Dr. JoAnn Burkholder, Professor of Applied Aquatic Ecology, NC State University (NC). Dr. Burkholder conducted ground-breaking research in the early 1990s which linked Pfiesteria to massive fish kills, nutrient pollution and human illness. Her findings resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in water quality improvements and additional scientific research for the Neuse River and other coastal estuaries. Her amazing discovery was the topic of a NY Times best-selling novel “And the Waters Turned to Blood” by Rodney Barker. The numerous beach closings, bans on fishing, and the thousands of children at summer camps who were prevented from swimming in the Neuse River in the mid 1990s likely prevented mass illness and unnecessary public exposure to Pfiesteria’s dangerous neurotoxins.
Yet for ten years, JoAnn endured personal attacks and multiple attempts to discredit her research. In 2007, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) at the Center for Coastal Environmental Health and Bimolecular Research in Charleston, SC published a paper on Pfiesteria Toxins, which unequivocally validated Dr. Burkholder’s research on Pfiesteria. She was finally vindicated as a result of NOAA’s recent findings.
Dean Naujoks, Upper Neuse Riverkeeper, presented Dr. Burkholder with the award. He compared Dr. Burkholder to environmental hero Rachel Carson, whose research exposed environmental impacts of pesticides. At the awards banquet he stated, “I have always believed your contribution to science, to our environment, and to all of humanity would one day be recognized. My hope is the award you are receiving tonight will be the first of many awards, grants and research funding that you rightfully deserve so you can continue your great work.”