FASCINATION with life on the sea shore – investigating rock pools, lifting stones, discovering alien-like creatures – has gripped most children but for John Lewis, it was the foundation of his life’s work.
Dr John Lewis (known almost universally as Jack) who has died aged 88, was reading for a PhD at University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, when he began his life-long study of life on the rocky shoreline between high and low tides.
Until that time, the few intensive surveys had either been limited in terms of the size of the area they examined or were confined to a single species. However, because of his extensive travels and studies around the coastline of the British Isles, initially in an old converted ambulance and accompanied by his wife, Betty, and first collaborator, Harry Powell, Dr Lewis transformed the knowledge and understanding of coastal flora and fauna.
Awarded his doctorate in 1952, he spent a further two years in Aberystwyth carrying out post-doctoral research before being appointed assistant lecturer in the department of zoology at Leeds in 1954. He was promoted to lecturer in 1955 and to senior lecturer in 1964.
Dr Lewis was brought up in Wallasey, Cheshire, and went to Oldershaw Grammar School, leaving in 1942.
With the Second World War in progress, he served as a sub-lieutenant (pilot) in the Fleet Air Arm, later being medically discharged after contracting TB.
His eventual recovery allowed him to take a place at the University College of Wales, graduating in zoology in 1949 with one of the department’s rarely-awarded firsts.
When he became a lecturer at Leeds University, his teaching was characterised by warmth and enthusiasm, and at the same time, the papers he was publishing spread his reputation and influence as a scholar.
In 1964, his book The Ecology of Rocky Shores, which became a classic text in it its field, was published.
That same year, and on the initiative of Professor Jimmy Dodd, the head of the department of zoology, a permanent research laboratory was opened at Robin Hood’s Bay with financial support from the Wellcome Trust, from which it took its name.
Relocating there – and made director in 1973 – Dr Lewis employed his considerable energy, forcefulness and organising skill to develop a centre of expertise which, although small in numbers of staff and to some extent geographically isolated, lacked nothing in scientific vitality and vigour.
His standing and his enthusiasm attracted a many research students, three of whom went on to become professors of marine biology in UK universities.
From the late 1960s onwards, his services as an environmental risk assessor were regularly sought for projects in the UK and overseas, in locations including Ireland, Hong Kong, Kuwait and the Cayman Islands.
He was a member of various committees of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) concerned with marine surveillance and conservation.
In 1978, he persuaded the council to let him establish a shore-line surveillance team to work from Robin Hood’s Bay, and that led to the collaboration of 11 European countries in a series of marine studies covering Norway to the Mediterranean. The project was overseen by an international committee which he chaired.
Economic constraints saw the closure of the laboratory in 1982, and Dr Lewis took retirement the following year.
He continued to remain active in his field, however, and in 1999 was chosen by the Ecological Society of America to receive its honorary award for that year, the citation stating that generations of ecologists around the world had been inspired by the distinguished, visionary work he had carried out over the course of his 50-year career.
Dr Lewis is survived by his wife, Betty, and sons Richard and David.