Top LIS Scientists Retire from the Science and Technical Advisory Committee

Two Long Island Sound scientists with international reputations in their fields have retired from the Long Island Sound Study committee they helped to reestablish back in 2002.

Charles “Charlie” Yarish and Johan “Joop” Varekamp announced their retirements in emails sent to members of the Science and Technical Advisory Committee in February.

Charlie Yarish, a recently retired ecoology and marine science professor and former scientist on the Long Island Sound Study committee, holds rockweed at a site in Connecticut.
Charlie Yarish, professor emeritus at the University of Connecticut, holding rockweed in Cove Island Park, Stamford. Credit: Robert Burg

“Having participated in the LISS ever since its inception, and being the Connecticut Co-Chair of the STAC for many years, I think it is about time to leave it to others in CT to become active participants on the STAC,” said Yarish, a professor emeritus at the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Marine Sciences at University of Connecticut who had served as co-chair from 2002-2012. “I have seen some great accomplishments of the LISS, which is because of the dedicated leadership of so many people.” 

“For me the time is also here (like Charlie Yarish) to retire formally from the STAC,” said Varekamp, who also will be retiring as a professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Wesleyan University this summer. In his email to the STAC, Varekamp –whose research in Long Island Sound has focused on understanding the environmental history of Long Island Sound through the use of sediment core records—noted the recent paper by UCONN scientists showing the relationship between a successful management program to reduce nutrient pollution and improved water quality in the Sound. “It is great to see that much of the work of the last 30 years is yielding results and a better understanding of the functioning of LIS,” he said.

Ellen Thomas, Harold T. Stearns, a grad student, and recently retired earth and environmental professor and former scientist on the Long Island Sound Study committee Joop Varekamp collect water samples at a site.
Ellen Thomas, Harold T. Stearns Professor of Integrative Sciences at Wesleyan University; Joop Varekamp, Harold T. Stearns Professor of Earth Science at Wesleyan; and their grad student out on the water collecting samples to look at long term effects of low oxygen levels on Sound-floor organisms. Varekamp is also a vice-chair of Save the Sound’s Board of Directors. Credit: Save the Sound.

The STAC was originally founded as the Technical Advisory Committee in 1986 to help direct monitoring and research to characterize water quality issues in Long Island Sound. In 1992, it was reformed into technical work groups to develop management recommendations for the Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP). It stopped functioning until 2002, when it was reestablished as the STAC to provide a forum to exchange ideas and make recommendations for funding research and determining key issues for the LISS. The committee is made up of a core group of, engineers, scientists, researchers, agency managers, and other professionals.

Besides serving on the STAC, Yarish’s involvement with the LISS has included co-editing a book synthesizing decades of Long Island Sound research titled Long Island Sound: Prospects for the Urban Sea (Springer 2014). At UCONN, he developed an internationally known Seaweed Marine Biotechnology Laboratory for seaweed research and development, and in 2019 received the Phycological Society of America’s Award of Excellence for his sustained scholarly contributions in, and impact on, the field of phycology (the study of seaweeds and algae) over his career. In 2009, he helped to co-sponsor a LISS-funded international conference on nutrient bioextraction – a method to remove excess nutrients in coastal waters through the harvesting of shellfish and seaweed, which take up nutrients such as nitrogen for their growth. The conference helped to launch several bioextraction pilot projects in the Sound to study the benefits of bioextraction in reducing nitrogen pollution and has inspired aquaculture farmers and NGOs to grow shellfish and seaweed in part to help improve water quality.   

For the LISS, Varekamp wrote the chapter on metals, organic compounds, and nutrients for the Long Island Sound synthesis book. He also received one of the first research grants in the Long Island Sound Research Grant Program in 2000 in a project titled Environmental Change in Long Island Sound over the last 400 years, which included studying sediment core records to get a better understanding of hypoxia (conditions of low dissolved oxygen) in Long Island Sound, contaminants such as mercury, and global warming. Varekamp’s Long Island Sound research, which investigates a historical record spanning over 1,000 years, has helped researchers and agency managers gain a better understanding of pollution and warming trends in the Sound by learning how it functioned before the pre-colonial and pre-industrial eras.  Besides his work in the Sound, Varekamp also is internationally known for his research on volcanic lakes and how volcanic lakes related to volcanic activity and their hazards. In 2019 he was awarded the prestigious Kusakabe Award by the IAVCEI Commission on Volcanic lakes.

Yarish on-line:

  • Long Island Sound Study web pages on the International Bioextraction Workshop. Click here. (
  • Yarish’s Long Island Sound nutrient bioextraction pilot projects. Click here.
  • Yarish being interviewed on 60 Minutes describing the benefits of seaweed in improving water quality. Click here.
  • Current Yarish research with the US Department of Energy, including Integrated Seaweed Hatchery and Selective Breeding Technologies for Scalable Offshore Seaweed Farming with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Techniques for Tropical Seaweed Cultivation and Harvesting with the Marine Biological Laboratory at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Click here and here.

Varekamp on-line

  • Varekamp’s Long Island Sound Study-funded research on the environmental history of Long Island Sound. Click here and here.
  • Wesleyan University blog post discussing Varekamp’s research on volcanic lakes Click here.
  • Article by Varekamp and his daughter, Daphne, in 2006 titled Click here. (Varekamp’s research has explored the connection between the colonial and industrial eras of the Sound with its physical and environmental history and how development has impacted water quality, including this article that explores how climate change helped lead to the Dutch exploration and settlement of Long Island Sound in the 17th century).

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