The Life Aquatic

Just in time for her upcoming reading at the Concerned Citizens of Montauk HQ we chatted with Dr. Judith S. Weis, a Professor of Biological Sciences at Rutgers University, Newark.

Dr. Weis has published four books. In her latest Marine Pollution: What Everyone Needs to Know “she covers marine pollution from numerous angles, each fascinating in its own right. Beginning with its sources and history, she discusses common pollutants, why they are harmful, why they cause controversy, and how we can prevent them from destroying our aquatic ecosystems.”


The book is formatted in an easily digestible question and answer format so what better way to gain some insights than with a Q&A:

How and when did you first become interested in this field of study?

I was interested in the ocean even as a child. In college I majored in biology, and had an opportunity to spend the summer at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and then the following summer at the Marine Biological Laboratory. These experiences demonstrated to me that the type of biology I wanted to do was marine biology. I considered other things, but this was the most interesting thing I could think of to do.

Although the book covers quite a lot of ground (or ocean rather) it’s very accessible, how intentional was this and who do you feel should be reading this book?

It was meant to be accessible, hence the subtitle: “What Everyone Needs to Know,” which is the subtitle of all the books in this Oxford University Press series. For my book, the “everyone” is everyone who is interested in nature, the environment, and the oceans, and is concerned about what we are doing to them and their health.

You teach Biological Sciences at Rutgers – what tools/tricks do you employ for getting young minds excited about this kind of material?

The best way to get people interested in the marine environment is to leave the classroom and go on field trips to marine habitats and explore them. Field trips were always the highlight of the course.

There are so many frightening statistics out there and the constant negativity can be quite overwhelming – is there any good news?

There is a little bit of good news. For example, the waters of the NY Harbor area are cleaner than they have been for many decades and many species that had disappeared have come back.

Which organizations in particular would you commend for their efforts?

There are many national and regional conservation organizations that are working to improve the environment, as well as many local organizations such as CCOM. There are also a number of organizations that focus on the marine environment such as Oceana, The Ocean Conservancy, Clean Ocean Action, and American Littoral Society to name a few.


What are your thoughts on the efforts of organizations like Bionic Yarn and Ekocycle? Is using the plastic recycled from oceans for consumer products a viable “solution”?

I have mixed feelings about this. The amount of plastic waste that is removed by these efforts is tiny and I hope people do not consider this an effective way of dealing with the litter. It is far more important to take steps to prevent the litter from coming into the environment, such as banning plastic bags, micro-beads, and other forms of one-time use consumer products that we could easily live without.

What are some simple behavioral choices that everyone can implement to make a positive impact or at least less of a negative one?

Take a reusable bag to the store; reduce your energy use; refuse straws and drink your beverage out of the glass; be careful about your garbage and unused pharmaceuticals; reduce or stop using pesticides and fertilizers. I could go on and on.

You’ve served on the board of the Association for Women in Science and are the Newark co-coordinator of the RUFAIR Grant, aside from being a woman yourself, why do you feel that these initiatives are important and how have you seen systemic conditions improve?

I have been concerned and involved in women’s issues for as long as I have been concerned about the environment. As a result of the women’s movement, in the past few decades we have seen significant improvements in the number of women in high positions in universities, businesses, and politics, but there is a great amount of improvement still needed.

Personal question: do you eat seafood?

Rarely. It is hard to know where and how it was caught unless it is from a local seafood store. I am mostly vegetarian, but not completely.

Get your copy of Marine Pollution: What Everyone Needs to Know here and check back for more ocean science and preservation related content via Make Waves on Low Tide.