Florida State University appoints new Coastal and Marine Laboratory director

Joel Trexler is the new director of the Florida State University Coastal and Marine Laboratory.
Joel Trexler is the new director of the Florida State University Coastal and Marine Laboratory.

Florida State University has appointed Joel Trexler as the next director of the FSU Coastal and Marine Laboratory, a research laboratory and base camp for field studies located in St. Teresa, Florida.

Trexler’s responsibilities as director will include oversight of research at the laboratory, faculty development and the growth of the facility. He comes to FSU from Florida International University, where he was a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences and director of the Marine Science Program.

“The FSU Coastal and Marine Laboratory will be in good hands with Joel’s leadership,” said Vice President for Research Gary K. Ostrander. “He has extensive experience studying a complex and important ecosystem and managing a scientific program in the Florida Everglades, and his experience will be a valuable asset in moving the laboratory’s mission forward.”

Trexler will succeed laboratory faculty member Felicia Coleman, who returned her focus to research after serving as the facility’s director for 14 years. Assistant Vice President for Research Eric H. Holmes served as interim director while the university sought a permanent candidate.

Trexler has spent almost three decades researching the wetland ecosystem of the Everglades in South Florida, work that has informed the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, a federal and state partnership to protect that ecosystem while also providing for the needs of the millions of people who live in the region. It is the largest hydrologic restoration project ever undertaken in the United States.

The FSU Coastal and Marine Laboratory is the home of another ecosystem restoration project, the Apalachicola Bay System Initiative. That project is researching the causes of the decline of the bay’s ecosystem and its oyster reef and developing a plan to restore the health of the bay and manage it for the future. It is funded in part by an $8 million grant from Triumph Gulf Coast, a nonprofit organization that administers funds recovered by the state for economic damages that resulted from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

“The oysters and other organisms in the Apalachicola Bay exist in an ecosystem where saltwater and freshwater interact,” Trexler said. “Policymakers and land managers must understand this system to help it thrive, and the insight provided by researchers at the Coastal and Marine Laboratory is crucial to that understanding.”

A major part of his work as the laboratory’s director will be to identify and secure new resources to help the facility expand and continue their research efforts.

“I’m excited to work with the staff and the scientists at the laboratory to help them realize their potential, which I think is really great, and keep the laboratory on the trajectory it’s already on and moving forward,” he said.

Trexler’s scientific career started with a childhood love of dinosaurs that transformed into a fascination with tropical fish. He studied marine biology at the University of South Carolina, where a class in ecology — a study of the connections between communities of organisms and the larger ecosystem — inspired him to pursue that field. He went on to earn a master’s degree and a doctorate in biology from FSU before beginning his academic career.

His time studying the Everglades got him involved in long-term studies focused on a specific place. He observed a huge range of different environmental circumstances play out over many years.

“Sustained, long-term data gathering can provide insights that only come from that kind of work, and it is a valuable resource for understanding what has changed in an ecosystem after an event like a major oil spill or hurricane,” Trexler said.

He will start work remotely on September 18 because of the COVID-19 pandemic and will begin working at the laboratory in November.

“I am enthusiastic to begin this work and look forward to helping the scientists at the laboratory achieve their research goals,” he said.