Michael Shirley, Ph.D.

Deputy Director, Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection
Florida Department of Environmental Protection

Michael Shirley has had a long career devoted to environmental protection with a focused science-based management approach. He received a Ph.D. in Marine Science with a minor in Environmental Toxicology from North Carolina State University, a Master of Science in Biology from the University of West Florida, and a Bachelor of Science in Zoology from the University of Rhode Island.

During his graduate studies, Dr. Shirley worked at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Gulf Ecology Division Laboratory. He started his professional career as a staff scientist for Save the Bay Inc. (Rhode Island) and has held adjunct faculty appointments with Florida Gulf Coast University, Florida International University, Florida Southwestern State College and Hodges University.

He has worked as a research biologist, resource management coordinator and research coordinator at the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (RBNERR) in Naples, Florida. Throughout his time with the National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS), Dr. Shirley has played a vital role in the development and implementation of national protocols associated with the monitoring of abiotic indicators of water quality and weather; biological monitoring and watershed habitat; and land use mapping. These protocols now constitute the NERRS System-Wide Monitoring Program (SWMP) that was initiated over 20 years ago and continues to be used at the 30 reserves across the country.

Dr. Shirley was the first stewardship coordinator in the NERRS network, a partnership between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and coastal states that has a leading role in guiding science-based restoration through habitat monitoring.

He developed the RBNERR SWMP that focuses on monitoring the downstream impact of watershed restoration in the Picayune Strand Restoration Project, the first and largest of the Everglades restoration projects. The water quality monitoring stations have been instrumental to understanding how downstream estuaries respond to natural and altered hydrologic regimes. For 20 years, RBNERR has been able to collect baseline information used to understand biological responses by fish communities as the restoration continues.

Dr. Shirley has also held the position of director at the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (GTM Research Reserve), serving simultaneously as the Northeast Regional Program Administrator for DEP’s Northeast Coast Aquatic Preserve Program. While at the GTM Research Reserve, Dr. Shirley lead numerous research and resource management projects benefiting the reserve and Northeast Florida. Some projects had statewide or even nationwide implications and benefits. The work spanned and interrelated the spatial planning fields of land conservation, smart growth and low-impact development, and coastal hazard mitigation. This work spearheaded efforts to examine the impact of sea-level rise in the region in detail and has since sparked other sea-level rise studies in St. Augustine and Northeast Florida.

In 2020, Dr. Shirley was appointed as the Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection‘s deputy director for coastal zone management, where he has applied his experience to statewide initiatives to protect Florida’s environment. He is currently working on using systematic approaches to manage the state’s 42 aquatic preserves while leveraging NOAA Coastal Zone Management Program policy.

Dr. Shirley’s core belief in science-based management and the importance of partnerships and collaborations has significantly impacted those fortunate to work with him.