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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Renowned marine biologist, environmental activist Cerame Vivas dies at 88

Máximo Cerame Vivas (UPR Mayagüez Campus Department of Marine Sciences)

By The Star Staff

The founder of the University of Puerto Rico’s (UPR) Marine Sciences Department and former San Juan STAR columnist Máximo Cerame Vivas has passed away. He was 88 years old.

Cerame Vivas, who also was an environmental activist, photographer and painter who mounted more than 20 art exhibits, appeared to have felt his imminent death, and wrote about his legacy for his children in a work that was published by his son, Martín Cerame. The publication, titled “Huellas de un Boricua,” is a summary of his professional and artistic life in which he noted that children often do not know about the actions of their parents.

While he often wrote columns for different publications besides the STAR, he eventually decided to write independently to avoid having his works edited.

But Cerame Vivas is most well known for his efforts to protect the environment. His main interest was addressing and solving environmental problems. He was the chief scientist in charge of the investigations surrounding the Ocean Eagle oil spill in 1968, in which 3.7 million gallons of crude oil were spilled at the entrance to the Port of San Juan, and the Hyundai New World spill in 1987, in which 235,400 gallons of fuel were spilled in São Luís, Brazil.

He was one of the scientists who protested against proposed open pit mining in the central island towns of Adjuntas, Jayuya, Utuado and Lares and its risks. In 1969, he helped a group of fishermen who had sued the now defunct CORCO for spilling dangerous chemicals into the sea.

“We are very much environmentally aware thanks to my dad,” Cerame Vivas’ daughter, Victoria Cerame, told the STAR. “We learned from him that we all have to pitch in to protect the environment.”

Victoria Cerame told the STAR that the family will be announcing the funeral service for Cerame Vivas at a later time. He wished to be cremated and the family plans to spread his ashes over the sea, which she said was his passion. She said Cerame Vivas suffered from respiratory illnesses in his later years but “never complained.” The official cause of his death is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Born in 1936, Cerame Vivas studied natural sciences at UPR and earned his master’s degree in zoology from Duke University in 1961 with a minor in botany, specializing in marine biology. He earned a doctorate degree in 1964 in marine ecology and oceanography.

Former UPR President Jaime Benítez appointed Cerame Vivas to the group of professors that the UPR made available to the playwright and legislator Manuel Méndez Ballester to draft a law in favor of the protection of the natural beauty and natural resources of Puerto Rico, which marked Cerame Vivas’ professional start in environmental matters. In 1967 he was appointed director of the Institute of Marine Biology on the UPR Mayagüez Campus, a position he held until 1972.

Under his direction, the institute became the interdisciplinary Department of Marine Sciences. He oversaw the graduate curricula in marine sciences that led to the master’s and doctoral degree programs.

Cerame Vivas was a member of the Academy’s Advisory Committee National Academy of Sciences/National Academy of Engineering (USA) on the New Interoceanic Canal (Panama) between 1969 and 1972, advisor to the secretary of the Department of Natural Resources (Puerto Rico) in 1972, and advisor to the United Nations (UNESCO) for the establishment of a laboratory and a marine program in Trinidad-Tobago in 1977.

His attempt to run for resident commissioner under the New Progressive Party was thwarted by former Gov. Carlos Romero Barceló, who was also interested in the position.

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