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From SoCal SETAC Newsletter: Volume 10, August 2003

Who was Marissa Gaumond?

Contributed by

Barry Snyder

AMEC Earth and Environmental, San Diego

Each year, the southern California Chapter of SETAC donates $200 to Uplift/Kids at Heart in the memory of Marissa Gaumond. Many long-time chapter members have fond memories of Marissa. So, just who was Marissa Gaumond anyway?


Marissa was born in 1966 in Baja California, Mexico to Manuel and Elsa Aguirre. Marissa’s father was a tuna boat captain based in Ensenada, Mexico. Marissa grew up in Chula Vista where she attended Catholic grammar and high schools until she entered the biology program at San Diego State University. Her studies were concentrated in marine biology. Marissa was completely fascinated by tide pool organisms. She spent a lot of time at the Point Loma tide pools trudging around in her Teva sandals at low tide observing the fascinating sea creatures. She had the opportunity to spend a summer session at the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology where she learned about temperate marine biology and made many good friends. Marissa received her bachelors’ degree in biology in 1989. She was very proud to be a college graduate with a science degree, which, at the time, was very uncommon for a Mexican woman.


Marissa’s first job was with Kinnetic Laboratories in Carlsbad. She was very lucky to fall under the mentorship of Ken Schiff, currently the deputy director of the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project (SCCWRP). Marissa loved working for Ken - whether it was collecting sediment samples in the Port of LA aboard the Shana Rae, or racing out at 2 am to collect stormwater samples on some military base, or interfacing with the marine biology lab in Ensenada (she was bilingual), Marissa always gave 100 percent.


In 1993, Marissa began to suffer some health problems and had successful surgery to remove a malignant tumor from her abdomen. She was extremely touched by the support she received from her Kinnetic’s co-workers who got together and donated their own vacation and sick time to help her out.


I met Marissa in 1994 when her interest in aquatic toxicology lead her to seek a position at Ogden Environmental’s Bioassay Lab is San Diego (which is now known as AMEC). She began working at Ogden just as the lab was going through its big move to a brand new facility. Initially she worked as a lab technician conducting all sorts of toxicity tests with freshwater and saltwater organisms. She soon became the lab’s QA supervisor. Marissa was instrumental in establishing programs in AMEC’s San Diego bioassay laboratory that are still in place today to ensure the highest quality data are produced by the lab. Although she was a strict taskmaster when it came to test quality, she also brought a lot of humor to the lab and was, as she put it, a real jokester. She developed strong working relationships and friendships with her supervisor and past chapter president Marilyn Schwartz, chapter webmaster Chris Stransky, and colleagues Steve Carlson, Nick Buhbe, and Lawrence Honma - and a very special friendship with me.


Marissa was an active member of SoCal SETAC in the early years and served as chapter secretary. She attended the national SETAC meetings in Washington DC (1996) and San Francisco (1997). Marissa was also very active outside of work as well. She worked as a volunteer tutor at Uplift/Kids at Heart and Challenger Middle School. She cared dearly for children, particularly for Latino children who struggle with English. She loved to travel and did so extensively through Europe, Mexico, and the US. Memorable trips included one with her mother Elsa through Copper Canyon, Mexico, a month-long trip through Ireland with her best friend Carmel, a kayak trip to Anacapa Island with Dave Gutoff and me, and a tour of the Northeast with Marilyn Schwartz following the 1996 national SETAC meeting. In December of 1998, Marissa had a reoccurrence of the cancer that she dealt with 5 years earlier. This was a particularly rare and aggressive form of cancer. Although she fought hard, she passed away on March 14, 1999 surrounded by her family and friends. Her ashes were spread in the ocean at her favorite beach, Torrey Pines. Marissa is well remembered for her humor, generosity, and caring. In addition to the annual donation made in Marissa’s name by SoCal SETAC, AMEC Earth & Environmental presents the annual “Marissa Aguirre-Gaumond Leadership Award” to a Challenger Middle School student who has a deep love of the ocean and it inhabitants, and is kind and respectful to teachers and other students.


It’s been over 4 years now since Marissa passed away. I’m proud to say that her legacy of caring continues.