Research and Education

Early in its deliberations, the Research and Education GoTeam identified basic premises to guide it through the GoCoast 2020 planning process:

• A recognition that the future viability of the Gulf of Mexico depends on understanding the value of the Gulf’s resources and the industrial base it supports
• A desire to develop the capacity and capability to conduct sustainable research and education that will benefit this and future generations of Mississippians

The Research and Education GoTeam’s vision is that the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economy of the Gulf Coast Act of 2011 (RESTORE Act) funds will build a sustainable economic environment in Mississippi based on jobs demanding a well-trained, technology-capable workforce to improve the understanding of the Gulf of Mexico, its natural resources, and its future.

To accomplish this vision, a comprehensive plan is needed focusing on the creation of multidisciplinary, sustainable research and education opportunities that would concurrently enhance economic development. This plan should include the following goals:

1. Foster research capacity, both multi-disciplinary and technological in nature, with emphases on building local expertise and infrastructure to position Mississippi as a global leader in coastal and oceanographic research and development;

2. Create research and technology development partnerships among research institutions, the private sector, non-governmental organizations, State of Mississippi agencies, and U.S. government agencies to leverage capabilities and RESTORE Act funds

3. Develop kindergarten through PhD formal education within state pre-college curricula and Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL) guidelines with emphases on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education and necessary infrastructure and technology upgrades to develop a work force that will successfully compete on a regional to global scale

4. Increase public awareness concerning the economic and ecological importance and benefits of a healthy Gulf of Mexico ecosystem leading to an increased ocean literacy that nurtures stewardship of these invaluable coastal resources

The following areas should be Research priorities:

• Fisheries
• Aquaculture
• Ecosystem-based management
• Endangered, threatened, and protected species
• Comprehensive observation, monitoring, and mapping
• Habitat restoration
• Coastal and ocean ecosystem forecasting.

The following areas should be Education priorities:

• Technology-targeted programs competitive on regional to global scales for workforce development
• Outreach programs to increase public awareness and understanding concerning the ecological and economic importance of a healthy, sustainable Gulf of Mexico
• Infrastructure and technology upgrades to meet the needs of a STEM-focused workforce

Results and specific deliverables from research will enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of resource management, enhance economic utilization of Mississippi’s coastal resources, provide critical data for response to natural and human catastrophes, and provide a comprehensive understanding of the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem. With this new understanding of the ecosystem, past and present data can be used to predict the future. Economic benefits from these efforts include enhanced decision-making for resources based on sound science, promoting Gulf of Mexico seafood (e.g., commercial fisheries, seafood processing, and restaurants), Mississippi Gulf Coast tourism (e.g., recreational fishing, bait shops, charter boats, hotels, and the casino industry), and Gulf Coast workforce development along an east-west marine technology/aerospace corridor spanning the three coastal counties. Key technologies and observational-forecast systems will enhance resource management and promote human safety by providing ocean now-casts and forecasts to mariners, emergency responders, recreational boaters, search and rescue teams, fishers, and other stakeholders.

Developing an increased and strengthened capacity for research and education will promote the sustainability of Mississippi Gulf Coast resources and ecosystem value. Creating institutions and businesses that will provide technologically-advanced jobs in diverse marine science fields will not only allow highly qualified Mississippi graduates to find employment within the state, but will also attract nationally competitive graduates and scholars, thereby fostering the state’s capacity for research and the growth of the research clusters integrating all of the research assets of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Precautionary ecological and health constraints on resource utilization can be relaxed by improved science providing an improved understanding of the Gulf ecosystem and heightened predictive capacity. This will permit expansion of businesses dependent upon the Gulf’s marine resources, thereby increasing economic growth.

Incorporating this world-class research into formal and informal education will enrich the intellectual growth of Mississippi’s citizenry, especially children, the future decision-makers and leaders in the Mississippi and national workforce. This will further GoCoast 2020 goals and objectives over the long term.

