Susan Williams

This #WiSEWednesday we honor Susan Williams, an amazing marine ecologist and environmental activist whose life was tragically cut short last week by a car accident. Williams researched marine coastal ecosystems (in particular seagrass, seaweed, and coral reef habitats) and how they are affected by human activities. She was a strong advocate for environmental protection, credited with helping pass legislation expanding the boundaries of Northern California's Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank national sanctuaries, increasing the area of federally-protected coastal waters.

Williams studied at the University of Michigan, the University of Alaska, and the University of Maryland. Williams served as science director of the United States National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration's National Undersea Research Program in the Virgin Islands before becoming a professor of biology at San Diego State University, where she directed the University's Coastal and Marine Institute.

She joined the faculty of the University of California, Davis in 2000 and served as director of the University's Bodega Marine Laboratory between 2000 and 2010 before returning to teaching full-time in 2010. She taught and mentored both undergraduate and graduate students, including teaching a course called "Life in the Sea" which she developed to help get non science-majors inspired to help protect marine environments.

Her research group was one of the first to report the discovery of plastic waste in fish sold at fish markers. She also helped raise the alarm about how rising sea temperatures were promoting the growth of invasive species. But she wasn’t a pessimist – she actively engaged in efforts to protect and restore the marine habitats she loved. These efforts included testifying before Congress on the importance of expanding federally-protected marine environments and working closely with Indonesian scientists to find the most effective ways to restore seagrass meadows (they found they got much better success by planting multiple species).

Williams is remembered by colleagues as an effective mentor and strong advocate for female scientists and her tragic death is deeply felt throughout the biology community.

Photo Credit: Jessica Abbott

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