May 4, 2010

In Memory of Allan Smith


Reef Check has lost a valued colleague- Allan Smith died in London on Wednesday March 24th after a long and difficult battle with cancer. He is perhaps best known as the Caribbean’s foremost expert on marine algae, but was also well known for his involvement in many conservation activities, monitoring and sustainable use of natural resources throughout his career. Allan was a long-term supporter of Reef Check; since 1999, he was a Team Scientist and Coordinator for Reef Check St Lucia, organizing and participating in many surveys, and heading an International Reef Check Workshop in 2001. Apart from being able to identify just about anything green that you could find in the sea, he put his knowledge of marine algae to practical use. He developed techniques for seamoss farming in St Lucia and was instrumental in getting many farms started throughout the eastern Caribbean. He was also an excellent underwater photographer and his images have been widely used in educational materials including a 1980s issue of postage stamps in Barbados. Later in his career, he took up resource mapping and pioneered the use of kites and other technology for getting aerial photographs of reefs and mangroves.

Originally from Zimbabwe, where his mother still lives, Allan obtained his BSc in Botany from the University of Aberdeen in 1971. He was awarded an MSc from the Institute of Oceanography, McGill University in 1979, for his thesis entitled ‘Mariculture and polysaccharide chemistry of the red alga Gracilaria tikvahiae.’ For nearly 20 years (1985-2004) he was a research scientist with the Caribbean Natural Resources Institute (CANARI), based in St Lucia. After CANARI moved to Trinidad he stayed in St. Lucia as a Research Associate with CANARI and started his own consulting business Resource Management Technologies Ltd., focusing on the assessment and mapping of coral reef and mangrove systems, and provision of training in participatory mapping and PGIS.

Allan was always happiest in the field whether researching, mapping, working with community groups or teaching (or all four at once). Yet he was equally at home in front of the computer screen generating maps from Mapmaker and writing manuals. He was a humble man, but contributed immeasurably to the development of an environmental consciousness, especially among local fishers and community groups. His technical skill, extensive knowledge of the Caribbean marine environment and patience with those who wanted to learn will be missed by many.