The above priorities are currently being addressed through Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi Gulf Coast assets and institutional expertise as follows:

• Fisheries – Stock assessments and survey design; Population dynamics; Community and ecosystem ecology of commercial species; Population genetics; Fishery economics
• Aquaculture – Stock enhancement of commercial species; Commercial production of high-valued species for human consumption; Development of cultured bait to support recreational fishing; Seafood safety program
• Ecosystem-based management – Science-based characterization of marine and coastal ecosystem; Marine and coastal spatial and development planning; Ecosystem modeling
• Endangered, threatened, and protected species – Stock assessments and population dynamics; Health assessments (pathology and toxicology); Satellite telemetry; Critical habitat monitoring and restoration
• Comprehensive observation, monitoring, and mapping – Development and novel integration of multi-scale monitoring, mapping, and observational technologies for oceans, land, and atmosphere; Marine contaminant monitoring; Near-shore modeling and ocean mapping; Critical marine and wetland habitat mapping; Commercial species ecological modeling
• Habitat restoration – Commercial and protected species’ critical habitat restoration; Coastal habitat restoration; Resource management
• Coastal and ocean ecosystem forecasting – Predicting future events based on past and current data

Numerous research and educational institutions provide the framework for RESTORE-based Research and Education activities:

• University of Southern Mississippi’s (USM) Gulf Coast campuses in Long Beach and Gulfport
• USM’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory in Ocean Springs
• USM’s Department of Marine Science at Stennis Space Center
• Mississippi State University’s (MSU) College of Veterinary Medicine
• MSU’s College of Engineering
• MSU’s Coastal Research and Extension Center in Biloxi
• Northern Gulf Institute
• Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College
• Pearl River Community College
• Other public and private colleges and universities
•Institute for Marine Mammal Studies (IMMS) in Gulfport
• National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Stennis Space Center with federal agencies including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), US Navy (NAVOCEANO and Naval Research Lab), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the United States Geological Survey (USGS)

The existing expertise and the institutions listed above provide unparalleled research opportunities and rich learning environments in traditional and non-traditional classroom settings to the state’s children, college students, and professionals. Expanding and enhancing these opportunities and programs with necessary infrastructure and technology upgrades through RESTORE Act funding will result in an environmentally stable Gulf Coast, a more competitive work force, and a stronger economy.

Leveraging Resources

The collective research and educational investment by numerous Mississippi entities has resulted in a leadership role in marine and coastal research, kindergarten through PhD education, and outreach that is internationally-recognized. Funding from state agencies such as the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), Mississippi Department of Marine Resources (MDMR), Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks (MDWFP) and federal agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), United States Geological Survey (USGS) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) can assist in reaching GoCoast 2020 goals for research and education. The state provides substantial assets in the form of the research and teaching faculty at its academic institutions that can be harnessed in support of GoCoast 2020 goals and objectives. Additionally, federal funding from such entities as the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health will be of benefit. Finally, private sector support both financially and in-kind can provide an important contribution in supporting applied research and educational GoCoast 2020 goals.

While the current economic environment of decreased state and federal funding opportunities hampers research, the largest obstacle to moving forward is the lack of a regional, cross-coast research and educational effort to focus on the abundance of intellectual capital available on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Utilizing federal, state, higher education and research, non-profit marine centers, and private industry, the region has tremendous  untapped capacity to develop comprehensive strategies to meet the technical and research needs of the state. Further, building into this existing capacity has great potential for economic and workforce development.

Non-governmental organizations can provide intellectual expertise and infrastructural resources that will be essential in achieving the research and education goals proposed in this plan.

The results of work associated with the Research and Education GoTeam’s priorities will complement the efforts of every other GoTeam. Examples include the enhancement of commercial and recreational fisheries and aquaculture (Seafood, Tourism, Small Business, and Economic Development), habitat restoration and coastal and ocean forecasting (Eco-Restoration), eco-based tourism (Tourism, Economic Development), and marine engineering and trade (Small Business, Economic Development). Expanding and enhancing educational opportunities will promote growth and support a competitive work force (Workforce, Economic Development). Developing and expanding marine and fisheries research and educational opportunities, as well as leadership development in technical fields, will require substantial new infrastructure in the form of cyber-infrastructure and broadband access, laboratories and classrooms, ocean observational networks, and research vessels (Infrastructure).

