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Arthur P. "Art" Cooley (born June 2, 1934) is a former biology teacher, naturalist and expedition leader, and a co-founder of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

Art Cooley
Cooley in 2008

In the mid-1960s, while a teacher at Bellport High School on New York's Long Island, Cooley was one of several local activists who came together to stop the use of the pesticide/pollutant DDT by the Suffolk County Mosquito Control Commission.[1] From that successful collaboration emerged the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), a non-profit environmental advocacy group with offices nationwide, and representatives working around the world.[2][3] By 2012 EDF claimed 700,000 members and nearly $100 million in annual support.[4]



Cooley grew up on New York's Long Island.[5] He earned his B.S. and M.S. degrees from Cornell University, and in 1956 joined the science faculty at Bellport High School in Brookhaven Hamlet, New York, living in East Patchogue. He taught for 33 years, and retired from Bellport in 1989. While a teacher he traveled to Scotland as a Fulbright Exchange Teacher and participated in several National Science Foundation (NSF) Institutes, including an academic year at Harvard University.[6]

During his first year at Bellport, Cooley met prominent local resident and fellow bird-watcher, adventurer-naturalist Dennis Puleston. Puleston had come to Brookhaven after World War II as Director of Technical Information for Brookhaven National Laboratory. The two "birders" became friends, and soon began a tradition of taking Bellport students along on half-day bird-watching expeditions and nature walks on weekends. They traveled to sites across Long Island and, eventually, beyond.[7]

In 1962, with support from an NSF Marine Science initiative, Cooley went to Bowdoin College in Maine for a marine biology course. Afterward, he instituted a summer marine biology program for his own students — as well as for adults at Stony Brook University. The course included classroom lectures in the mornings and field work in the afternoons.[7][8]

Cooley also created a full-year course in ornithology at Bellport, which he taught personally from 1970 to 1989 and which continued to be offered for years after his retirement.[9]

In the fall of 1970, he helped launch Bellport's Students for Environmental Quality (SEQ), to which he would serve as club advisor until his own retirement. The initial group of a dozen or so students, mostly juniors and seniors from Cooley's Marine Biology class of the previous summer, coalesced around two issues: 1. East Patchogue's Dodge dealership spilling oil into Swan Lake; and 2. the killing of harbor seals in Moriches Inlet.[10] By 1972 the club had produced The Carmans River Story: A Natural and Human History,[11] which helped designate the river as one of the first Wild, Scenic and Recreational rivers in New York state.[12] In the ensuing years, the club also was instrumental in establishing container deposit legislation, first in Suffolk County and then in New York state, and in protecting harbor seals in New York state.[10]

Expedition leaderEdit

In 1970, Cooley's friend, mentor, and fellow EDF trustee Dennis Puleston retired from Bookhaven Labs and was invited by the National Audubon Society to voyage to Antarctica on the MS Discoverer. The trip was organized by Lars-Eric Lindblad, a pioneer in adventure travel. Twenty years later, as Cooley ended his teaching career, Puleston convinced Lars-Erik's son, Sven Lindblad, to hire Cooley as a naturalist and expedition leader for Lindblad Expeditions.[13]

Cooley traveled with and led Lindblad expeditions during much of the following two decades. On ocean cruises to Alaska, Europe, South America, the South Pacific, and Antarctica, he helped passengers to appreciate the historical, cultural, biological, and environmental significance of the sites they visited and the sights they saw. As he wrote in one of his 'Daily Expedition Reports' while on the National Geographic Endeavour in the South Pacific:[14]

... we did inquire into the nature of things and had an extraordinary day. There is no better rationale for traveling than to seek answers. Even if they are not easily forthcoming, there is much joy in the quest.


In fall of 1965, Cooley helped bring together a small group of central Long Islanders concerned with local environmental issues such as farm runoff, sewage problems, waste dumps, groundwater contamination, and his own particular interest, saltwater marsh preservation. The group included Bellport High School students, Dennis Puleston, and some of his Brookhaven National Laboratory colleagues, faculty members from SUNY at Stony Brook, and other activists. They met somewhat informally in members' living rooms, and named themselves the Brookhaven Town Natural Resources Committee (BTNRC).[10]

Although there were no elected officers, Cooley often functioned as chairman at BTNRC get-togethers. As remembered by participant (and fellow EDF co-founder) Charles F. Wurster:[15]

He could not only run an excellent meeting, but also had the remarkable ability to arouse people's enthusiasms about environmental topics. Someone once remarked that he could get a group of people excited about a blade of grass. Those qualities were among the secret weapons of BTNRC, and of EDF to come.

In the spring of 1966, Cooley was among the BTNRC activists who testified in favor of a class action lawsuit filed by Patchogue attorney Victor Yannacone against the Suffolk County Mosquito Control Commission, seeking to force the commission to stop using the insecticide dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) in the local salt marshes.[16] Others from BTNRC who provided expert testimony included Dennis Puleston, who presented the court with his own artistic renderings of the salt marsh food chain; Charles F. Wurster, a molecular biologist who had previously helped to stop the town of Hanover, New Hampshire, from using DDT to combat Dutch elm disease; George M. Woodwell, senior ecologist of the Brookhaven National Laboratory who had published on, among other things, the persistence of DDT in forest soils; Robert E. Smolker, professor of biological sciences at SUNY-Stony Brook; and ecologist and ornithologist Antony S. Taormina, Regional Director of Fish and Game of the New York State Conservation Department.[15]

The group won a temporary injunction from the New York Supreme Court in August 1966 banning the county's use of DDT, and the Mosquito Commission switched to using the organophosphate Abate (temefos) instead. By the time the court eventually (in November 1967) ruled that it did not have jurisdiction in the case,[17] Suffolk County had abandoned DDT.

