OCEAN SPRINGS, Miss. (AP) — Eric Powell, the recently appointed head of the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory, says he's acquainting himself with the depth and breadth of the lab's oil spill research.
"You don't want to let history down. This lab is a rich jewel down here," said Powell, who came there in August after 17 years at Rutgers University, including 14 years as head of the Haskin Shellfish Research Laboratory.
One component he'd like to add is computer modeling to look at matters such as the effects of global climate change, on fishery populations, he told The Hattiesburg American (http://hatne.ws/TpJKne).
Specifically, he's interested in rebuilding and maintaining the oyster habitat of carbonate reefs.
A 2007 report by Mississippi State University's Coastal Research and Extension Center found the state's commercial oyster industry totaled $2.75 million annually, with an overall economic impact in excess of $12 million.
As oyster populations have declined, their habitats have likewise disappeared, because the reefs are made of oyster shells that must constantly be replenished.
More than 85 percent of world's oyster reefs have completely vanished, with 89 percent of the oyster reefs in the Gulf of Mexico also disappearing, according to a 2009 report by the Nature Conservancy.
"The issue that I'm worried about globally is how we are husbanding the habitat," Powell said. "In my opinion, it's the key question in terms of how we are managing oysters down here" on the Gulf Coast.
GCRL was founded in 1947, as a scholarly research laboratory focused on the state's marine and coastal environments. It has been overseen by the University of Southern Mississippi since 1988. Its $5.6 million operating budget is funded mostly through a state appropriation.
Information from: The Hattiesburg American, http://www.hattiesburgamerican.com