Jamie Lynn King, an oyster biologist with the Chesapeake Bay Program, died Jan. 1 after a long battle with cancer.
King, 44, became known throughout the watershed when she took on the role of coordinating the Asian oyster environmental impact study, a five-year, $15 million effort to assess the ramifications of bringing a foreign species into the Chesapeake. The battle was frequently contentious, with Maryland pushing for a reproducing population of the species, C. ariakensis, while neighboring states worried about the unintended consequences of such a move.
"She was one of the most capable scientists that I ever met," said Verna Harrison, executive director of the Keith Campbell Foundation for the Environment. "She was honest, forthcoming, and really cared about the resource."
A native of Buffalo, NY, King told her parents she wanted to be a marine biologist after a family trip to the city's science museum. She was just 10 years old.
Twelve years later, she graduated from the University of Rochester with a degree in biology. In 1989, she was awarded a scholarship from the Our World Underwater Scholarship Society and traveled the world working on marine research projects. She spent the next seven years at the University of California, Davis, and earned her Ph.D. in zoology.
While there, King was instrumental in the effort to protect the California vernal pool tadpole shrimp, an animal known as a living fossil because it has looked the same for millions of years. The shrimp lives in temporary pools, and was thus vulnerable to California's massive development and farming pressures. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gave the shrimp endangered species protection in 1994.
In 1999, King joined the Chesapeake Bay Program as a consultant, reviewing its monitoring program. She later joined National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as its oyster expert and became the federal program officer for the environmental impact statement on the potential introduction of the Asian oyster that the Army Corps of Engineers was preparing.
Maryland and Virginia wanted to move quickly to bring Asian oysters into the Chesapeake-Virginia as a sterile triploid oyster for aquaculture, Maryland as a reproducing population to shore up the public fishery and help watermen.
Scientists were uncomfortable with the pace of the proposed introduction and its scope. Little was known about the Asian oyster or how it would grow in the Bay and what diseases it might bring.
"Jamie really pushed the issues with the states. They didn't want to get new information. They didn't want to do economic analysis. She got those things done," said Julie Thompson, a division chief at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who worked with King and EPA environmental protection specialist Mike Fritz as study coordinators.
Fritz remembers King had a saying: "No guts, no glory." On their long rides to Colonial Beach, VA, for impact study meetings, he recalled, they would discuss how to let the science prevail.
"Some people didn't want the facts on the table," Fritz recalled. "She delivered the facts in a clear way, and they were sort of inescapable. It just really elevated the dialogue. And she always did it with grace."
Among those facts: The Asian oyster shells tended to gape open, making them unsuitable for the lucrative half-shell market. Also, a large-scale introduction meant the animals would come from China, not from Oregon, as Maryland officials implied.
NOAA's Peter Bergstrom recalled that Dr. King learned ariakensis grew mostly in the mouths of big rivers and not in Bays, and that the Chinese didn't use that species in aquaculture. Early on, Bergstrom recalled, Asian oyster proponents wanted to compare triploid ariakensis to diploid native oysters. But diploids always grow more slowly. King insisted on an apples-to-apples comparison.
Those early NOAA studies showed native triploids could grow fast enough to support an industry, and helped pave the way for several oyster farms.
King left NOAA in 2008 to pursue her other passion: a home design and renovation business with her husband, Tim Nugent. She remained a scientific guide for a group Harrison set up to make sure the Asian oyster decision was based on science.
Two years ago, the announcement came that the states would not introduce the Asian oyster. "It's a career milestone I think for all of us to have prevailed," Fritz said. "And it felt really good."
In addition to her husband, King is survived by her parents, Arlene and Don King, of Buffalo, and her brother, Kevin, of Albany. Contributions may be made in King's name to Our World Underwater Scholarship Society.