New York Times
June 16, 2001
95, Environmental Leader Is Dead
By PAUL LEWIS
Dennis Puleston, a naturalist, boat designer and yachtsman who,
as founding chairman of the Environmental Defense Fund, played a
leading role in getting the insecticide DDT banned in the United
States and many other countries, died June 8 at his home in Brookhaven,
N.Y. He was 95.
was awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Harry S. Truman in
1948 for his work during the World War II in designing the DUKW
amphibious landing craft, commonly known as the Duck, which was
used in military campaigns like the Normandy landing.
the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, N.Y., in 1948, Mr.
Puleston, a keen ornithologist most of his life, began to study
a large breeding colony of ospreys - birds of prey that live off
fish and are sometimes called fish hawks - on the privately owned
Gardiners Island, off eastern Long Island.
By the early
1960's he had concluded that these ospreys were dying out as a result
of the dichloro-diphenyl-trichlorethane, or DDT, being sprayed in
the area to keep down mosquitoes; it weakened the shells of the
birds' eggs so much that they could not protect the live chicks
In 1966, four
years after the publication of Rachel Carson's book "Silent
Spring," about the damage caused by chlorinated hydrocarbon
pesticides like DDT, Mr. Puleston and several colleagues won a lawsuit
against the Suffolk County Mosquito Control Department and secured
a yearlong ban on DDT spraying.
requests for help in similar struggles from across the country,
Mr. Puleston and his colleagues set up the Environmental Defense
Fund in 1967 to raise money and campaign for better environmental
He became the
first chairman, a post he held until 1972.
In 1970, New
York banned most uses of DDT and in 1972 a nationwide ban was instituted;
many other countries followed suit.
Defense, as Mr. Puleston's organization is called, is one of the
leading environmental lobbying groups in the United States, with
about 300,000 members and an annual budget of about $40 million.
Born near London
on Dec. 30, 1905, Mr. Puleston grew up in the fishing village of
Leigh-on-Sea on the Thames estuary in Essex, where he acquired a
love of boats and a taste for adventure. He also became an avid
naturalist and a skilled painter of birds.
biology and naval architecture at London University, he set out
across the Atlantic in 1931 with a friend in a small sailing boat
on what was to become a six-year odyssey down the eastern seaboard
of the United States, around the Caribbean and across the South
Pacific, with interludes teaching sailing at Rye, N.Y., and running
a coconut plantation on Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands.
In 1937, Mr.
Puleston reached China just as the Sino-Japanese War was beginning.
He managed to escape any trouble and made it to London on the Trans-Siberian
Railway. He published an account of his adventures in "Blue
Water Vagabond" (Doubleday, 1939).
He married Betty
Wellington of New York in 1939 and became an American citizen in
1942, the year he started working with a firm of naval architects;
he helped design the Duck-like two-and-a-half-ton DUKW amphibious
landing craft adopted by the Allies.
was sent back to the Pacific, where he trained American forces on
the craft, organized a training school for the British in India
who used it and took part in amphibious operations in the Solomon
Islands, New Guinea and Burma, where he was wounded in the spine
by a Japanese shell splinter.
After a period
in the hospital, he went to Britain to train allied forces in preparation
for the Normandy landings. He then returned to the Pacific to organizing
a DUKW training school on Oahu and take part in the invasions of
Iwo Jima and Okinawa, where he was when the war ended in September
from the Brookhaven laboratory in 1970, Mr. Puleston began a second
career as a lecturer and a guide, accompanying groups of tourists
on boat trips all over the world. He went on almost 200 cruises,
including about 35 trips to Antarctica.
is survived by his wife; his son, Peter, of New Brunswick, Canada;
and two daughters, Jennifer Clement of Brookhaven and Sally McIntosh,
also of New Brunswick.