the ground efforts.

Wolcott has a long history of dedicating his time and expertise in the non-profit field through board service. He served on the board of directors of Earth Echo International, World Wildlife Fund – Philippines, and The Ocean Foundation, which he was a founding chair. His prior board service includes the International League of Conservation Photographers, World Wildlife Fund – US, FotoWeek DC, the Divers Alert Network (DAN), and the Ocean Conservancy. Wolcott also serves on the advisory boards for Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF), national council of World Wildlife Fund – US, the Smithsonian Ocean Science Initiative, and the Frost Museum of Science.

Wolcott has worked passionately throughout his career to promote conservation photography – a concept of using underwater imagery to shed light on the unique challenges facing the natural world. He acknowledged the importance of engaging the public in marine conservation issues with an understanding that due to geographical and economical limitations, only a limited portion of the population has the ability to experience life underwater. Wolcott had a desire to bring the underwater world, as he knew it, to everyone. He worked to help establish the marine photo bank, a photo sharing site dedicated to advancing ocean conservation through imagery. The site provides high quality images, at no cost, to the non-profit community for use in public outreach and educational projects.

Wolcott continued his focus to spread conservation education through underwater imagery and collaborated with Dr. Sylvia Earle on two children’s books. The first, Hello Fish and Sea Critters, published by the National Geographic Society, uses dynamic photographic images to engage children in life underwater.  The second, a large format book, titled Wild Ocean, that explores the United States National Marine Sanctuary System.

Wolcott’s commitment to offer support to marine conservation efforts has been evident throughout this career. He is a member of the Consultative Group on Biodiversity – a group of foundations working on environmental issues, where he helped to develop the Marine Working Group to focus specifically on issues impacting oceanic environments.

In 2011, Wolcott was recognized for his many contributions to ocean awareness and conservation when he received the Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Marine Sanctuaries Foundation.

Despite his long list of accomplishments, Wolcott has remained down to earth, humble, and committed to grass roots conservation efforts. His unique approach to marine conservation is both admirable and inspiring. He exemplifies all that the Eleanor Fletcher Lifetime Achievement Award represents.

 

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