Vol. 67, No. 1 | Summer 2022

In Memoriam

ERNST (ERNIE) S. REESE (1931-2022)

Written by Zuleyma Tang-Martínez, ABS Historian
Photos: B&W from Donald A. Dewsbury; Color from George Losey

Former ABS president, Ernie Reese, passed away on February 21, 2022, in Kane’ohe, Hawai’i. He was born in Madison, Wisconsin, on January 26, 1931. Ernie Reese was an expert on the behavior of marine organisms, particularly crabs and coral reef fishes. He also was a tireless champion for coral reef and environmental conservation, for student involvement in research, and for citizen science.

Ernie received his undergraduate degree from Princeton University and, after serving in the US armed forces, he went on to obtain his Ph.D. in 1960, working under the supervision of George Bartholomew and Richard Boolootian. His dissertation examined shell selection by hermit crabs and was subsequently published in Science. He conducted postdoctoral studies with funding from NSF, at the University of Groeningen in the Netherlands and also with Nobel Laureate, Konrad Lorenz in Germany. At about the same time, Ernie was funded by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission to study Coconut Crabs at Enewetok Marine Biological Laboratory, in the Marshall Islands. The U.S. had conducted numerous nuclear tests at Enewetok and was interested in understanding the effects of radiation exposure on marine life. This was Ernie’s first exposure to the biology of tropical coral reefs.

In 1963, Ernie joined the faculty of the Department of Zoology at the University of Hawai’i in Manoa, and at the same time became a fellow of the Hawai’i Institute of Marine Biology; he retired as Professor Emeritus in 2002. His initial research concentrated on coral reef organisms, including further research on shell use by crabs, as well as studies on the feeding behavior, ecology, and life history of fishes, orientation mechanisms in butterfly fish, and the co-evolution of reef fishes and corals.

Subsequently, his work became more focused on strategies for the conservation and preservation of coral reefs. He particularly advocated for the use of the butterfly fish as an indicator species to assess the health of coral reefs – with the hope that coral reefs could, in turn, serve as indicators of more general environmental change. Towards the end of his life, Ernie developed management strategies for the conservation of coral reefs. This effort included the design of simple behavioral observation methods that could be used by students and citizen-scientists, such as recreational divers, to monitor the health of coral reefs.

One of Ernie’s major accomplishments in conservation was his successful effort to have Hanauma Bay (on Oahu) declared a Marine Life Conservation District by the Hawai’i State Legislature. Prior to 1967, Hanauma Bay was a fishing area under heavy use and fish stocks had started to decline. Ernie and his students conducted an underwater survey that documented the biodiversity and importance of the marine life at Hanauma Bay. These studies convinced the Hawai’i Legislature to protect Hanauma Bay as a “living museum.” Thus, any of us who learned to dive or snorkel at Hanauma Bay (as was the case for me – in 1995) can thank Ernie Reese for an unforgettable experience! In addition to his research, Ernie was deeply committed to undergraduate education. His well-known advice to students, which we can all heed, consisted of a simple 6 point plan: “Point yourself in the right direction; Be curious; Be opportunistic; Persevere to achieve your goals; Carry a good luck charm; Always say ‘Yes, I can.’” Ernie contributed selflessly to the efforts of students and faculty alike. His post doc and colleague, George Losey, remembers: "Ernie changed my life by inviting me to take my 2-year postdoc in his lab in Hawai'i. He and his wife Ilze became great friends and shepherded us into the university and community. He never failed to give me every opportunity for success at the University of Hawai'i."

Ernie was very active in the ABS for many years. In addition to serving as President (1974-1975; Presidential sequence from 1972-1976), he also served on several important committees (e.g. Film; Policy and Planning; Nominations). He was elected a fellow of ABS in 1977. Also active outside of the ABS, he was co-organizer of the 1995 International Ethological Conference in Honolulu.

Ernie also received several other honors throughout his career. These included serving as President of the Hawai’i Academy of Science (1985-1986), and receiving the Faculty Performance Award from the University of Hawai’i (2000). He served as Director of the Enewetok Mid-Pacific Research Laboratory from 1977-1980. The ABS extends condolences to his surviving family members: his wife, Ilze, children Theresa McFarland and Hans Reese, his seven grandchildren, and his sister Alma Gray.

ZTM thanks Dr. George Losey for assistance in locating information and with editing, for a more recent photo of Ernie, and for email discussions. Donald Dewsbury kindly provided the black & white photo from 1974, at the time Ernie served as President of the ABS. Information for this obituary was obtained in large part from another obituary written by Ernie Reese’s colleague, Dr. H. Gert de Couet, Professor Emeritus, University of Hawaii.

Selected Publications:

Reese, E. S. 1968. Shell Use: An adaptation for emigration from the sea by the Coconut Crab. Science 161: 385-386.

Reese, E. S. 1969. Behavioral adaptations of intertidal Hermit Crabs. Integrative and Comparative Biology 9: 343-355.

Reese, E. S., Crosby, M. P. 1999. The use of indicator species for coral reef monitoring.
In: Proceedings of the Hawaii Coral Reef Monitoring Workshop: A Tool for Management, Honolulu, Hawaii.



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