The Texas State Aquarium supports research throughout the Gulf of Mexico.
By: Richard E. Glover Jr.
In 2013, the Texas State Aquarium established the Wildlife Care, Conservation and Research (WCCR) Fund to further its mission of connecting people with nature and inspiring conservation of the Gulf of Mexico. Each year, the aquarium awards funding to programs that focus on habitat restoration, wildlife management, conservation and wildlife rehabilitation in the Gulf of Mexico that focus on species in the aquarium’s living collection or habitats that support those species.
Much like the aquarium’s Second Chances Wildlife Rehabilitation Program, support of important research through its WCCR Fund is one more way the aquarium tangibly acts as conservation and education leader not only on its premises, but throughout Texas’ Coastal Bend and the Gulf of Mexico – a responsibility the aquarium’s leadership and staff take very seriously.
The aquarium recently announced its 2015 WCCR Fund recipients. According to the aquarium’s vice president of education and conservation, Leslie Peart, “The aquarium is pleased to support this select group of scientists and conservation managers who aim to save important Gulf species and habitats of concern. We look forward to sharing their methods and results with visiting families and school groups through special exhibits and learning programs throughout the year.”
The following are the aquarium’s 2015 WCCR Fund recipients with a brief description of their projects:
Sharks with Spectators III – Real-time, Global Tracking of Texas’ Marine Apex Predators for Science, Education and Research
Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi – Harte Research Institute / Greg Stunz and Matt Ajemian
Building upon the work Dr. Stunz’s team completed with WCCR funds in 2013 and 2014, project scientists will tag and track large sharks. Information concerning the animals’ current locations and past movements will be sent to the Coastal Bend and global community, allowing for outreach and education opportunities and better understanding of declining shark populations. The shark tagging and tracking work Stunz and his team have done with OCEARCH are featured in the aquarium’s “Saving Sharks” exhibit that opened in October 2015.
Waters for Wildlife: Monitoring the Use of Freshwater Ponds by Wintering Whooping Cranes
San Antonio Bay Partnership / Kiersten Stanzel
This project will monitor the use of freshwater ponds by wintering whooping cranes in order to understand their use of freshwater ponds during periods of drought and assist in their recovery from endangered species status. This project is a follow-up to a project that received 2013 WCCR funding for creation of a human-made pond for whooping cranes.
Genetic Composition of Immature Kemp’s Ridley Turtles in the Gulf of Mexico
USGS Southeast Ecological Science Center / Margaret Lamont
This project will examine genetic composition of immature Kemp’s Ridley assemblages in the Gulf of Mexico and develop a library of genetic information to link wild-caught and head-started turtles. This library can be used to fill the knowledge gaps about immature Kemp’s Ridley that continue to hamper the recovery of the species.
Improving Oso Creek/Bay, Corpus Christi Bay and Petronila Creek Water Quality
Texas State University – Meadows Center / Meredith Miller
This project will utilize the South Texas Regional Stream Team to work on improving water quality and riparian/aquatic habitats in Oso Creek, Oso Bay, Corpus Christi Bay and Petronila Creek, all of which are on Texas’ 303(d) list of impaired water bodies for not meeting contact recreation water quality standards. The South Texas Regional Stream Team is a motivated group of citizen scientists who were trained to collect water quality data and remove trash from the bays and creeks. They will also engage the community in stewardship activities, including quarterly trash cleanups and the Texas Stream Team Monofilament Finders Project.
Optimizing Coral Fragmentation Technique for Propagation
University of Texas at Austin / Mikhail Matz
This project will focus on optimizing a fragmentation technique to propagate coral stock for reef restoration. It is a follow-up to a study funded by WCCR in 2014 examining biological indicators that could be used to evaluate the risk of infectious outbreak at the Flower Garden Banks, as well as other Caribbean reefs.
Mapping Spotted Trout Spawning Habitat in Mission Aransas NERR
University of Texas Marine Science Institute / Brad Erisman
This project will feature cooperative research with recreational anglers to map spawning habitat of spotted trout in Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve and how they overlap with seagrass beds, artificial reefs and oil/gas platforms, navigation channels, managed areas and important recreational areas. Such information would be beneficial to the management of the fishery, regional ecosystem monitoring programs and recreational anglers looking to maximize fishing opportunities and experiences.
Migrating Monarch Butterflies’ Use of Offshore Oil Platforms
University of Texas Marine Science Institute / Tracy Villareal
This project will develop an app for use by citizen scientists to assess the use of offshore structures and vessels by migrating Monarch butterflies.
For more information, visit the Texas State Aquarium online at www.texasstateaquarium.org.
Photos courtesy of Texas State Aquarium