May 19, 2016
Contact: Diane Godwin
STARKVILLE, Miss.—Mississippi State University and the Northern Gulf Institute are sharing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2016 Sam D. Hamilton Award for Transformational Conservational Science.
The organizations were major partners in developing the Gulf Coast Vulnerability Assessment to identify natural habitats most in need of climate-related adaptation and mitigation strategies.
The award recognizes “innovative applications of science to improve scientific quality, capability and efficiency to solve large scale conservations problems.” It is accompanied by a check for $50,000 to be spread among field stations working on the program.
The honor is a memorial to the late 1977 Mississippi State alumnus who was serving as the USFWS’s 15th director when he died in 2010. Also named for the Georgia native who was reared in Starkville is the nearby Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge.
Established in 2006, the Northern Gulf Institute is a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration cooperative led by MSU. Among 16 such cooperative institutes throughout the U.S., it also involves researchers at the University of Southern Mississippi, Florida State and Louisiana State universities and the Dauphin Island Sea Laboratory near Mobile, Alabama.
Institute researchers have led developing and applying scientific methods for assessing critical habitats throughout the coastal region. Their evaluations of environmental factors affecting resources vulnerability have helped natural resource managers choose the best conservation actions.
“This was truly a team effort with an extensive collaborative network that covered a large geography from Texas to Florida, which was crucial to the success of the project,” said NGI research associate Amanda Watson.
“Large collaborations require a lot of time and energy, so for that effort to be recognized is very encouraging,” the assessment’s coordinator added.
The Gulf Coast is home to many different species of wildlife and its ecosystems provide storm surge protection, flood mitigation and nutrient cycling for marine life. Data collected for the assessment supports the Southeast Conservation Adaptation Strategy, a project to help wildlife adjust for survival to continually evolving habitats.
Mark Woodrey is a senior research associate at MSU’s Coastal Research and Extension Center in Biloxi. He also is research coordinator for the Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve at Moss Point.
“It is important to assess the potential effects because these variables can have a drastic impact on both the economies of communities around the Gulf of Mexico, as well as natural ecosystems,” Woodrey said. “For example, likely economic impacts may include changes in insurance rates for homeowners, direct loss of human-built infrastructure and increased coastal flooding due to stronger tropical storms and increased intensity of rain events.”
Steve Ashby, NGI co-director, said the assessment team’s “methodical collaboration transcended organizational boundaries to combine limited resources to collect data that emphasizes key vulnerabilities of the Gulf Coast region.
“This assessment will support the long-term sustainability of marine and wildlife species, communities and the various ecosystems they share,” he emphasized.
To view the Gulf Coast Vulnerability Assessment, visit www.lccnetwork.org/resource/GCVA.
MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at www.msstate.edu.