Jeremy David Woodley (OK 1955) died May 26, 2021
Jeremy was born in London in 1937 and attended King’s. His old classmate Geoffrey Jackson tells me that Jeremy’s interests as a teenager were wide: as well as the novels of Joseph Conrad he was fascinated by Egyptology and supplied a small article on hieroglyphics for a duplicated newspaper, Plaisir de Roi, produced in Brian “Rubber” Rhys’s French classes. But his strongest interests centred on natural history (especially birds and butterflies) and archaeology. He intended to read Zoology, having been introduced to Natural History and (qualitative) Science by the inimitable Jacqueline Palmer of the Natural History Museum. Indeed, participating in her Junior Naturalists Club and Field Observers Clubs, he deepened his ornithological interests with a study of starlings and also supervised, as an amateur archaeologist, digs in Alderney, C.I. (He and his father had participated in numerous professional digs in and around London over the preceding years).
Jeremy won an exhibition to Oxford but was encouraged to complete National Service requirements first. He chose the Navy in order to travel and learn more about birds (especially bird migration). He came up to New College in 1957 and while still an undergraduate, organized the Oxford University Expedition to British Guiana (now Guyana) in 1959. This endeavour gave 12 scientists an opportunity to study the flora and fauna of B.G. in three distinct regions. Jeremy’s focus on this expedition was frogs and lizards (cf the tropical frog: Stefania woodleyi!). Graduating with a first in 1961 and torn between terrestrial and marine biology, Jeremy learned how to dive and, influenced by the (guest) lectures of Dr. David Nicholls, decided to study the functional anatomy of brittle-stars, a member of the echinoderm family for his DPhil. Unsurprisingly, his B.G. experience left Jeremy wanting a career in the tropics – and he got it! He was hired in 1966 by the Zoology Department of the University of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica. Initially he taught undergraduates (courses in both marine and terrestrial biology) but later helped to train many Caribbean (and other) biologists through graduate supervision. In 1969 Jeremy took part in a ‘Starfish Expedition’ which had him travelling to Guam and Truk to find out more about Acanthaster, the coral-eating starfish. In 1970, he conducted a survey of the Hellshire Hills, a unique wilderness and ecosystem slated for development. Here he found evidence that the supposedly-extinct Jamaican iguana still existed. Today, this species has been recovered and conservation efforts are well in place.
In 1975, Jeremy moved from Kingston to Discovery Bay to head a small marine laboratory. Alas, he struggled to keep this underfunded and understaffed institution afloat and it was only with perseverence, vision and doggedly applying for grants that he managed to have apartments built which could accommodate fee-paying visitors. This then allowed him to design and offer specialised summer courses on tropical shallow-water ecosystems, coral reefs being a major focus. Foreign and local experts were to happy to teach, attracted in part by opportunities for research at the lab. Despite being one of the early scientists helping to found the field of coral reef ecology, Jeremy and another staff person, Peter Gayle, often had to occupy several roles to keep the lab going. In light of this it is amazing that he is remembered particularly for his kindness and equanimity, one scholar writing that “he was a modest soul in a sea of divas and a stabilizing influence in a tumultuous world” – tumultuous because the state of coral reefs is a barometer of the state of the ocean and scientists were deeply concerned by the changes they observed. In an attempt to mitigate one major cause of reef degradation, Jeremy developed The Fisheries Improvement Project, an early attempt to curtail overfishing by educating fishermen and providing an incentive for those willing to increase the size of the mesh in their fish traps. This ultimately led to the creation of a fisherman’s cooperative, a marine protected area and ultimately a marine parks system in Jamaica.
Over his 25 years at the Lab, then, Jeremy turned a quiet field station into a valuable scientific institution, important not only for training biologists but also generating foreign exchange for the U.W.I. (and Jamaica). Later, he helped to develop CARICOMP, a Network of Caribbean Marine Laboratories which would monitor the status of the reefs; and ICRI, the International Coral Reef Iniative, a global endeavour seeking to preserve coral reefs and their ecosystems. He finally moved back to Kingston to become Director of the Centre for Marine Sciences.
Jeremy met his future wife Catherine in Jamaica in 1970. They married there in 1998, having had a long distance relationship for many years. When he retired in 2000, Jeremy moved to Ontario, Canada to be with her and here they shared some 20 years of married life before he died, much too soon, on May 26, 2021 after a long illness. He donated his body to medical research.