Centennial Story 51: Jeff Cordell (MS, 1986; Staff, 1977 – present)

It is a fitting time to write something about my time at SAFS because it has been forty-two years almost to the day since I started working at what was then called the School of Fisheries (hereafter I’ll refer to it as SAFS). I was hired by Charles “Si” Simenstad in October 1977 and started at the Big Beef Creek research station, sorting out and identifying salmon diets and invertebrate samples, part of impact studies of the new Trident submarine base on Hood Canal. This was the ideal job for me because as a youngster I loved collecting and identifying all kinds of little creatures—including zooplankton caught in a net made from my mother’s nylon stockings. I like to tell a story about winning second prize in my sixth-grade science fair with my collection of marine invertebrates in formaldehyde, and that now I’m still pickling invertebrates in formaldehyde 50 years later. I became particularly interested in copepods, which can be both planktonic and benthic, and which are important food for juvenile salmon. The expertise I gained in copepod taxonomy that started in my early years at SAFS has taken me all over the northern hemisphere and as far away as French Polynesia.

Jeff at the Squamish River, British Columbia, 1996.
Jeff at the Squamish River, British Columbia, 1996.

After a few years, I moved to main campus into a “lab” on the ground floor of the old Varsity Apartments (long gone, but near where Sea Grant is now). It is the only lab/office I’ve had with shag carpet and my own bathroom. I worked my way up to being manager for our taxonomy lab, dealing with all kinds of invertebrate samples from benthic cores to zooplankton. During this time, we had major projects sampling invertebrates in the Columbia River estuary, a place where I have worked off-and-on throughout my career. Moving on-campus gave me the opportunities to learn from other staff, graduate students, and faculty researchers, and to get my thoughts together about what I wanted to do. In the early 1980s, I went to graduate school at SAFS, continuing my staff position as lab manager at the same time. After receiving my MS (1986), I stayed on at SAFS.

From the 1990s onwards, I have continued to both broaden and refine my scientific skills and to develop my own research projects. My favorite projects include: conducting plankton surveys every four years (since 1992) in west coast estuaries to document non-indigenous zooplankton; working long-term with the Smithsonian Institution to investigate patterns of invasive invertebrates along both coasts of the United States; evaluating floodplain and estuary restoration efforts throughout the region using invertebrate communities as indicators; conducting a 10-year study of non-indigenous organisms being discharged from ship’s ballast into Puget Sound; and working with various agencies on long-term studies of the biology and ecology of the lower Columbia River. Most recently, I have been fortunate to work locally, first monitoring the function of restored wetlands within Seattle’s industrialized Duwamish Waterway, and second developing and implementing fish-friendly habitat that has been incorporated into Seattle’s new seawall. The latter project has gained national and international notoriety. I am a native Seattleite and it is great to be able to give something back to my home region.

SAFS gave me the opportunity to have a non-traditional career in an academic setting. As a non-faculty researcher, I would guess that there aren’t too many places that would have allowed me to stretch out intellectually and go on to lead my own research and to mentor and support graduate students. Finally, I would like to mention how important to me my relationships with faculty, colleagues, and students have been over the years. Those I have worked with at SAFS have all been of the highest caliber, both intellectually and personally, and I have learned something from each and every one of them.

Receiving the 2016 Seattle Aquarium Conservation Research Award.
Receiving the 2016 Seattle Aquarium Conservation Research Award.

 

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