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ICAST Virtual Panel

Florida’s Coral Reef | Leading the way in Global Coral Conservation

Join a group of esteemed panelists as they discuss Florida’s Coral Reef conservation efforts and their global impacts. Discussion facilitated by Florida’s Chief Science Officer, Dr. Thomas Frazer. Panelists include:

  • Noah Valenstein, Secretary, Florida Department of Environmental Protection
  • Joanna Walczak, Regional Administrator, DEP’s Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection
  • Gil McRae, Director, Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute
  • Sarah Fangman, Superintendent, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
  • Jim Ritterhoff, Executive Director/Co-Founder of FORCE BLUE, INC.

Learn more about Florida’s Coral Reef.


Thomas K. Frazer, Chief Science Officer,
Florida Department of Environmental Protection

Thomas K. Frazer currently serves as Chief Science Officer for the state of Florida. He is also a Professor at the University of Florida. Dr. Frazer holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Fisheries Biology from Humboldt State University and a Master’s Degree in Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences from the University of Florida. He earned his Ph.D. in Biological Sciences from the University of California, Santa Barbara. His research addresses contemporary and emerging environmental issues, and it is, by nature, interdisciplinary. His work involves collaborators from disparate disciplines, and it includes sampling and experiments conducted across a wide range of spatial and temporal scales. During his tenure at the University of Florida, Dr. Frazer has garnered substantial research funding to address topics pertaining to water quantity and quality, nutrient dynamics, biogeochemical processes, fish population dynamics, food web interactions, and ecological restoration of degraded ecosystems. He has conducted field research in both freshwater and marine systems around the globe, and he is intimately familiar with a broad suite of environmental and natural resource issues (e.g., eutrophication of fresh, estuarine, and coastal waters; invasive species; and the ecological impacts of contemporary environmental change, including coral bleaching, ocean acidification, and sea level rise). Dr. Frazer has authored and/or co-authored more than 175 peer-reviewed publications, technical reports, and book chapters. He serves as Chief Specialty Editor for the Coral Reef Research section of Frontiers in Marine Science, currently holds an at-large seat on the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, and is a member of APLU’s Board on Oceans, Atmosphere and Climate.


Noah Valenstein, Secretary,
Florida Department of Environmental Protection

Noah Valenstein was appointed Secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection by Governor Rick Scott on May 23, 2017 and reappointed by Governor Ron DeSantis on February 15, 2019. He returned to DEP with nearly 15 years of public service experience with governmental agencies and a passion for natural resource protection.

Noah most recently served as executive director for the Suwannee River Water Management District, where he oversaw the protection and conservation of water and land resources across 15 counties. His previous experience includes working on environmental, agricultural and energy issues in the Executive Office of the Governor and Florida House of Representatives, as well as with several of Florida’s leading environmental nonprofit groups.

With a strong belief in the power of partnerships, Noah is focused on building relationships between diverse groups of stakeholders, including environmental and agricultural groups as well as local communities and businesses. He’s built a reputation of bringing groups together to overcome obstacles and work toward a shared goal of environmental protection, and is committed to continuing in this spirit of partnership and service as DEP Secretary.

Noah was born in Gainesville, Florida, and graduated with honors from the University of Florida’s School of Natural Resources and Environment. He also holds a law degree from Florida State University. Noah resides in Tallahassee with his wife, Jennifer, and daughter, Ava.

Joanna Walczak, Regional Administrator,
DEP Florida Coastal Management Program

Joanna Walczak oversees multiple programs in the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection’s Southeast Region, including Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserves, Coupon Bight Aquatic Preserve and Lignumvitae Aquatic Preserve in the Florida Keys, and the Coral Reef Conservation Program. She is the state co-manager of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Joanna is also Point of Contact for the State of Florida on the US Coral Reef Task Force and US All Islands Coral Reef Committee.

Gil McRae,
Director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute

Gil McRae is currently the Director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI). FWRI is the research division within FWC consisting of approximately 700 staff housed at more than 30 locations statewide. FWRI conducts monitoring and research associated with Florida’s marine fisheries, freshwater fisheries, terrestrial wildlife and their habitats throughout the state in conjunction with dozens of state and federal agencies, universities, non-profit organizations, and private industry partners. Mr. McRae is a Special Graduate Faculty Member of the College of Marine Science at the University of South Florida, and a former Florida Commissioner on the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. Currently, he serves as Co-Chair of the Florida Oceans and Coastal Resource Council, and as a member of Mote Marine Laboratory’s Science Advisory Committee, the Florida Sea Grant Advisory Council, the Florida Institute of Oceanography Executive Committee, the University of Florida Wildlife Ecology and Conservation Department Advisory Council, the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force Science Coordination Group, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Water Quality Protection Program Steering Committee, and numerous research collaboration committees. He is a member of the Deepwater Horizon NRDA Trustee Council representing the Florida trustees. He has nearly 30 years’ experience as a fisheries research scientist and administrator for natural resource organizations at the state, federal and international level. He holds a BS degree in Aquatic Ecology from the University of Michigan, and an MS degree in Fisheries Science from the University of Minnesota with a minor in Statistics.

Sarah Fangman,
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Superintendent

Sarah became Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Superintendent in the summer of 2017 transitioning from the same position with Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary in Georgia. She began working with the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries in 1998 after serving as a U.S. Presidential Management Fellow with NOAA Fisheries at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center and the Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response program in Washington D.C.

As a marine scientist, Sarah was the science coordinator at Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary in California before serving as the program coordinator for the sanctuary system’s Southeast, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean region. In that capacity, she worked extensively in the Florida Keys in support of science and conducted more than 400 dives in the Keys.

Jim Ritterhoff,
Executive Director/Co-Founder of FORCE BLUE, INC.

In 2016, Jim co-founded FORCE BLUE, a 501c3 nonprofit organization that retrains and redeploys former Special Operations veterans and military-trained combat divers to work alongside scientists and environmentalists on marine conservation missions. A writer by trade, Jim has penned critically acclaimed advertising campaigns, documentary series and short films. In 2008, Jim wrote and produced the theatrically released feature Cayman Went.

A passionate Scuba diver and lifelong environmentalist, Jim previously served on the Board of Directors of the Central Caribbean Marine Institute (CCMI) and, in 2019, was named “Sea Hero of the Year” by Scuba Diving Magazine and the Seiko Watch Corporation. Earlier this year Jim was invited by the IUCN to present as part of United Nations’ World Oceans Day.

Jim holds an M.A. in Journalism from Syracuse University’s S. I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and a B.A. from Bucknell University.

Did you know?

Learn about how our partners are making a difference with Florida’s Coral Reef.

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