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Retirement of Gene Shinn, Pioneer in Carbonate Sedimentology and Coral-Reef Ecosystems

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Gene Shinn and conch.
Above: Gene Shinn prepares a conch for dinner while explaining to a group of geologists (outside photograph) how to tell male conchs from female conchs.

It's the end of an era: after 31 years, Gene Shinn has decided to retire from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), where he has conducted pioneering scientific research on carbonate sediments and coral-reef ecosystems.

Gene came to the USGS after a distinguished career at Shell Oil and, in 1974, established the Fisher Island Field Station, Miami Beach, Fla. During his years at the field station, Gene won a USGS award for developing a hydraulic drilling device, and he published extensively on coral-reef ecosystems and modern and ancient carbonate sediments. Gene's groundbreaking research on carbonates showed that widespread submarine lithification is occurring on the sea floor in the Persian Gulf, producing features that previously were believed to form only during subaerial exposure. As a participant in the Pacific Enewetak Atoll Crater Exploration (PEACE) project in Enewetak, Marshall Islands, Gene made submersible and scuba dives to help determine the size, morphology, and deformation depth of two submarine craters created by hydrogen-bomb testing in the 1950s—a multifaceted study the USGS conducted at the request of the Defense Nuclear Agency. Gene was a co-discoverer of modern giant submarine stromatolites (similar to the dominant fossils of the Precambrian) that are forming in the Exuma Islands, Bahamas, reported in the November 1986 issue of Nature (v. 324, no. 6092, p. 55-58; see URL This exciting discovery helped change the way that geologists interpret the environments in which ancient stromatolites formed.

In 1989, when he moved to what is now the USGS St. Petersburg Science Center in St. Petersburg, Fla., Gene was working on a project that explored the effects of offshore drilling on ecosystems—a topic as timely today as it was then. Ever the pioneer in exploring environmental issues, Gene also led a project from 1991 to 1994 that helped determine the pathways and movement of sewage-contaminated ground water in the Florida coral-reef tract. These data have been used widely and are the basis for several court cases and environmental hearings. Later, Gene continued to work on ground-water-seepage rates and flow direction in Florida Bay and the Florida Keys. Recently, most people know Gene for his research and theories on the effects of African dust on coral-reef ecosystems. Once again the pioneer, Gene hypothesized, and led a research group to demonstrate, that dust coming from Africa contains viable microbes that could potentially harm various species and ecosystems. His research even spawned a fictional novel by Sarah Andrews entitled Killer Dust (see Science and Fiction—Sarah Andrews, Author of Killer Dust, Discusses Her Latest Mystery Novel in Sound Waves, April 2003).

Gene's scientific impact spreads far and wide. Numerous scientists and lay people alike know him, have seen him on TV, have talked to him on the phone, or have e-mailed him. Why? Because Gene has always been a great communicator on all levels. He has been an American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) Distinguished Lecturer and has received three "best paper" and "outstanding paper" awards from major journals and national meetings. He won the 2002 USGS Shoemaker Award for Distinguished Achievement in Communications (see URL

Gene has led field courses for geologists since the 1950s. Carefully elucidating how to observe carbonate-producing organisms, their accumulated sediment, and their interpretations in ancient rocks, he has tutored three generations of aspiring sedimentologists. It is not unusual for students to greet Gene with the remark that "My father/mother says your field trip in 19xx was one of the best experiences of his/her life!"

Eugene Shinn's extraordinary contributions to our understanding of carbonate sedimentology and coral-reef ecosystems were recognized in 1991 by the Meritorious Service Award of the Department of the Interior, in 1998 by Honorary Membership in the Society for Sedimentary Geology, and in 1998 by an Honorary Doctoral Degree bestowed by the University of South Florida. Though "retired" (not!), Gene remains dedicated to pursuing his scientific interests as a Courtesy Professor at the University of South Florida, College of Marine Sciences. We wish Gene all the best; you may contact him at

Related Sound Waves Stories
Science on the Hot Seat in Public Forum About Coral Degradation
July 2005
Shifting Baselines Contest—the Truth About Coral-Reef Decline
October 2004
Pink Sunsets in Florida Caused by African Dust
Dec. 2003 / Jan. 2004
Science and Fiction—Sarah Andrews, Author of Killer Dust, Discusses Her Latest Mystery Novel
April 2003
Gene Shinn Wins 2002 Shoemaker Award for Distinguished Achievement in Communications
March 2003
Dusty Roads Outreach—Gene Shinn Spreads the Word on Impacts of Dust Transported by Transoceanic Winds
Dec. 2002 / Jan. 2003
African Dust Microbiology in the Caribbean
September 2002

Related Web Sites
Coral Mortality and African Dust
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
Determination of Groundwater-Flow Direction and Rate Beneath Florida Bay, the Florida Keys, and Reef Tract
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
Groundwater Seepage in the Florida Keys
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)

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in this issue: Fieldwork
cover story:
Monitoring Hurricane Wilma's Storm Surge

Research Study Suggests Abalones Owe Their Huge Size to Sea Otters

Outreach Hurricane Exhibit Highlights USGS Science

Staff Terry Edgar Retires

Gene Shinn Retires

Taiwanese Scientists Visit the WCMG Team

Andrew Stevens Joins WCMG Team

Publications New Book on Ecological Consequences of Artificial Night Lighting

February 2006 Publications List U. S. Department of the Interior | U.S. Geological Survey
Sound Waves Monthly Newsletter

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Updated May 06, 2014 @ 02:12 PM (JSS)