Keynote Speaker Charlie Rolsky 

Our keynote speaker at our luncheon, on October 25, was Dr. Charles “Charlie” Rolsky, the Executive Director and Senior Research Scientist for the prestigious Shaw Institute in Blue Hill, Maine. In his leadership role there, he continues to build on their strong reputation and legacy of researching links between environmental contamination and human health, which includes plastic pollution, PFAS chemicals, and other contaminants of concern.  

To empower this important research, he has forged partnerships with scientific, environmental, and educational institutions worldwide, including an ongoing collaboration with New York University, Harvard University, and Colby College to measure microplastics in human tissue and explore how these pollutants impact human health. He also has a strong focus on monitoring marine species as sentinels for environmental health, including marine mammals and birds. 

Charlie and his research have been featured on ABC News, BBC News, and PBS; and in the pages of The New York Times, Newsweek, The Washington Post, Forbes, Smithsonian Magazine and many other prestigious media outlets worldwide. He is particularly renowned for his studies that revealed that materials marketed as being biodegradable - such as contact lenses and detergent pods - are, in fact, anything but that.  

He received his master’s and PhD from Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute, where he researched plastic pollution in marine and terrestrial ecosystems. As a postdoctoral research scholar in the Biodesign’s Center for Sustainable Macromolecular Materials and Manufacturing, he focused on green chemistry and sustainable materials science. He also serves as the Director of Science for Plastic Oceans International, as a member of the Science Advisory Board of the Plastic Pollution Coalition, and on the State of Maine’s PFAS Fund Scientific Advisory Committee. 

Finally, Charlie and his team are extremely passionate about citizen science and public outreach, with groups ranging from kids to lifelong learners. A teacher for over eight years, he continues his mentorship through a range of internship and educational opportunities at the Shaw Institute.

2023 MEAL Winners


Gulf Coast Marine Environmental Excellence Awardwhich recognizes an individual who has made outstanding contributions to marine environmental sustainability in the Alabama Gulf Coast Region. John Shell 

John Shell, is a Boy Scout in Troop 147 in Mobile, Alabama. The Eagle Reef is John’s Eagle Scout project, and his initial goal was to raise funds to deploy 100 mini reefs across coastal Alabama to help clean our water and improve the fish and crab population along our coastlines. 

The reefs are 4 feet by 3 feet, made of lightweight material and placed under any pier or dock. The reef floats up and down with the tide and, once loaded with oysters, barnacles, and other filter feeders, will filter and clean 1.1 million gallons of water annually. Additionally, each mini reef acts as a nursery and grows 200 fish and 300 crabs annually. 

The reefs will be deployed across coastal Alabama, including Dog River, Fowl River, Dauphin Island, Orange Beach and Perdido Bay. The reefs can thrive anywhere south of Fairhope and are especially effective for filtering water in areas with a limited tidal flow, such as the canals of Ono Island, Dauphin Island and Orange Beach.

To date, John has raised funds for 175 reefs and is organizing volunteers to help assemble and deploy the reefs. He is also seeking an individual or organization to continue the project after he completes his original reef goal and earns his Eagle Scout Award. When these initial 175 reefs are deployed, they will filter over 1.9 billion gallons of water annually!


Gulf Coast Marine Environmental Leadership AwardRecognizes an organization whose efforts have resulted in the improvement of marine environmental sustainability in the Alabama Gulf Coast Region. Downtown Mobile Alliance and Mobile Baykeeper

Downtown Mobile Alliance and Mobile Baykeeper partnered in the Peace Out, Plastic initiative and has helped recruit downtown businesses to join the effort to reduce the amount of plastics in their workplaces. As part of the recruitment process, focus groups wanted to turn the initiative into a movement. They went on to develop a campaign to highlight this movement: “Peace Out, Plastic.”

Because plastic is inexpensive and convenient, it is omnipresent in 21st century commerce. Even though environmentally friendly packaging sometimes is more costly than plastic versions, 20 downtown restaurants, bars, hotels, non-profits and professional services operations are responding to those customers by committing to the Peace Out, Plastic movement.


John Shell