Meanwhile, Yannacone and the BTNRC "trouble-makers" attempted in September 1967 to convince the National Audubon Society, at that year's Atlantic City convention, to establish a "legal defense fund" on behalf of the environment, and to begin a national assault on the use of DDT. The Audubon conventioneers delayed any action, so on October 6, 1967, the BTNRC activists—with a couple of new recruits from the convention—met in a conference room at Brookhaven Labs to sign the Certificate of Incorporation for the Environmental Defense Fund. The registration fee was paid by Connecticut conservationist Bob Burnap, and $10,000 was pledged by Dr. H. Lewis Batts, Jr., professor of biology at Kalamazoo College (still in town after the Audubon convention), for an EDF campaign against dieldrin back in his home state of Michigan.[15]

Yannacone left EDF to concentrate on his own law practice in 1969. But by 1971, EDF had become a coalition of 60 lawyers, 700 scientists, and 25,000 dues-paying members.[18] In 1972, most uses of DDT were banned by the United States federal government. Also that year, Art Cooley succeeded Dennis Puleston as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of EDF. Cooley served as chairman until 1975. He has remained active in the organization, and in 2012 serves as the board's Secretary.

Personal lifeEdit

Cooley is married to Beverly R. Grant, a retired teacher from La Jolla, California, whom he met "on top of an iceberg" (during a trip to Antarctica) and "married on the edge of an active volcano" (on a subsequent voyage to the island of Tanna in Vanuatu). The couple now lives in La Jolla, where they volunteer at local theaters and are active in the San Diego Succulent Society. They still travel extensively.[6]

Jonathan Cooley, Art's son from his previous marriage, is a paleontologist and expedition leader for National Geographic, as well as for family programs and camps.[19] He also is a lecturer in biology and geology at Colorado Mesa University.[20]


  1. ^ "Fostering Clean Air through Environmental Law," The New York Times, May 14, 1995
  2. ^ "Pollution by DDT Held Worldwide; Wisconsin Inquiry Gets Plea to End Use of Pesticide" The New York Times, January 14, 1969, page 11.
  3. ^ "Wood, Field and Stream: Environmental Defense Fund Warns Pollution From Pesticides Still Exists," By Nelson Bryant. The New York Times, February 3, 1970, page 53.
  4. ^ Environmental Defense Fund Web Site
  5. ^ "Art Cooley: Environmental Pioneer and Founding Trustee" Osprey Watch newsletter, Spring 2009, p 3. (PDF) Accessed Sept. 19, 2015
  6. ^ a b "Art Cooley, an environmental pioneer" La Jolla Light, Nov. 25, 2008, accessed Sept. 19, 2015.
  7. ^ a b A River's Place: High School Student Activism and Environmental Protection on Long Island, New York, 1956-1974, By Neil Buffett. Science20. Posted February 22nd 2010 10:38 AM. Accessed 15 May 2012
  8. ^ "The Guy Who Defeated DDT" Voice of San Diego. Web. Posted: Friday, March 20, 2009 12:00 am. Accessed Sept. 19, 2015
  9. ^ Autumn 2008 Living Bird, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology - Letters
  10. ^ a b c The History of SEQ[permanent dead link] O'Connor, Daniel. 2009. Searles Graphics, Inc., Yaphank, NY
  11. ^ Borg, P., and E. Shreeve. 1974. The Carmans River story. Brookhaven, NY: Post-Morrow Foundation.
  12. ^ Carmans River Watershed Protection Plan - DRAFT Archived May 11, 2012, at the Wayback Machine Carmans River Study Group, January 2011.
  13. ^ Transcript of Dennis Puleston Memorial Celebration, July 16, 2001
  14. ^ Expedition Report[permanent dead link], August 8, 2006
  15. ^ a b c "The Power of an Idea," by Dr. Charles F. Wurster, in Rogers, Marion L. (1990) Acorn Days: The Environmental Defense Fund and How It Grew. New York: Environmental Defense Fund. Print. p 44-53.
  16. ^ Environmental Defense Fund Archive Archived May 30, 2012, at the Wayback Machine Manuscript Collection 232. Record Group 1 - Founders' Papers. Sub-group II: Arthur P. Cooley Papers. Processed by Meredith Bouchard, 2003. Updated in August 2009.
  17. ^ CAROL A. YANNACONE v. H. LEE DENNISON ET AL. Supreme Court of New York, Special Term, Suffolk County; November 30, 1967. Jack Stanislaw, J.
  18. ^ "Sue the Bastards." Time Vol. 98, Issue 16 (18 Oct 1971): 84. Accessed 2 May 2012, via Academic Search Premier
  19. ^ National Geographic Web site. Archived March 27, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  20. ^ Colorado Mesa University Directory Archived 2012-05-19 at the Wayback Machine. Accessed 23 May 2012.