The Present vs. The Future

Current research programs (e.g., fisheries and aquaculture; oceanography and ocean forecasting; endangered, threatened, and protected species) and formal and informal education institutions (e.g., University of Southern Mississippi, Gulf Coast Community College, Pearl River Community College, other public and private colleges and universities, Institute for Marine Mammal Studies [IMMS], Lynn Meadows Discovery Center, and INFINITY Science Center) are well established along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

The following are programmatic opportunities for RESTORE Act funds where the critical mass is poised to elevate Mississippi into a strengthened position of leadership among Gulf of Mexico states, nationally, and even globally:

Resource Oceanography – Understanding species population dynamics in a period of climate change requires application of sophisticated oceanographic models, well-designed survey methodologies, detailed information on responses to habitat gradients and food web dislocations, understanding of community dynamics through stable isotope methodologies and ecosystem modeling, and advanced assessment models. No academic program in the U.S. offers comprehensive training in this field. Mississippi is favorably positioned to rapidly become the leading trainer of resource oceanographers given the present expertise at GCRL, USM-Marine Sciences, and Stennis Space Center.

Marine Modeling and Forecasting – Ecologically sensitive economic development of the coastal zone, optimal management of marine resources, and protection from coastal hazards are absolutely dependent on sophisticated mathematical models of the marine realm. These models link complex processes into a computational framework providing advanced forecasting and guidance for management, regulation, and ecologically-wise development. Mississippi is well positioned to become a leader in the development of the next generation of such software and its application. Integration and expansion of the modeling capabilities at USMMarine Science, Stennis federal labs, and GCRL can position Mississippi as the ‘go to’ location for marine modeling expertise on the Gulf coast.

Comprehensive Observation, Mapping and Monitoring – The dynamic coastal and oceanic environment continues to present challenges to scientific, social, and economic endeavors. Data are used in now-casts and forecasts to support mariners, emergency responders, recreational boating, search and rescue operations, fishers, and other stakeholders. USM-Marine Science and GCRL are at the cutting edge of providing high quality ocean environmental data through field-deployed and remotely sensed data collection.

Marine Aquaculture – The demand for seafood in the U.S. continues to expand, but the ocean’s resources are almost fully exploited. GCRL and MSU offer the leading facilities in marine and aquatic aquaculture on the Gulf Coast with potential in: (1) Stock enhancement to promote expansion of the tourism industry in supporting recreational fisheries; (2) Culture of bait (shrimp, crabs, and finfish) supporting the bait dealer industry; (3) Culture of endangered species to help protect them from extinction and to restore them to areas where local extinction has occurred; and (4) Development of aquacultured products for human consumption, such as freshwater catfish, crayfish, blue crabs, shrimp, sea trout, and red snapper.

Endangered, Threatened, and Protected Species – Mississippi waters support an abundance of marine biodiversity, including marine mammals and turtles. These top-level predators represent sentinel species that can serve as important bioindicators providing critical insight into the health of the ecosystem. Additionally, effective management of these species will benefit economic sectors, such as commercial and recreational fisheries, tourism, shipping, and port activities. Studies that investigate current population dynamics, genetics, health, and ecology will nurture proper conservation and management in the future. Methodologies will include in-water surveys, satellite telemetry, pathological and toxicological analyses. IMMS has been leading research efforts in endangered, threatened, and protected species in Mississippi and northern Gulf of Mexico for almost three decades and will continue with its new partnership with MSU.

Resource Genetics – Advanced technologies now allow the tracing of specific genes quickly. Federally, a significant fraction of R&D funding is focused on genetics applications; however, very few states offer cutting edge marine genetics capabilities and none of them offer the integration of genetics with oceanographic expertise. GCRL offers the first gene-based population dynamics model for application to marine species. USM-Marine Science and Stennis Space Center agencies offer essential oceanographic expertise. A critical mass of expertise exists in Mississippi, if properly integrated with cutting-edge technology, to rapidly position Mississippi at the forefront of marine resource genetics.

Pathology and Toxicology – Marine diseases and contaminants offer serious obstacles to economic development and ecological management of Mississippi’s coastal resources. Increasingly stringent Food and Drug Administration (FDA), EPA, and other federal guidelines constrain business and raise human health concerns that impact seafood consumption. GCRL is a member of a National Science Foundation (NSF) funded research coordination network focused on marine diseases and supports one of the world’s leading programs in disease modeling. GCRL performs all analyses for the Mississippi shellfish sanitation program, conforming to International Shellfish Sanitation Conference (ISSC) guidelines and provides expertise in molecular microbiology, quantitative pathology, pollutant monitoring in marine food webs, and biological effects of anthropogenic contaminants, natural toxicants, and biotoxins. Integration and expansion of these capabilities can position Mississippi as the ‘go to’ location for expertise in marine diseases and toxicology on the Gulf coast.

