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Kevin J. Olival

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"Heroes of the Sea" Memorial Fund Award to Jennifer Mattei

July 29, 2005

Dr. Mary Pearl, president of Wildlife Trust, takes great pleasure in announcing Jennifer Mattei as the 2005 recipient of an award from the "Heroes of the Sea Memorial Fund." The award, accompanied by a gift of $4,000, recognizes Mattei's work to champion the survival of the horseshoe crab (Limulus polyphemus ), a "living fossil" unique to the Atlantic Coast of North America.

For more than 350 million years this species has existed on Earth, yet in recent years its numbers have begun to decline throughout its range. The horseshoe crab has a unique ecological role in Long Island Sound and is considered to be of critical importance to the fitness of migratory shorebird populations./p>

In making the announcement, Dr. Pearl said, "We are delighted to honor Dr. Mattei through the Heroes of the Sea Memorial Fund. Her passionate and professional commitment to horseshoe crab survival is imperative because these animals are keystone species of the marine environment. That means that their current precipitous decline is depriving other species of a critical food resource, disrupting ecosystem function and pushing the migratory Atlantic red knot bird to extinction. Like the whale researchers for whom this award is named, Dr. Mattei is championing the survival of marine species that need our help to survive."

Jennifer Mattei is an associate professor and chair of the Biology department at Sacred Heart University, where she teaches ecology and evolution. She has a B.S. in Zoology from the University of Maryland, a Masters of Forest Science from Yale University, School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, and a Ph.D. in Ecology & Evolution from SUNY, Stony Brook.

Her past research and publications involved urban forest conservation and restoration, which was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation. As vice-president of the Metro Forest Council, she serves local communities through this non-profit organization dedicated to the conservation of urban and suburban forest ecosystems by promoting research, management and education.

Dr. Mattei has launched a science literacy and research program entitled "Project Limulus," with support from the Long Island Sound License Plate Fund, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Wildlife Trust. This program offers opportunities for teachers and their students to learn about their connections to Long Island Sound, horseshoe crabs and human health. The students become research assistants and help gather data about horseshoe crabs on their local beaches. She also formed a partnership with The Maritime Aquarium and the Connecticut Audubon Coastal Center to help train teachers. In New York, the NY Aquarium and Wildlife Trust have started training volunteers to gather spawning data on this economically and ecologically important species.

When asked about her passion for horseshoe crabs, Mattei replied, "On the first day of my Ecology class two years ago, an impatient pre-med biology major (who had a minor in philosophy) asked me to sum up this class in three words. I simply stated 'everything is connected.' Later in the course, I discussed my own research concerning the decline of the horseshoe crab population in Long Island Sound. I described their economic importance, how protein extracts from horseshoe crab blood is used by pharmaceutical companies to test for the presence of toxic gram-negative bacteria in all vaccines and prosthetics."

Professor Mattei added, "I then showed the students how Limulus is an important species in its ocean environment. More than 20 different organisms live on or around these arthropods. Migratory shorebirds are dependent on horseshoe crab eggs and juveniles to fuel their trip north to Canada. Many different species feed on the eggs and young Limulus . When my impatient student realized that human health could depend on a single species surviving in our coastal waters he exclaimed, 'Everything really is connected!'

"It is an honor to be a recipient of the "Heroes of the Sea" award. We are all connected to the sea in some way. I hope my work will show people how deeply."

Professor Mattei resides in Armonk, NY with her husband, three children, and several baby horseshoe crabs.

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