Sea Grant, EnvironMentors Align in Pursuit of Impactful Wetlands Research

Faculty Profile: Robert Twilley, Ph.D. Executive Director, Louisiana Sea Grant College Program and Professor, Department of Oceanography and Coastal Science

Louisiana Sea Grant Executive Director Robert Twilley has spent his career researching coastal issues and addressing challenges facing communities that dwell along the coast. In keeping with his lifelong dedication to education and outreach on coastal environmental issues, he is an enthusiastic supporter of LSU EnvironMentors, CC&E’s youth mentoring and college preparation program for underrepresented high school students.

“The EnvironMentors program reflects one of Louisiana Sea Grant’s focus areas: education and workforce development,” Twilley said.

Through EnvironMentors, CC&E graduate students and faculty guide students from Scotlandville Magnet High School through all stages of the scientific method, including posing a question, completing background research, designing and conducting an experiment, and presenting findings at a science fair. The students also enjoy educational field trips, including an end-of-school-year excursion to a research facility such as the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory or Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, or LUMCON.

“Of the programs that we support, EnvironMentors reflects the importance of STEM,” Twilley said. “It is a high-priority investment for Sea Grant each year.”

Louisiana Sea Grant began its support of EnvironMentors in 2010, at the suggestion of former Sea Grant researchers Lauren Land and Dave Nieland, and today contributes $20,000 per year to the program, enough to support the program coordinator. “I’ve made a commitment to that every year,” Twilley said.

Twilley, who is also a professor in the Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences, identifies with the high schoolers’ interest in coastal and environmental science. He spent his youth exploring maritime forests along North Carolina’s coast, a recreational activity that would carry over into his undergraduate studies and beyond. “My senior project was on seagrasses in Pamlico Sound,” he said. “That project hooked me.”

As a Ph.D. student at the University of Florida, Twilley returned to a maritime forest, this time to study mangroves, and as a post-doc, he researched seagrasses in Chesapeake Bay. Since then, the bulk of his research has focused on coastal wetlands in the Gulf of Mexico, throughout Latin America, and in the Pacific Islands. He has published extensively on wetland ecology, global climate change, and has worked with ecosystem models coupled with engineering designs to forecast coastal and wetland ecosystem rehabilitation.

This month, Twilley will be one of five recipients of the 2017 National Wetland Award from the Environmental Law Institute, which recognizes individuals for “exceptional and innovative contributions to wetlands conservation.” He also serves as the current president of the Coastal & Estuarine Research Federation and is preparing for that organization’s bi-annual conference in November, a gathering of more than 1,600 coastal and estuarine scientists and managers.

But of immediate concern to Twilley is the current threat to federal funding for the Sea Grant program—and in turn, to the programs it supports, including one of his most treasured, EnvironMentors.  “Sea Grant is so important because faculty need infrastructure to turn discovery into impacts,” he said. “And I love impacts.”