The Gulf Research Program of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine

The Gulf Research Program of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine has made a new collaborative research award to Dr. Jennifer Pazour, Assistant Professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering at Rensselaer and Dr. Diego Figueroa, Assistant Professor in the School of Earth Environmental, and Marine Sciences at University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.  This two-year research project will develop preliminary systematic resource allocation models for Gulf of Mexico mesophotic coral conservation.   Mesophotic reefs – located in deep water – provide diverse and valuable ecosystems, but are vulnerable to a number of threats.   An example are the South Texas Banks, which serve as a unique habitat for marine organism and are ecologically and economically important to the Gulf of Mexico.  This collaborative research project will combine Dr. Diego Figueroa’s expertise and data on oceanographic processes, anthropogenic effects and climate change impacts to biodiversity and connectivity of marine habitats with Dr. Jennifer Pazour’s expertise and methods on systematic resource allocation and optimization modeling.  Two specific scientific challenges will be addressed through this collaborative research.  First, determining what and how to model the conservation criteria, relationship, and constraints captured in the existing environmental, oceanographic, and biological data, as well as connectivity and other biological and spatial phenomenon, are open research challenges in optimization models informing the most effective use of limited conservation resources.  Second, key data about the South Texas Banks is limited; therefore, this collaboration will result in a better understanding of where and what type of data should be collected in the future to improve the decision-making capabilities of the model.  Undergraduate researchers from both universities will be involved in the research, culminating in a workshop and field experience trip to the South Texas Banks.  This broader experience will reap new data and will improve students’ communication skills and awareness of career opportunities in the Gulf of Mexico.