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Gulf Guardian Award Winners 2004

Individual Category - 3rd Place

Project #: GG-04-14
Company: USGS, National Wetlands Research Center, LA
Individual Name: Robert E. Stewart, Jr.
Category: Individual
Project Type: N/A

Dr. Robert E. Stewart has devoted his entire career to improving our understanding of the natural world with a single purpose — to support wetland conservation. His scientific and leadership contributions during the past 30 years have particularly and dramatically advanced coastal wetland protection in the Gulf Coast region. When the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided to construct a National Wetlands Research Center in 1989, Dr. Stewart fought hard to get it located on the Gulf Coast where most wetland losses occur. Through his efforts and those in Congress he enlisted for support, the 75,000-foot National Wetlands Research Center was built in Lafayette, Louisiana. From this central-Gulf location, Dr. Stewart and his team have supported wetland inventory, monitoring, and research in every Gulf Coast state. Between the time the Center opened in 1992 and the spring of 2004, Dr. Stewart doubled its staff and established research stations in Texas, Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Now part of the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Wetlands Research Center has emerged as the preeminent U.S. institution on wetland science because of its productivity, innovation, and impact under Dr. Stewart’s vision and leadership.

Dr. Stewart went to work for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1975 as a research scientist. In 1979 he was appointed leader of the Service’s National Coastal Ecosystems Team based at a NASA facility in Slidell, Louisiana. Starting with a small cadre of technological and ecological professionals, Dr. Stewart directed the inventory and description of a wide range of U.S. wetland types in a series of ecological characterization reports that are still used by the FWS and others to manage and restore bottomland hardwood forests, mangrove forests, coastal salt marshes, seagrasses, eastern white cedar forests, coastal prairies, and maritime forests. During the early 1980s Bob directed the classic Chenier Plain and Mississippi River Deltaic Plain ecological characterizations, the first comprehensive “ecological studies” of the Mississippi Delta. His team designed and applied advanced technologies to conduct surveys of seagrasses and monitor their status along the Gulf Coast. They have conducted comprehensive analyses of the impacts of human development on coastal processes, landforms, and biota in numerous Gulf Coast estuaries and coastal wetland systems. They conducted the mapping needed to implement the Coastal Barrier Resources Act for the Gulf region. His team (now comprising over 180 people in 4 Gulf States) mapped and now update a large portion of the 1:24,000-scale maps of wetlands in the Gulf Coast region for the FWS National Wetlands Inventory. His team was the first to document and monitor the widespread losses of coastal wetlands in Louisiana.

The capabilities and excellence of Dr. Stewart’s coastal wetlands research team have been major factors in developing Louisiana’s strategy for coastal protection and restoration. Without the science to support the coastal restoration plans of the State and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, these agencies would not have been able to develop a credible, science-based wetland conservation program that could be accepted by the Congress and the interagency task force that allocates funding for the restoration projects authorized by the Breaux Act (Coastal Wetlands Protection, Planning and Restoration Act of the U.S. Congress, which Dr. Stewart helped write).

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