A Tribute to a Friend and Colleague
Brian D. Keller, a sage scientist, patient mentor and committed conservationist, friend to many, and beloved husband to Fiona Wilmot, passed away on March 10, 2010. Brian touched countless lives with his science and his humanity over the course of an outstanding 40-year career in the Caribbean and Florida Keys.
Born in Boston, Massachusetts on April 26, 1948, Brian received a B.S. in Biochemistry from Michigan State University in 1970 and earned his M.A. and Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolution from Johns Hopkins University in 1973 and 1976, respectively. In 1985, he met Fiona while living and working in Jamaica, and the two married soon after.
Brian was trained as an evolutionary ecologist at John Hopkins University under the direction of Jeremy Jackson, where he researched the ecology and coexistence of sea urchins in Jamaican seagrass meadows in the 1970s. He did postdoctoral research on coral and alpheid shrimp with Nancy Knowlton in the early 1980s in Jamaica, Venezuela, and Panama. Brian was a Director and Research Fellow at Discovery Bay Marine Laboratory, Jamaica, from 1984-1986, and the Manager of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institutes Oil Spill Project from 1987-1994 in Panama.
The monumental Panamanian oil spill study, published in Science in 1989, was a major factor in the closure of the Florida coast to oil exploration or extraction. Very few studies exist detailing the impact of oil spills on tropical marine environments. This work was influential in its day, and will continue to be influential as we look to the Gulf of Mexico.
As the first Executive Director of the Ecological Society of America in Washington, DC, Brian was indeed first and foremost an ecologist with a deep understanding of basic theory that guided his thinking throughout his career. His wisdom as a conservationist and manager, and the respect and high regard of his peers, stemmed directly from that ecological sophistication as well as his exceptional maturity of judgment.
Brian joined the Nature Conservancy in the Florida Keys from 1997-2000 before accepting a position with NOAA in 2000 as Science Coordinator of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. During his time with the sanctuary program, he helped lay the foundation for management zones in the Florida Keys and led efforts to measure their effectiveness. He was the architect of the sanctuary’s research and monitoring plans and, in a soon-to-be-published report, he highlights a decade of success for sanctuary management of the Keys.
His wisdom impacted management decisions locally, regionally, and worldwide. His
influence can be seen in courses that are taught on MPA management and science, and the implementation of science-based programs especially in the Caribbean. He remained focused on the ecosystem and, in particular, what constituted a healthy ecosystem. He was wholly committed to developing strategies to restore those that were degraded both from natural and
man-made causes. Brian introduced many to the principles of “connectivity” long before it was a common concept.
The ocean science community lost a giant in the study, management and conservation of the marine ecosystems of the Florida Keys, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean. In his role as science coordinator with the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, Brian dedicated himself to finding innovative ways to understand marine ecology and to create new tools for conserving the ocean world he loved. Brian used these tools every day to promote science for management, and used his experience and knowledge to mentor others.
There was no greater advocate for sound science-based management than Brian. His knowledge of the relevant literature was unsurpassed and he knew what constituted good science and what did not. Most importantly, he knew how sound science could be applied to make the wisest and best-informed decisions for the conservation of the resources he so treasured.
Brian and his wife Fiona were committed to being as low-impact as possible and this was reflected in the house they designed, the car they drove, and the issues they supported. There was no greater role model for sustainable living than he.
Brian was a rare combination of warmth and intelligence. We will miss his accessibility, his intellectual generosity and his unflappable, calm demeanor. These traits, combined with his ability to listen (and hear), and his FM classical station-announcer voice, made him a powerful communicator. Accomplished scientist, ocean advocate, close friend, Brian’s memory will live on in the hearts and scientific work of his friends and colleagues in the Florida Keys and beyond.