John Bodell Pearce, a marine biologist whose career spanned six decades and former deputy director of the Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole, has died. Through his participation on local, regional and national committees, he also worked to develop agendas for change. Dr. Pearce, who was known as Jack, died January 31 at the age of 89.
Dr. Pearce and his wife, Ruth E. Pearce, lived in Sippewissett in the house they built in 1985. They eloped in 1953.
After earning his undergraduate degree at Humboldt State University and his doctorate in zoology and oceanography from University of Washington at Seattle, he was awarded a National Institutes of Health post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Copenhagen and at the Scottish Marine Biological Laboratory. He also held a National Science Foundation appointment with Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole.
He began his career with the National Marine Fisheries Service directing the marine environmental studies at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center at Sandy Hook Laboratory, New Jersey. During his 18 years at Sandy Hook, his research included studying the environmental effect of ocean dumping in the New York Bight between Long Island and New Jersey. That research proved instrumental in passage of 1985 legislation to end ocean dumping in the New York Bight and earned Dr. Pearce the Department of Commerce’s gold medal in 1981 for leadership in research. The federal Environmental Protection Agency also cited Dr. Pearce for his work in 1977.
During the summer of 1982, he returned to Woods Hole as acting assistant to laboratory director Richard C. Hennemuth.
Prior to his permanent return to Woods Hole in 1985, he worked in Washington, DC, organizing the estuarine programs office of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to coordinate research and pollution monitoring in estuaries.
Much of his long career as a marine biologist was spent on programs of fisheries biology and conservation along the northeastern coast of the United States. He had many accomplishments in marine research, before specializing in monitoring pollution and the coastal environment.
Among other professional activities he had served as chairman or on committees for various components of the International Council for Exploration of the Seas, the United Nations, the state of New Jersey, the Water Environment Federation and the Gulf of Maine Regional Research Board.
He was named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1992, honored for his contributions to the development of policy for the management of living marine resources and their habitats. He was officially recognized at the association’s annual meeting in Boston on February 14, 1993, as one whose “efforts on behalf of the advancement of science or its applications are scientifically or socially distinguished.”
At the time of the recognition, the Enterprise noted that he had published more than 90 papers on benthic ecology, symbiosis in marine organisms, effects of pollution and long-term environmental monitoring and that his “interests lie with parasitic crabs, their distribution and recruitment as affected by environmental and habitat changes.”
Active as an educator at nearly every level, he was an assistant professor at Humboldt State University and associate or adjunct professor at Rutgers University, Lehigh University and the City University of New York. He taught both elementary and high school students in New Jersey and helped to develop the Woods Hole Science and Technology Educational Partnership, serving as chairman at its inception.
Dr. Pearce was passionate about educating the public to become aware of environmental and community concerns. He contributed commentary to the Enterprise under headlines such as “Lessons In The Uses Of Ecology: Lyme Disease, Rabies, The Shortage Of Drinking Water”; “Waquoit Bay, A Threatened Watershed”; “Developers Who Make Millions From Malls And Other Glitz Do Not Care About Main Street”; “Solutions To Our Environmental Problems Can Be Found In Our Daily Activities”; “Reducing ‘Nonpoint Pollution’ Requires Individuals To Change Many Of Their Habits”; and “Mariculture Is Coming To Coastal Waters,” among others.
He also was a prolific writer of letters to the editor and his letters were filled with facts and many offered commonsense suggestions for alleviating potential problems facing Falmouth or the expanded area. A 1995 letter following a Fourth of July weekend traffic jam, for example, cautioned that because our economy was increasingly service-oriented and centered on tourism that our traffic dilemma would be “played out ever more frequently unless we plan otherwise.” He reasoned, “The only real solutions are ferry terminals near the interstates, with adequate parking, and rail and bus transportation to final destinations or jumping off spots for the islands.” After illustrating what happened to the North Jersey Shore, he ended the letter with: “We have been given full warning: We have numerous town and Cape-wide planning groups. It is up to concerned citizenry to push them to action.”
In the late 1990s he participated in a forum sponsored by the Cape and Island Chapter, World Federalists, that brought together ecologists, economists, business persons from the agri/aquaculture industry, policy and planning personnel, and others from national and international arenas. The group discussed how local efforts can provide solutions for the “global issues of the new millennium.”
A director of The 300 Committee, Falmouth’s land trust, he also was a coordinator for the Falmouth Council for Civic Beautification annual cleanup activities. He was editor of the Marine Pollution Bulletin.
Dr. Pearce was a longtime active member of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Falmouth. He spoke about the environmental impact of modern war at an Earth Day event in 2003 at the UUFF: “In today’s world, the pollution caused by military conflict continues for decades.”
He had participated at Woods Hole Public Library in the lecture series there; one of his slide presentations was on the Pacific Crest trail system and the Pasayten Wilderness area of the Cascades in Washington State and another was “Crossing the Spine of Italia.”
In addition to his wife, he leaves a daughter in Colorado and a son in Washington State.
A memorial is planned for the coming summer.