Marine Technology and Sensor Development – Technology and ocean sciences are inseparable in the 21st century; USM-Marine Science and other Mississippi institutions are at the forefront of many new advances in technology development and application. Ongoing research at private, nonprofit, federal, and state facilities provides ‘endto-end’ marine technology solutions by designing and building novel environmental sensors in the laboratory through systems integration, field testing, and operational deployment on a variety of platforms. Current research areas include applying robotic undersea vehicles for seafloor mapping, developing and applying coastal remote sensing platforms for ocean observation, and using nanotechnology to sense pollutants in the environment.

Marine Education – Educational assets on the Gulf Coast include the necessary components to implement programs that will increase the public’s knowledge of the Gulf of Mexico and its ecological and economic importance. Examples are GCRL’s proposed Gulf Literacy Initiative (GLI), IMMS’ Ocean Expo Aquarium and Learning Center, and the Lynn Meadows Discovery Center. Through undergraduate academic programs at community colleges and universities, formal K-12 programs, workforce training through community colleges and universities, and informal education and outreach programs, numerous capabilities for marine education exist: degree-based programs for research scientists, professional development programs for teachers, field-based experiences for students, master’s degree programs for resource managers, workforce training certification for ecotourism industry members. A fully implemented GLI or a similar program along with existing resources will produce an informed community that understands the value and vulnerability of coastal resources, improving decisions regarding the future health and recovery of the Gulf of Mexico.

Conclusion

Opportunities exist for cooperative research between the private sector (nonprofit organizations, fishermen, environmental consultants, and other similar entities) and the public sector (universities, state, and federal agencies). Improving current cooperative research relationships among Gulf Coast research and educational organizations and increasing opportunities to develop future collaborative relationships will result in innovative and sustainable strategies and solutions. Improving ties between the GoCoast 2020 committees to foster intergroup synergies will develop increased interaction between academia, the business community, and local and regional political organizations.

Current funding is mostly in the form of competitive grants from state and federal entities. Limited funding is currently available for expansion of existing programs. However, increased integration of existing programs can occur through the GoCoast 2020 process despite present funding constraints.

The Research and Education GoTeam recognizes that RESTORE Act funds will be limited in amount and in  duration and that any programs, activities, or projects initiated should be designed to be self-sustaining after RESTORE funds are exhausted. For this reason, it is the team’s desire that any activities initiated be ones that could proceed without RESTORE funds, get them functioning properly before RESTORE funding becomes available, then utilize the “once in a lifetime” RESTORE resources to enhance, accelerate, and make them self-sustaining.

Opportunities to develop projects that meet the missions of multiple GoTeams will provide the most cost effective solutions. Cooperative academic/industry partnerships have been hugely successful (the Industry/University Cooperative Research Center program at NSF being a prime example). In the field of fisheries, examples of this synergy include the cooperative research programs supported by the surf clam, ocean quahog, summer flounder, and sea scallop fisheries that have resulted in quota increases of 33 percent or more over the last decade. Results of these programs directly feed back into business expansion and job creation. Return on investment has routinely exceeded $50 for every $1 of industry investment. Fostering the development of industry/academic partnerships along the Gulf Coast will provide Mississippi with a competitive advantage in economic development.

Development of the National Oceans and Applications Research Center (NOARC) is another example of partnerships between universities and private industry that can leverage against the federal agencies located along the Mississippi coast (e.g., US Navy, NOAA, NASA, EPA and USGS). While the organizational framework for NOARC is still being established, the potential exists to consolidate research and educational needs from RESTORE planning with industry and state management needs. These would be developed under the research and technical leadership and expertise of Mississippi’s major research universities as well as private and nonprofit facilities.

Research and Education GoTeam

Co-Chair      Supervisor Lisa Cowand, Hancock County
Co-Chair      Dr. Bill Walker, Mississippi Department of Marine Resources

Ed Blakeslee, Institutions of Higher Learning
Dr. Hank Bounds, Institutions of Higher Learning
David Brannon, Stennis Space Center
Rep. Carolyn Crawford (District 121)
Dr. Eric Powell, Gulf Coast Research Lab
Rep. Timmy Ladner (District 93)
Dr. Aubrey Lucas, University of Southern Mississippi
Rep. Randall Patterson (District 115)
Dr. Moby Solangi, Institute for Marine Mammal Studies
Dr. Vernon Asper, University of Southern Mississippi