Coastal Sciences Research

The Department of Coastal Sciences and the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory (GCRL) at The University of Southern Mississippi are committed to exploring the living coastal and marine natural resources, how they are affected, and how to sustain them in the face of ever-increasing pressures.

As a marine research university, USM focuses on five key areas:

  • Marine aquaculture
  • Marine ecology
  • Marine fisheries
  • Marine pathology
  • Marine toxicology

Sustaining the Gulf

As the premier research university for the Gulf South, The University of Southern Mississippi has three sites on the Gulf Coast and conducts marine research in the north-central Gulf of Mexico, one of the most biologically productive environments in the world.

  • The Center for Fisheries Research and Development - as well as academic, outreach and housing facilities - are located at the Halstead site in Ocean Springs. An on-site harbor provides easy access to bays, bayous and the Mississippi Sound.
  • Surrounded by pristine marshland, the Thad Cochran Marine Aquaculture Center and the Marine Environmental Research Laboratory are at Cedar Point in Ocean Springs.
  • The 97-foot Tommy Munro is GCRL’s largest research vessel, used for researching and offshore teaching in the Gulf of Mexico. The vessel is anchored at Point Cadet in Biloxi.

Marine aquaculture

The $20 million Marine Aquaculture Center is one of the largest and most technologically advanced marine research facilities of its kind. Its low-water, recirculating aquaculture systems is environmentally friendly and economically sustainable.

The Gulf Coast Research Laboratory is committed to accelerating the development of marine aquaculture to make the United States more self-sufficient in the production of seafood.

Researchers have successfully cultivated cobia, tripletail, striped bass, red snapper, spotted sea trout, oysters and shrimp. A marine research program has targeted striped bass to restore its decimated population.

In 2009, blue crabs were added, targeted as commercial bait or restaurant fare.

GCRL is a leader in closed-systems production of shrimp and water re-use. Twelve tanks in six greenhouses facilitate the efficient harvest of shrimp crops.

Marine ecology

Research areas include:

  • The examination of marine fungi
  • Experiments with growing salt marsh plants from the seeds of native Mississippi plants for use in restoring coastal wetlands
  • Software development to monitor the health of submerged aquatic vegetation
  • Monitoring the movement and habitats of whale sharks, the largest fish in the world, to help conserve the species

Marine fisheries

Research areas include:

  • Marine recreational and commercial fishery resources important to the state of Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem
  • Assessing historical trends in fishery stocks for the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources and the National Marine Fisheries Service
  • Conducting assessments of fishery stocks for better management and sustainability

Among the fish and invertebrates that are being monitored and assessed are red snapper, bluefin tuna, blue crab, finfish, sharks, spotted sea trout, red drum, blue marlin, greater amberjack, dolphins, striped bass and cobia.

Marine pathology

The Crustacean Disease Laboratory investigates diseases of wild and aquacultured shrimp.

Marine toxicology

Research areas include:

  • Year-round monitoring of the bacterial water quality of Mississippi’s public beaches and gathering data for the state agency that can close public beaches
  • Analyzing sea water samples and oyster meats and gathering data for the state agency that can close oyster-harvest areas
  • Using genomics and molecular toxicology to correlate how toxicants and nutrient overload affect the genetic profiles of estuarine organisms.