CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas —Scientists with the Harte Research Institute (HRI) for Gulf of Mexico Studies received a $398,349 federal grant to develop a framework for evaluating the health of the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem and its ties to the well-being of coastal residents.
The award is one of the first made by NOAA’s RESTORE Act Science Program, which was established by federal law after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The program, which announced $2.7 million in awards made to seven research teams Tuesday, is tasked with using a portion of Clean Water Act fines collected after the spill to develop management strategies to support the sustainability of the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem, including its fisheries.
“We are excited about the opportunity to take the next steps in developing the tools to allow us to objectively assess the health of the Gulf of Mexico,” said HRI Executive Director Dr. Larry McKinney. “As we invest literally billions of dollars in restoration, we must have the means to assess how well we are doing, and this project lays the foundation to do that.”
McKinney will lead a team of six co-investigators on a two-year project, “Indicators and assessment framework for ecological health and ecosystem services.”
The goal of the project is to identify a matrix of scientific indicators, conditions that can be measured to capture a picture of the overall health of the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem and the ecosystem services it provides. Ecosystem services are benefits and uses that residents gain from the environment. They include recreational activities like fishing and surfing to the pure personal enjoyment derived from living on the coast.
Researchers will use these indicators to survey and evaluate current ecological health of the Gulf of Mexico and its ties to human well-being. Researchers plan to develop an assessment and decision framework that can be used by federal, state and local agencies, non-governmental organizations and other groups in support of ongoing restoration and protection projects in the Gulf of Mexico.
Researchers will test their methods in the Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve, a 185,708-acre complex of Texas marine, wetland and coastal environments, evaluating the potential for broad use in the Gulf of Mexico region.
Co-investigators on the project include HRI Associate Director and Socioeconomics Chair Dr. David Yoskowitz; HRI Associate Research Scientist Cristina Carollo; Mark A. Harwell and John H. Gentile of Harwell Gentile & Associates, LC; and Jace W. Tunnell and Kiersten Madden Stanzel of the Mission-Aransas NERR.
These teams and their projects were selected following a rigorous and highly competitive process, which included a review by a panel of outside experts.
Each of the teams will address one or more of the Science Program’s short-term priorities for the Gulf of Mexico, which focus on assessing ecosystem modeling, evaluating indicators for Gulf conditions, and assessing and developing recommendations for monitoring and observing in the Gulf.