World leader in science presented with honorary doctorate from VIU

March 4, 2009 - 2:27am

Dr. Richard Beamish, who discovered the problem of acid rain in North America and a method of determining the accurate age of fish, will be attending a graduation ceremony for the first time in his life when Vancouver Island University pays tribute to his distinguished career by presenting him with an Honorary Doctorate in Science.

“This will be the first graduation I have ever attended,” said Beamish. “I didn’t go to my high school or university graduation ceremonies.  It’s great to receive this award– it was unexpected and I’m very excited.”  

As a graduate student in 1969, Beamish co-discovered the problem of acid rain in North America. He highlighted the role that atmospheric processes play in transporting contaminants, and the potential effect this may have on marine, freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems. A leader in the world's scientific community, his work has been instrumental in encouraging governments and others to address these problems.

Beamish has now worked as a research scientist for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans at the Pacific Biological Station for 36 years. One of his significant findings is that two thirds of the fish caught commercially in BC are over 30 years old. 

“Originally we thought most fish were 10 to 20 years old and most of our science was based on that belief,” said Beamish. “This discovery meant a significant change in our thinking.”

He also enjoys working on Lamprey (eels), one of our more common fresh water fish best known for invading the Great Lakes. “I’ve described two new species of Lamprey for BC.”

“We are thrilled to award Richard Beamish the Honorary Doctorate in Science,” said VIU President, Dr. Ralph Nilson. “His service to VIU has been exemplary and his accomplishments and contributions to the scientific community have been outstanding.”

This Honorary Doctorate is not the first accolade Beamish has received, but for Beamish, this recognition is pretty meaningful.

“I’ve won some other awards and they were important and nice to win, but when Ralph Nilson called, I really was excited about it. I said, “I’m all tingly” – there was something about it that set off all my nerves.“

Beamish has been co-teaching a course at VIU for 20 years about the effects of global warming in the Strait of Georgia. He gets inspiration from watching students respond to challenges and demonstrate strong independent thinking.

“Teaching is just a lot of fun and I really enjoy it,” he said. “Working with students is exciting – their curiosity and their ability to think through issues is inspiring.”

Beamish has authored or co-authored more than 250 scientific papers and reports. He just finished co-editing a book on the future of fisheries science in North America.  He is currently producing a book with a colleague on the Strait of Georgia for the summer of 2010, which will include the work of a number of authors.

He has received national and international awards and recognition. Among them is his appointment as a member of the Order of Canada, the Order of British Columbia, election to the Royal Society of Canada, and a recent international award from Poland for "outstanding achievements in the field of fisheries science." He represents Canada on a number of prestigious international panels and commissions.

Beamish will receive his honorary doctorate at a graduation ceremony at the Port Theatre in Nanaimo on June 2.

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