By Rahilla C.A. Shatto
The Center for Marine Life Sciences (CMLS), directed by Dr. Andre Landry, Jr., collaborates with researchers to provide facilities which help promote excellence in marine-life research and education. Its programs include the Marine Mammal Research Program (MMRP), the Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network (TMMSN), and the Sea Turtle Biology and Fisheries Ecology Research Programs.
Dr. Bernd Wursig leads MMRP which studies cetaceans and sirenians that populate the Gulf of Mexico and the world's oceans. The program integrates behavioral, physiological, and population data from live-animal studies with toxicological information obtained from dead mammals in order to understand environmental effects on marine mammal health.
Wursig works with students in the COASTCET branch of MMRP to identify and track bottlenose dolphins along Texas shores. The three-year GULFCET program led by Dr. Randall Davis, sponsored by the Minerals Management Service, surveys dolphin and whale populations in the Gulf of Mexico. Oceanographic data from satellites and hydrographic surveys help identify habitats while researchers in planes and boats track cetaceans.
Mammal-behavior information is integrated with toxicological data with the help of Dr. Graham Worthy and the Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network of volunteers. The group swings into action when marine mammals strand on a Texas beach. They notify Worthy, a physiological ecologist, as well as other TMMSN pathologists and toxicologists who study the animal for clues to its status at death. Worthy and his team identify and assess heavy metals and organochlorides in animal tissues in the laboratory and collaborate with toxicologists at the TAMU School of Veterinary Medicine in College Station, the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, and National Marine Fisheries Service. Armed with observational data of mammal populations from work led by Wursig, the scientists can read the warning signs of ecoystem danger.
[136K] The critically endangered Kemp's Ridley sea turtle provides another focus for CMLS attention. Dr. Landry leads the effort to compile seasonal and spatial population data for turtle communities at sea in the northwest Gulf of Mexico. Landry works to locate the turtles' habitats and identify hazards that they must overcome to survive. For the Kemp's Ridleys to weather their current crisis, humans will need to learn how to manage those habitats which we share with the turtles for our mutual benefit.
As part of the reef and fisheries ecology projects, researchers have been deploying golfball-sized spheres of coal ash on the estuary floor in Galveston Bay. The pellets provide desirable substrate for new oyster reefs and recycle thousands of tons of ash. In this highly successful program, CMLS has fostered seven new oyster reefs in the bay, some as large as five acres in surface area. Another reef deployed 25 miles off Freeport, Texas and made of 4-foot cubes of ash provides a concentrated habitat for popular recreational species such as red snapper and grouper.
The Texas Center for Climate Studies (TCCS), formed in 1993 and led by Drs. Worth Nowlin (Director) and Tom Crowley (Deputy Director), will build on efforts already underway in the TAMU System to initiate, encourage and support climate-related programs through research, education, service and outreach. Programs at TAMU already include the Climate System Research Program, providing strong theoretical basis for climate-change study, and the U.S. Office of the World Ocean Circulation Experiment, working toward a new global description of ocean circulation. The Ocean Observing System Development Panel is designing a system for long-term global ocean observations related to climate, and the Texas Office of the State Climatologist provides service to people and agencies of Texas, while the Ocean Drilling Program supplies a paleoclimatic record. Researchers in various departments are involved in studies of the water cycle, ocean surface circulation and aerosols in the atmosphere.
The new climate study center will augment these strengths and develop new ones. According to Dr. Nowlin the focus will be "to describe and understand the present variability of the climate system." Research areas with priority for immediate development include methods for detecting and predicting climate change, the role of the ocean in climate, and study of the hydrologic cycle with particular emphasis on Texas problems.
TCCS scientists plan to help develop TAMU's capability to educate students in the physical basis of climate by developing a core curriculum across climate-related departments and helping to attract graduate students to study at TAMU.
Outreach efforts will include a publicly accessible database of information related to climate, and a series of of educational materials in several media that address climate issues such as El Nino, greenhouse effects and the ozone layer that will be available for use in Texas schools.
The state legislature created the Center for Texas Beaches and Shores (CTBS) in 1993 to address beach erosion and wetland loss in Texas. Coordinators on three participating TAMU campuses, Dr. Yu-Hwa Wang in Gal-veston, Dr. Nicholas Kraus in Corpus Christi, and Dr. Billy Edge in College Station intend to bring each campus's unique resources and expertise together to study human impact on coastal conservation areas. The Galveston and Corpus Christi campuses provide access to beaches and facilities where researchers investigate coastal processes. Corpus Christi also brings Geographical Information Systems capability to CTBS, while College Station houses laboratory and computer modeling facilities.
CTBS will develop technologies and build new strategies for managing Texas coastal resources. Researchers will study natural and man-made problems facing the coast and formulate methods to reduce shoreline loss and minimize ecological damage. CTBS cooperates with the General Land Office and other state agencies involved in coastal management to research water quality, methods of protecting the shore-line and more. Crucial studies will focus on understanding shoreline processes, such as dynamics of the surf zone and the geological evolution of Texas beaches. Circulation and the movement of sediments in tidal inlets also constitute focal areas of CTBS, as do the relationships between the ecosystem and coastal structures such as piers, pipelines and seawalls. CTBS will analyze the long- and short-term impacts of erosion and hurricanes on the Texas coast, and examine how to best maintain and improve access to Texas ship channels and ports.
The Galveston Bay Information Center (GBIC), established by the Galveston Bay National Estuary Program with matching funds from TIO and TAMU-Galveston, serves the research community and the public. Formally opened in 1992, the center seeks to acquire, preserve and provide access to information concerning Galveston Bay, its problems and solutions to those problems.
The center offers electronic access via the Internet to its Galveston Bay Bibliography, which now includes 5400 historical as well as current references to published and unpublished reports, maps, articles, books, audiovisual materials, and photographs. A growing collection of these works is housed for public use at GBIC, located in the TAMU-Galveston Library.
Internet users may access the bibliography using the TAMU Gopher, or the bibliography's internet address (tamug.tamu.edu, with the user name > GBAY).
Visitors to GBIC may use COMPAS-Texas, a stand-alone database of coastal and inland information. The first of its kind, this resource was developed by NOAA and several Texas agencies to provide useful, easily accessible data on our natural resources. If you need to know the population density in Jackson County or the amount of chromium industrial point sources dump into Galveston Bay, COMPAS-Texas's user-friendly interface provides the numbers at the touch of a button.
GBIC coordinator, Cathy L.P. Palmer, welcomes your requests for information. She may be contacted at (409) 740-4703 or firstname.lastname@example.org (after Jan. 1, 1995: email@example.com).
TIO also provides support for affiliated research areas.The Center for Bioacoustics, initiated in 1992 as a joint effort of TEES, the College of Engineering and TIO, draws on the strong research interest in environmental acoustics of scientists in the College of Geosciences and Maritime Studies and the College of Engineering. The University of Texas Medical Branch Institute of Marine Biomedical Research is also affiliated with TIO through two joint projects. Keeping its commitment to support programs vital to Texas and the Gulf of Mexico, TIO helped gain federal funds for a Gulf of Mexico Regional Center for Research and Training for Oil and Chemical Spill Contaminants Response and Management.
TIO's spirit of cooperation and outreach is contagious. As the organization enters its sixth year, TIO finds that it has rapidly outgrown its tiny administration and static budget. With an ambitious ten-year plan TIO hopes expand its infrastructure and better fulfill its mission to facilitate marine-related research through support of education, research, extension, and communication.
Oceanography, Texas A&M University
Updated July 24, 1995