KWI Karst Award

The Karst Award is an award given annually to an outstanding member of the cave and karst field.

Karst Award recipient for 2024: Dr. Jean “Creature” Krejca

Dubbed “Creature” on her first wild caving trip to Mystery Cave in southeastern Missouri, Jean found her fascination with cave exploration and subterranean systems at the age of 18 years old by the warm glow of a carbide lamp. Her undergraduate research topic at Southern Illinois University became the biogeography of the grotto sculpin (a cave fish). From there her work in Illinois and Indiana turned to inventories and roost discovery work on endangered bats, ultimately leading to her role as a mammalogist in a statewide survey of Illinois caves. Here, learning from cave biologist and invertebrate specialist Steve Taylor, she became immersed in the world of invertebrate biogeography. Together they documented new taxa and range extensions in Illinois, and this collaboration expanded to include studies across the US and central America.

Creature spent her next 25 years in Austin, TX, taking many deep dives, both literally and metaphorically, into karst waters. She quickly became engrossed in project caving. Peter Sprouse introduced her to cave exploration in Mexico and the camaraderie of that community. Creature joined numerous expeditions to places with exciting caving and biological objectives including central and south America, Europe, southeast Asia, and China. A desire to link her interests in karst hydrology and biology led to a PhD project studying the blind catfish of Mexico and the aquifer invertebrates of Texas under molecular phylogeneticist David Hillis, ichthyologist Dean Hendrickson, and karst hydrogeologists George Veni and Jack Sharp. Using molecular phylogenetics to discern histories of connections across aquifer boundaries, she sampled widely in the Edwards, Edwards-Trinity, and Trinity aquifers of Texas in addition to adjacent aquifers in northern Mexico. During these studies she collaborated with several renowned cave biologists of the region, including previous KWI karst award recipient James Reddell. Peter Sprouse approached Jean to collaborate and start a consulting business combining the fields of karst hydrology and endangered species management, and Zara Environmental LLC was born.

As president of this successful consulting firm, Jean found gratification in sharing her knowledge of the karst systems with the ‘next generation’ of environmental consultants.  Jean chose Zara as a career because of its specialization in karst and the collaborative spirit behind those office doors, learning from the many different accomplished and innovative cave scientist colleagues. The staff at Zara worked on the front lines, with bulldozers humming on jobsites and freshly opened caves in the pathways of development. This situation struck a note of urgency and spoke to Jean’s need to have a positive environmental impact on the world. The results of Zara technical reports, of which there are hundreds, had an immediate impact on the trajectory of development and conservation projects. All the while, Creature continued to make major contributions to academic research and cave exploration.

Almost 20 years after its inception, Zara Environmental had 14 permanent employees, with technical staff all well versed in karst systems. Jean and Peter found it extremely gratifying to sell their company to Krista McDermid, who rose from the role of a biology technician to company owner 14 years later. Jean currently lives in Utah with her recently growing family (wife plus 2 boys, 4.5 yrs and 0.1 yrs), where she enjoys collaborating with NPS and USFS cave researchers in eastern Nevada. She hopes to continue carrying the flag of karst conservation everywhere she goes, educating through photography, scientific discovery, and the spread of enthusiasm for the subject.

Previous KWI Karst Award Winners