Bright Future for Historical Marine Ecologist


Loren McClenachan, a recent graduate of Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, has been selected as the winner of the 2009 Edward A. Frieman Prize recognizing excellence in graduate student research.

McClenachan, who received her Ph.D. in 2009 from Scripps, is now a postdoctoral associate at Florida State University. She was awarded the 14th annual Frieman Prize for her research paper “Documenting Loss of Large Trophy Fish from the Florida Keys with Historical Photographs,” which was published in the June 2009 issue of Conservation Biology.

Her research involved studying a series of archival photographs of sport fishing catches from coral reefs surrounding Key West, Fla. By carefully analyzing more than 1,000 photographs spanning back more than five decades, McClenachan developed a disturbing picture of how fish size and weight has declined in 50 years. One of her findings revealed that the average length of sharks declined more than 50 percent in 50 years.

McClenachan's studies are part of an emerging field called historical marine ecology, in which scientists study photographs, archives, news accounts, and other records to help understand changes in the ocean ecosystem over time and establish baselines for future ecosystem restoration.

Scripps professor of marine ecology Jeremy Jackson was McClenachan’s advisor at Scripps. Jackson lauded McClenachan’s winning research paper as “a masterpiece of scholarship.”

“Good historical ecology requires scientific sophistication, a keen sense of history and culture, and the instincts of a master detective,” said Jackson. “It’s a very tall order for an established academic, much less for a graduate student with a few short years to make her mark. Loren honed all these skills, plus the courage to charge ahead with the self-confidence that it would all come together in the end.”

The Frieman Prize was established in 1996 to celebrate the 70th birthday of Scripps Oceanography’s eighth director, Edward A. Frieman, who led Scripps from 1986 to 1996. The prize is awarded annually to a Scripps graduate student who has published an outstanding research paper in the past 12 months, as evaluated by a Scripps faculty committee. The student winner is awarded a $1,000 cash prize and a certificate.

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