New Wave Media

October 17, 2023

NOAA Awards $16.8 Million for Research in the Gulf of Mexico

© William A. Morgan / Adobe Stock

© William A. Morgan / Adobe Stock

NOAA is awarding $16.8 million to 32 organizations working across 10 projects to conduct collaborative ecosystem science research that will be used by natural resource managers in the Gulf of Mexico.

“The Gulf of Mexico is a vibrant ecosystem with diverse and productive habitats,” said Nicole LeBoeuf, director of NOAA’s National Ocean Service. “These awards represent NOAA’s commitment to providing the best available science to the natural resource managers who make important decisions about how to balance rapidly changing economic, environmental and social pressures in the region.”

Projects funded through the NOAA RESTORE Science Program will address the following:

  • Impacts from boating activities on seagrasses.
  • Protection of coastal bird populations.
  • Protection of marine mammals.
  • Red tide mortality in reef fish.
  • Restoration and harvesting oysters.
  • Responses to oil spills.
  • Other management actions in the Gulf of Mexico region.

The teams began their projects on October 1, 2023 and will receive up to five years of funding. Prior to selection, each of these projects conducted a planning process over the last year or more with community partners and end users to design the funded research projects. Each project team includes one or more natural resource managers who will work side-by-side with researchers throughout the project.

The 10 selected projects are located across the Gulf and include representatives from universities, government agencies, non-governmental organizations and the private sector:

Project Title: Seagrass Conservation through Actionable Research: Management Areas for Prevention of Scarring (SCAR MAPS)
Lead Institution: University of Florida
Award Amount: $1,850,864
Project Description: The project team will collect geographic, biological, logistical and socioeconomic data to pair with stakeholder guidance through a co-production model to address data gaps and inform how and where to manage propeller scarring in aquatic preserves of Florida’s Nature Coast.

Project Title: DECORATE: Developing an Ecosystem-based Conservation framework for Oyster Reefs Across Texas Estuaries
Lead Institution: University of Texas at Austin
Award Amount: $1,996,417
Project Description: The project team will quantify the effects of oyster reef closures and other drivers on oyster reef functioning to help managers decide when and where reefs may benefit from being closed or managed using alternative solutions.

Project Title: Operationalizing the West Florida Shelf ecosystem model and application to red tides, stock assessment, and catch advice for Gulf of Mexico reef fish
Lead Institution: University of Florida
Award Amount: $1,768,147
Project Description: The project team will expand on a model of the West Florida Shelf to account for red tide mortality when assessing Gulf of Mexico reef fish and will develop red tide maps, which will help inform future recommendations on acceptable biological catch, or number of fish that can be harvested each year, for reef fish species that will undergo stock assessments between 2024-2028.

Project Title: Informing project design and long-term monitoring and adaptive management of large-scale ecosystem restoration to maximize natural resource benefits through the protection and enhancement of seagrass habitat at the Chandeleur Islands, LA
Lead Institution: University of Southern Mississippi
Award Amount: $1,734,775
Project Description: The project team will collect spatial and temporal data at population and landscape levels to determine disturbance impacts and build on existing numerical models to better assess resilience capacity for seagrass habitats adjacent to the Chandeleur Islands off of coastal Louisiana.

Project Title: Colony Island Network Design and Implementation (CINDI): a prioritization tool to rehabilitate colony islands along the Texas coast
Lead Institution: Texas A&M University in Corpus Christi
Award Amount: $2,000,453
Project Description: The project team will develop a prioritization tool that incorporates biogeophysical constraints on waterbird nesting and economic considerations to help managers prioritize a network of colony islands in Texas.

Project Title: Evaluating efficacy of stewardship actions for vulnerable Gulf of Mexico coastal birds through co-production between scientists and resource managers
Lead Institution: National Audubon Society
Award Amount: $1,964,542
Project Description: The project team will develop science-based guidance on environmental stewardship techniques for the Gulf of Mexico, which will help resource managers reduce threats from human disturbance to coastal-breeding bird populations.

Project Title: Implementation of a research plan to guide decisions on place-based recreational fishery conservation in Charlotte Harbor, FL
Lead Institution: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Award Amount: $1,287,506
Project Description: The project team seeks to better inform county and state governments’ decisions in Charlotte Harbor, Florida, by creating decision-making support tools that prioritize locations for restoration and protection of snook and tarpon habitat as well as using vulnerability index, map-based modeling and monitoring of previous restoration of juvenile sportfish.

Project Title: Protecting Texas Coastlines from Potential Oil Spills in Galveston Bay using Drone Surveys and Maps of a New Response Effectiveness Index
Lead Institution: Texas A&M University in Corpus Christi
Award Amount: $1,026,368
Project Description: The project team will use drone observations and NOAA forecasts to develop technology that seeks to improve manager response decisions to future oil spills in Galveston Bay and surrounding Texas coasts.

Project Title: Co-producing a conceptual model to support assessments of cumulative effects from multiple stressors on Houston area dolphins under CERCLA and OPA
Lead Institution: National Marine Mammal Foundation
Award Amount: $2,030,752
Project Description: The project team seeks to develop conceptual models, statistical models and analyses based on laboratory and survey data to help managers conduct more targeted and specific Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) pre-assessment evaluations of Houston-area bottlenose dolphins potentially injured by releases of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and dioxins.

Project Title: Building next-generation diagnostic and forecasting capacity to achieve management objectives by increasing stock assessment accuracy and throughput
Lead Institution: Vaughan Analytics
Award Amount: $1,151,562
Project Description: The project team will address existing limitations and uncertainties in fisheries stock assessments by developing novel model diagnostics and interim assessment methods, which will be incorporated into active stock assessments to reduce the error, uncertainty and throughput delays associated with overfishing limits and acceptable biological catch estimates.

The projects were selected following a rigorous and competitive process that included review by a panel of outside experts. Review criteria included the importance and applicability of the project, technical and scientific merit, overall qualifications of applicants, project costs and project team integration and practices.

“To make an informed decision, research findings and products have to meet the information needs of natural resource managers,” said Julien Lartigue, director of the NOAA RESTORE Science Program. “We are funding project teams where the foundation for applied science has already been built through a year or more of planning. We are excited to see these teams of managers and researchers put those plans into action.”

This funding is provided through the RESTORE Act, also known as the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act. RESTORE was created following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The mission of the NOAA RESTORE Science Program is to increase understanding of the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem, including its fisheries, and to support restoration and sustainability through research, observation, monitoring and technology development.

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