Legislature Honors Texas Sea Grant for 40 years of ‘Coastal Science Serving Texans’
AUSTIN — The Texas House of Representatives passed a resolution today commending the Texas Sea Grant College Program for its four decades of exceptional marine research, outreach and education.
House Resolution 2163, introduced by District 14 Rep. Fred Brown (R-Bryan), praised Texas Sea Grant for its body of work that “has helped foster the wise use and conservation of the marine environment of the Lone Star State, helping to ensure that the Texas coast will remain a valuable resource for future generations.”
“This is a great day for Texas Sea Grant,” said Dr. Robert Stickney, Texas Sea Grant’s director for the past 15 years. “We’ve achieved a great deal of success during our 40 years of service to Texans and the state’s natural resources. I’m heartened that the Legislature recognizes the good work that we do.”
The program’s list of accomplishments is extensive and includes:
• Pioneering work to find and improve economical, efficient and effective shrimp fishing gear that allows fishermen to catch the most shrimp while excluding bycatch and sea turtles, all in a fuel-efficient manner;
• Created a beach cleanup effort that was the genesis of the very successful Texas Adopt-A-Beach Program;
• Converted a 57-foot shrimp boat into a floating classroom that has taken more than 15,000 students out into Texas’ bays and estuaries so they could learn firsthand about aquatic ecosystems and sea life;
• Coordinating and mentoring Texas Master Naturalist programs that comprise more than 385 volunteers who in 2010 alone logged almost 50,000 service hours valued at $1.1 million, including restoring 3,431 acres of coastal ecosystems and conducting 487 educational programs;
• Planning and hosting two National Ocean Sciences Bowl (NOSB) regional competitions for high school students annually and hosting the NOSB National Finals in 2011; and
• Gaining national recognition for staff members’ response following Hurricane Ike, which included helping members of a largely Vietnamese fishing community receive recovery assistance that they otherwise would have lost due to a language barrier and a cultural distrust of government.
Texas Sea Grant has also awarded more than $50 million in grants to the best marine researchers at accredited Texas universities to study issues like coastal erosion, harmful algal blooms, aquaculture, coastal hazards, fisheries, estuaries, freshwater inflows and endangered sea turtles. Texas Sea Grant is part of a national network of 32 university-based programs in coastal and Great Lakes States that operate as partnerships between the state governments and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Texas Sea Grant has proven a good investment for the state, leveraging an average of $6 of outside funding for every $1 of state money it receives.
Based on the successful Land Grant concept, the national Sea Grant Program was born of the fertile, questioning mind of Dr. Athelstan Spilhaus during a speech to the American Fisheries Society in 1963. At the time, America’s commercial fishermen were facing declining fish populations and encroachment on American fishing grounds by traditional fishing nations like Japan and Russia. Spilhaus, then Dean of the Institute of Technology at the University of Minnesota, mused that if the goal was to bring industry, the government and academicians together to address marine issues, “Why do we not do what wise men have done for the better cultivation of the land a century ago, why not have Sea Grant Colleges?”
Congress passed the National Sea Grant College and Program Act in 1966. In 1968, Texas A&M University in College Station was one of the first four universities to receive funding under the Act to create a state program. Texas Sea Grant became one of the first four so-called “Institutional Programs” in the nation in September 1971. It is regarded as a research center within the College of Geosciences.
“Sea Grant has been an integral part of the College of Geosciences for four decades,” said Kate Miller, dean. “Its excellent record in education, service and research serves all Texans who want to protect our shores, enjoy marine activities or depend on coastal enterprises for their livelihoods.”
Texas Sea Grant comprises Administration, the Texas Sea Grant Extension Program (TXSGE) and the Marine Information Service (MIS). The Administration, led by Stickney, oversees day-to-day operations and is responsible for awarding about $800,000 annually in research grants. TXSGE is a cooperative effort of Texas Sea Grant, Texas AgriLife Extension Service and the county commissioners’ courts in several coastal counties. TXSGE boasts five county coastal and marine resource agents serving the needs of six coastal counties, and six specialists in the areas of aquaculture, marine business management, environmental quality, coastal community development, marine fisheries, seafood quality, marketing and economics.
The MIS supports the program’s research and public service missions by disseminating information on a wide variety of coastal and marine topics through print publications, media releases, videos and online resources. The MIS also leads Texas Sea Grant’s marine education efforts and features a Marine Education Specialist who develops and produces educational materials and coordinates Texas’ two regional NOSB competitions, the Dolphin Challenge in northern Texas and the Loggerhead Challenge in the southern part of the state.