Lehman Marine Research Director Receives Award for Lifetime Dedication to Urban Waterways

Dr. Joseph Rachlin, Lehman’s director of the Laboratory for Marine and Estuarine Research and interim associate provost and dean for research, was honored on November 7th with the “Great Work Award” for his nearly five decades of restoration work and research on the Bronx, Sawmill, Hudson and East Rivers. He is a professor in the Biological Sciences department.

The distinguished award presented by the Environmental Consortium of Colleges and Universities, part of the Pace University Academy for Applied Environmental Studies at Dyson College, is something of a lifetime achievement award for Rachlin’s advancement of scientific knowledge in aquatic ecology in and along New York’s waterways. The award officially called the “Great Work Award in Honor of Thomas Berry” was presented to him at the organization’s 12th annual conference hosted at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie. The organization’s goal has been to advance the “understanding of the cultural, social, political, economic and natural factors affecting the region.”

Rachlin solidified his reputation as a pioneer in marine science with research examining the ecological complexities and life histories of both freshwater and marine organisms in largely neglected urban rivers. His Bronx River research yielded reports of a surprisingly thriving body of water that is home to a variety of species of fish, shrimp and crabs.

For Rachlin, an aquatic ecologist, the award is the culmination of a long successful career and recognition from his peers in marine, ecological, and environmental research. He was nominated for the award by his Lehman colleague, Professor Yuri Gorokhovich, an associate professor and chairperson of the Department of Earth, Environmental, and Geospatial Sciences.

“Dr. Rachlin miraculously combines research, service, teaching, and leadership in a seemingly effortless manner, creating a strong and healthy concoction that nurtures everybody around him,” Gorokhovich wrote in praise of his colleague. “In terms of scholarship and teaching, he focuses on the Hudson Valley area and shows students how beautiful and productive research can be at home.”

Growing up in the West Farms section of the Bronx in the 1940’s, Rachlin fished for carp and trapped crayfish in the Bronx River, one of the local waterways that would come to symbolize his life’s work.

Along with the honor of receiving the “Great Work” award, the last few weeks have been particularly satisfying for the 80-year old, who on November 2nd was interviewed about his research in The Huffington Post. The resulting publicity from the story caused a flood of email congratulations from friends, colleagues and former students that Rachlin hadn’t heard from in decades. He says that one of the best things about receiving all the accolades is the wider attention it brings to his work. “It shows the value of the work to a broader community,” he says. “Everything I do on the Hudson, Bronx, Sawmill and East Rivers is about getting students and teachers involved. Through the years, we have run many, many workshops to try to get teachers to realize these are very useful living laboratories for them and for their students to learn the key principles of aquatic ecology.”

Recovering from a recent illness has not deterred Rachlin from supervising field research along the local waterways and he continues to teach classes at Lehman. His current research is focusing on collecting samples of the fish population moving through the East River and how that population dynamics changes over time. During the last several years, he has been monitoring the activity of a not previously seen, non-native shrimp. “It’s always nice to be recognized for the work you’ve been doing,” he said reflecting on the award. “The most important thing to me is that my research involves local communities and students—and gets them involved in the system.”