PETER BOYLE (1942-2009)
It is with profound regret that we mark the passing away of a great friend and colleague in the School of Biological Sciences, Professor Peter Boyle on 22 April 2009. He had been fighting cancer since 2002 and was just putting the finishing touches to his latest book "Life in the Mid-Atlantic" when his strength finally gave way.
Peter was born in 1942 in Weybridge in the South of England and passed a happy childhood marked by canoe trips on nearby rivers, pleasure in the outdoor life and observation of nature. After school he went to University of Bangor in North Wales where in 1964 he gained a first class honours degree in Zoology specialising in Marine Biology. His wife and life-long companion, Ann was a fellow student and they married in July of that year. Funded by a Commonwealth scholarship they moved to New Zealand where Peter began studies on marine molluscs, which remained his speciality throughout his academic career. At the University of Auckland he completed a PhD on chitons, primitive molluscs with a coat-of-mail like shell made up of eight segments. He came to Scotland in 1968 to take up a Research Fellowship at the Gatty Marine Laboratory, University of St. Andrews, to continue work on chitons. He established his name with an important series of papers on this group of animals including a monograph Letter to Nature in 1969 describing the unique structure of the eyes that are located in the shell segments
On the strength of this early success he was appointed to a lectureship in Zoology in the University of Aberdeen in 1970. Here he began the research on octopuses for which he became most well-known, researching Octopus vulgaris during summer trips with his family at the marine station in Banyuls in the South of France and developing a programme on the northern octopus Eledone cirrhosa in Aberdeen. In the aquarium in the basementof the zoology building he built up an Eledone holding- facility that was populated by these small octopuses brought in by North Sea commercial fishing boats. Foam edging solved the problem of octopuses climbing out of the tanks and, under Peter's direction, during the 1980s this facility became a world centre for studies on all aspects of the biology of this species. A cluster of inspired PhD students grew up a around him that became a feature of the rest of his career. He was promoted to senior lecturer in 1982 and Professor in 1987. At this time he founded the MSc course in Marine and Fisheries Science which he continued to organise for the next 12 years. Peter very ably obtained support for the course from the UK Natural Environment Research Council and repeated success with the EU Erasmus scheme for student exchanges.
In the 1990s as students increasingly came to Aberdeen especially to study marine biology, Peter's research branched out into broader fields. New serological techniques developed for studying the diet of Eledone were applied to squid, seals and dolphins and his team began a wide-ranging series of studies on cephalopods and marine mammals in relation to fisheries and conservation. Peter was called upon to serve on national and international committees. He participated actively in the International Council for Exploration of the Sea (ICES) on the Cephalopod Working Group from 1991 and chaired the Publications Committee 1998-2001. For the UK Natural Environment Research Council he served on numerous bodies, chairing the Marine Sciences Peer Review Committee and as a member of the influential Science and Innovation Strategy Board. In Scotland he served the Scottish Association of Marine Sciences as a member of the Council and Chair of the Finance & General Purposes Committee (1998-2002). He was also on the Sullom Voe Oil Terminal Environmental Advisory Group. He was one of the first academics in the UK to investigate environmental interactions related to offshore developments with a major grant awarded to his team in 1979 by the Science and Engineering Research Council to study ' Marine growth on North Sea oil platforms'. This work was further supported by contracts from BP and Britoil over a period of 10 years.
In contrast to his early solitary work on chitons, marine research by the 1990s was characterised by national and international collaborative consortia and Peter was in the vanguard of this trend. Beginning in 1990, he co-ordinated a series of three European projects on the biology and fisheries of squid and other cephalopods, the first of which led to publication of a special issue of the journal Fisheries Research in 1994. The last of these projects, "Cephalopod Resources Dynamics: patterns in environmental and genetic variation" (1997-2000) involved 9 institutions from all over Europe. In July 2000, he convened in Aberdeen the triennial conference of the Cephalopod International Advisory Council on Cephalopod Biomass and Production. This conference was also supported by the European Commission, allowing a delegation of Russian scientists to attend and present their work, and supporting publication of the proceedings in two special issues of Bulletin of Marine Science. Peter helped organise two NERC thematic programmes, Managing Impacts on the Marine Environment (MIME, 1996-1999) and Developmental Ecology of Marine Animals (DEMA, 1996-2002). A hallmark of his success was that throughout his career he was continuously supported by NERC by a series of grants: 1978- Feeding behaviour growth and reproduction of the octopus Eledone cirrhosa', 1980-Growth and activity of the octopus Eledone cirrhosa. 1985 Serological analysis of cephalopod gut contents. 1987- Onset and control of reproductive maturity in cephalopods. 1990 - Nutritional effects on the seasonality of cephalopod maturation. 1995 Reproductive biology of Opisthoteuthis agassizii. 1997 Developmental plasticity of loliginid squid. 1999- Developmental error and stress effects during incubation of cephalopod eggs.
At the turn of the 21st century, the global Census of Marine Life (COML) project was established and Peter was the UK representative on the steering committee of the workshop entitled "Patterns And Processes Of The Ecosystems Of The Northern Mid-Atlantic" held in Norway in February 2001 that established the first field programme of the COML that came to be known as MAR-ECO. It was a matter of great personal frustration that the onset of cancer the following year prohibited his active participation in the field research on the 2004 voyage of the R V GO Sars. However he continued to support MAR-ECO, attending the annual meetings and contributing to outreach activities including writing text for the Deeper than Light Exhibition that has toured major museums around the world and culminating in the book Life in the Mid-Atlantic that will be published in 2010. In 2006 MAR-ECO was awarded the European Commission's prestigious Descartes Prize for science communication.
Throughout these later years, serving on committees and supporting large programmes, personal scholarship was not neglected and in 2005 Blackwell published the 464 page book entitled Cephalopods: Ecology and Fisheries that had been written with Paul Rodhouse of the British Antarctic Survey. In 2003 a new species of deep-sea cirrate octopus was named Grimpoteuthis boylei in honour of Peter's substantial contribution to cephalopod biology.
Peter and Ann planned to retire to a house on the island of Pico in the Azores on top of the Mid Atlantic Ridge where Peter had restored an ancient windmill. His children Alice, David and Catriona together with grandchildren will however enjoy the fruits of these labours. Peter's career in Aberdeen saw the transition from a traditional Department of Zoology to a School of Biological Sciences offering specialist undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Marine Biology and Fishery Science with globally orientated multimillion pound/Euro research programmes. We are grateful to Peter for the almost 40 years he gave to the University of Aberdeen driving those changes and keeping us in the forefront of developments.