An associate professor of Biology and Molecular Biology and director of the Passaic River Institute, ecologist Meiyin Wu’s research focuses on habitat restoration and ecosystem management. The author of more than 20 articles and books, she holds two U.S. patents.
Have you always wanted to be a scientist?
My interest in science started when I was very young. I grew up in Taiwan in the countryside and was naturally connected to the landscape as a child.
Taiwan is surrounded by coral reefs. I would scuba dive and find damage to the reefs. I decided I wanted to work to restore, manage and preserve the natural world.
It’s been a year since Superstorm Sandy struck. Why was New Jersey so badly damaged?
You have to look at what is really causing the damage. It’s not just the storm, it’s that people live in easily flooded areas. As New Jersey becomes increasingly urbanized, people continue to opt to live within the 100-year floodplain.
We build on the floodplains, barrier islands and coastal areas. Towns like Little Ferry, Hoboken and Jersey City were once marshlands. We live where the water will come in – it’s our choice.
What about the damage to New Jersey’s wildlife?
It’s much easier to measure the storm’s human damage by quantifying individual insurance claims and collecting information from municipalities. Post-Sandy mitigation efforts have been understandably focused on human needs stemming from the damage to coastal communities – on trying to restore cities and towns, rebuild boardwalks and fuel the state’s economy.
It’s not so easy to assess Sandy’s damage to wildlife. We need to help bring wildlife back to the coastal areas that are being rebuilt. We can’t ignore the damage to wildlife habitats and ecosystems: not paying attention to this damage would be a major mistake.
Are you involved in research that addresses post-Sandy recovery?
Yes. I’m part of a team of Montclair State and Rutgers University researchers that has received funding from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to identify and evaluate alternatives for flooding risk reduction for vulnerable communities along the Hackensack and Hudson Rivers.
My team – which includes College of Science and Mathematics Dean Robert Prezant and Earth and Environmental Studies professors Clement Alo and Josh Galster – is particularly focused on the Hackensack River communities of Hackensack, Moonachie and Little Ferry.
What other projects are you involved in?
I’ll be beginning work on a project with Bedminster Township, the Audubon Society and the DEP to install four wildlife crossing tunnels to protect reptile and amphibian species endangered by roads. I have worked on projects like this since 2010.
New Jersey’s population density is the highest in the nation, which means we have a dense road network system. Cars kill many animals.
Often, the roads intersect migratory pathways for endangered turtles, frogs, toads and salamanders. Amphibians move during spring from the woods to nest and breed in pond habitats. Reptiles like turtles do the reverse: they live in water but lay their eggs in sandy habitats during the spring and summer, when they become most active in the landscape.
We coordinate volunteers and students to monitor areas where road mortality occurs. We’ll be surveying the Bedminster area beginning in February. Wildlife crossing structures are scheduled to be installed next fall – before winter comes. We’ll monitor this until 2015.
You have worked on projects using ultrasound technologies. Are you still involved in that?
I have worked on patented projects like BallastSolution that uses ultrasound technologies to eliminate invasive microorganisms from ship ballast water for 10 years.
I’m also looking into ways to use ultrasound to help remove bacterial and other contamination on substrates and media such as on fruits and vegetables, aquaculture systems, sea walls, harbors and ship hulls.
I’ve received funding for a study that measures levels of mercury contamination in plants and animals living in New Jersey’s aquatic habitats – particularly in species like fish and turtles that people eat.
How do you do it all?
I don’t know how I do all this! I guess it’s a matter of prioritizing. I have meeting days and working days. Monday, for instance, is my day for meeting with students.
How do you relax?
I work when I have to work. From 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., I am in my office. But in the evenings and weekends I’m with my kids and my family when they need me.
I don’t have time to watch TV for myself, but I do watch shows like The Walking Dead that my kids like with them. I read books with them. We would compete to see who could finish each Harry Potter book first.
I love science fiction-type books. Michael Crichton is my number one favorite. He’s one of the few writers whose science is correct – and he even gives references – in his books. I am also a fan of Dan Brown – I’m reading his Inferno right now.