Researchers from Texas A&M Health Science Center will play a key role in a new initiative designed to help the Texas Gulf Coast recover following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

On Jan. 16, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality announced the establishment of Texas OneGulf, a Center of Excellence created as part of the ongoing implementation of the federal RESTORE Act, which requires that the five Gulf states affected by the oil spill establish centers for conducting research on the Gulf Coast region. The center will serve as a hub of study into the effects of such man-made and natural disasters to help guide research and restoration efforts.

The center will be led by Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi, and will draw upon expertise from the Center for Translational Environmental Health Research (CTEHR), which is based at TAMHSC’s Institute of Biosciences and Technology (IBT). The CTEHR is a partnership between the health science center, Texas A&M University, Texas A&M AgriLife Research, Baylor College of Medicine, and the University of Houston, that serves as a consortium for environmental health research aimed at improving human health.

IBT Director Cheryl Walker, Ph.D., will serve as deputy director of Texas OneGulf. This center will study sustainability, restoration, and protection of the coast and deltas; research and monitoring related to coastal fisheries and wildlife ecosystems in the Gulf Coast region; offshore energy development, including research and technology to improve the sustainable and safe development of energy resources in the Gulf of Mexico and its comprehensive observation, monitoring, and mapping of the gulf; and sustainable and resilient growth and economic and commercial development in the region.

photo of Dr. Cheryl Walker

Dr. Cheryl Walker will serve as deputy director of the new Texas OneGulf initiative.

“Texas OneGulf recognizes that humans are part of the environment and that a healthy environment, healthy economy, and healthy citizens define a Gulf of Mexico that Texas wants now and for the future,” Walker said. “The Texas A&M Health Science Center played a key role in developing the focus of Texas OneGulf on human health and well-being, which makes it unique among the other RESTORE Act Centers of Excellence.”

Texas OneGulf will be led by the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies, which is headquartered at A&M – Corpus Christi. In addition to Texas A&M System components, other participants in the center include the University of Texas at Brownsville, Texas State University, the University of Houston Law Center, the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System Regional Association, and the University of Texas Medical Branch–Galveston.

“All of us at the Harte Research Institute are very gratified and humbled to help lead a statewide effort with this Center of Excellence,” said Executive Director Larry McKinney, Ph.D. “The Center of Excellence gives us opportunities to bring together all the best Texas scientists – not just from A&M, but from the University of Texas, from the University of Houston, and leading marine institutions across Texas − to bring them together in one place to focus on Gulf problems that affect Texas. It also gives us the opportunity to make our marine research institutes and Texas more competitive in obtaining federal dollars by working together under the Center of Excellence concept. Our goal is science-driven solutions to Gulf problems that affect the health of our environment and economy, as well as the health and well-being of Texas citizens.”

The RESTORE act, which stands for Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States, is funded by penalties from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Approximately 2.5 percent of the trust fund is going to establish a Center of Excellence in each of the five states bordering the gulf. Texas will join four other Centers of Excellence in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

Depending on final judgments, $10 million to $40 million could be available to each Center of Excellence. Of that, $4 million is expected to be available immediately

— Sloane Williams

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