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USF reels in a top marine scientist to join its faculty

Five years is a long time to be the top scientist at the National Marine Fisheries Service. It is, says the man who currently holds the position, "a burnout job."

It's been especially tough since the Deepwater Horizon disaster began April 20. Since that time, Stephen Murawski has spent months dealing with the effects of the oil spill on the wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico.

But now Murawski is stepping down — and into a job that's likely to keep him in the middle of dealing with the ramifications of the spill. He's joining the faculty of the University of South Florida's College of Marine Sciences, which made international news this summer with its findings regarding the spill.

USF was able to grab Murawski because of his connection with the college's outgoing dean, William Hogarth.

"I've known him for 20 years, and I knew he was leaving," said Hogarth, a former regional administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Hogarth knew landing Murawski would be a coup for USF, a chance to add someone with a national reputation.

"He's an excellent scientist," said Hogarth, who is himself stepping down in January, to be replaced by geochemist Jacqueline Eaby Dixon. "He's a consensus builder. He's not one of those scientists who causes controversy."

USF itself caused some controversy this summer when its scientists announced finding plumes of oil droplets dissolved in the water deep beneath the surface. Initially, officials from Murawski's agency and another one disputed the discovery, as did BP's then chief executive. Testing proved USF right, raising questions about the subsurface spraying of chemical dispersants to spread out the oil.

However, Bob Jones of the Southeastern Fisheries Association in Tallahassee, who has been critical of the government for allowing BP to use dispersants beneath the water, said Murawski himself "has a good reputation with a lot of people, and I wish him well."

Murawski, who got his doctorate from the University of Massachusetts, started with the National Marine Fisheries Service 30 years ago.

Prior to the spill taking over his life, his days as director of scientific programs and chief science adviser were spent on issues such as overfishing, aquaculture and the perils posed by climate change — all of them challenging and thorny.

In his current job, he has been responsible for about 30 laboratories, eight offshore research vessels and 1,400 staffers throughout the United States.

One thing that's changed in his time of studying the world's oceans is that society, as a whole, is more aware of marine issues now than when he started. The Deepwater Horizon disaster has served to underline that fact.

Murawski, 59, starts his new job in January, and says he'll be looking for opportunities to tie together programs at the St. Petersburg and Tampa campuses. He also said his wife, Joni, is looking forward to warmer winters than what they're used to in the Northeast.

USF reels in a top marine scientist to join its faculty 11/12/10 [Last modified: Monday, November 15, 2010 11:02pm]
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