High Honor in Conservation Goes to Kaufman

Chicago’s Field Museum recognizes biologist’s work with Parker/Gentry Award

By Annie Laurie Sánchez


 Photo by Vernon Doucette

Les Kaufman, a College of Arts & Sciences professor of biology, received the Parker/Gentry Award from the Field Museum in Chicago December 1, 2011. The award, given annually since 1996, honors an individual, team, or organization whose efforts have impacted conservation and serve as a model for others.

The award has special significance for Kaufman because, he says, “it honors a lost colleague—Al Gentry—who embodied a breadth of knowledge and dedication to field work that has served as my compass.” The award is named for distinguished naturalists Alwyn Gentry and Theodore Parker who died in a plane crash while surveying Ecuadorian hill forests in 1993.

With more than 30 years as a conservation scientist, Kaufman says he was honored to be singled out for work that strives to “keep the diversity of creation—which is the lifeblood of humanity’s existence—from succumbing to short-term need and greed.” Kaufman’s efforts include the foundation of the first formal international breeding programs for endangered fish species, the result of groundbreaking research on cichlids in Lake Victoria in Africa.

Kaufman’s current research primarily focuses on adaptive management of populated coastal ecosystems. In 2005, partnering with Conservation International (where he is a senior marine scientist), he helped establish the Marine Management Area Science program, where he has coordinated research on coastal ecosystems in Belize, Panama, Brazil, Ecuador, and Fiji.

Locally, Kaufman, who is associate director of the BU Marine Program (BUMP), contributes to local marine conservation efforts, such as work to conserve the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, an 842-square-mile stretch of the Atlantic known for its biodiversity. He also teams up with BU colleagues, as in a recent collaboration with Nathan Phillips, a College of Arts & Sciences associate professor of geography & environment, to track carbon emissions and their impact in the Boston area.

Kaufman notes a rising awareness at BU of “the importance of environmental scholarship in its various forms as a healing force for the foundation of all human existence, and thus of cardinal importance to our students and research programs.” BU, he says, has the capacity to “make a major contribution to the science and culture of a sustainable earth.”

This article originally appeared in Bostonia in January 2012.

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