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School of Ocean Science and Engineering

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2021 annual report

2021 Coastal Operations Annual Report

The School of Ocean Science and Engineering (SOSE) harnesses elements from key areas of The University of Southern Mississippi, including the Division of Marine Science (DMS) at the John C. Stennis Space Center in Hancock County, the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory (GCRL) in Ocean Springs, Miss., and the University’s fleet of five research vessels, to create a regionally, nationally and internationally recognized leader in marine science. The purpose of SOSE is to aggregate all of Southern Miss’ marine-related research and education programs under a single administrative unit and to coordinate, but not consolidate, operating budgets and facilities. The SOSE focuses on academic and research enterprises of ocean science already existing at Southern Miss, the state’s flagship university for marine science as previously directed by the Institutions of Higher Learning. Additionally, the SOSE will further the mission of the College of Arts and Sciences and the University to engage in economic development along the coast specific to the maritime economy and provide an administrative structure where maritime technology programs offered through Southern Miss can be housed.



Halstead – This 50-acre site is the original GCRL location on Davis Bayou in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. Numerous academic, research and administrative units are located at this site, including dormitory, dining and classroom facilities supporting the long-running Summer Field Program. The Halstead harbor is home to the R/V Jim Franks, R/V Hermes and Miss Peetsy B, and its boat launch supports small boat research and academic operations.
Cedar Point – Acquired in the 1990s to support GCRL’s emerging marine aquaculture program, Cedar Point encompasses 225 acres adjacent to the National Park Service’s Gulf Islands National Seashore in eastern Ocean Springs. Within Cedar Point is the new Marine Education Center and Toxicology facility. Situated on 100 acres, the Marine Education Center serves as the education and outreach arm of GCRL and provides an immersion experience for participants in a unique, coastal setting. Research in the $5 million Toxicology lab focuses on the effects of anthropogenic substances on aquatic or marine species. The researchers focus on three key areas: nanotoxicology, toxicogenomics, and the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The John C. Stennis Space Center in Hancock County, Mississippi, houses the University’s Division of Marine Science, Hydrographic Science Research Center, Center for Gulf Studies and Center of Higher Learning. Division faculty conduct research that spans the global oceans while offering graduate programs in marine science and hydrographic science, and undergraduate programs in marine science and ocean engineering. The division also offers the first Unmanned Maritime Systems Certification
in the United States.

Point Cadet in Biloxi, Mississippi, serves as a teaching and research vessel staging site for the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory and is the homeport of the R/V Tommy Munro.

The Port of Gulfport is a 250-acre deepwater port and an inland port facility in Gulfport, Mississippi, and is home to the University’s largest research vessel, the R/V Point Sur. The Port of Gulfport is also home to the $12.2-million Marine Research Center (MRC). Located on Highway 90 at the Port’s entrance, the Marine Research Center is the centerpiece for a new maritime blue economy in South Mississippi. The MRC provides shoreside support to USM’s 135-foot oceanographic research vessel, the R/V Point Sur, and to a number of academic and research programs

Recent Highlights

The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) recently announced that longtime marine scientist Dr. Kelly Lucas has been named the Associate Vice President for Research, Coastal Operations.
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reginald blaylockDR. REGINALD BLAYLOCK
Research Professor, Dr. Reginald Blaylock, has served as Assistant Director of the Thad Cochran Marine Aquaculture Center since 2008. Since his appointment as Research Associate Professor in COA in 2004, Dr. Blaylock has been a PI/co-PI on 37 external projects from NOAA, DOE, USDA, GSMFC, and MSDMR.  Read More

Ocean Aero, Inc. was in Gulfport, Miss. November 4, 2020 delivering the first Triton autonomous maritime vehicle to The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) Marine Research Center (MRC).
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Dr. Davin Wallace is an associate professor with the Division of Marine Science. He is a geologist/marine scientist/oceanographer who investigates the response of coastal and marine systems to storms, sea-level rise, and sediment supply variations over a variety of timescales. 
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Governor Tate Reeves announced that the U.S. Department of the Treasury has approved a RESTORE Act grant award of $7.62 million for the construction of the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) Oyster Hatchery and Research Center, located at USM’s Gulf Coast Research Lab at Cedar Point in Ocean Springs.  Read More

The USM School of Ocean Science and Engineering honored its 2020 Hydrographic Science graduates in a virtual ceremony. 
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Dr. Xiaodong Zhang joined the Division of Marine Science in the School of Ocean Science and Engineering in 2019 holding the inaugural position of Endowed Chair in Marine Science. A central theme of his research is to study natural aquatic environment through optical observation. 
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MEC Receives COTE Award
The American Institute of Architects (AIA) recognized USM’s Marine Education Center with one of its highly sought-after Committee on The Environment (COTE) Top Ten Awards. The Marine Education Center is the only building in Mississippi ever to receive this designation. Read More

The Mississippi Based RESTORE Act Center of Excellence (MBRACE) is awarding $2.75M for research on water quality and oyster reef sustainability in Mississippi. Four different projects will receive funding through 2022, with The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) being the lead institution on two of the projects. Read More

2020 Graduate School Hall of Fame Recipient

Amy Moody, graduate in the Division of Marine Science, is one of ten graduate students with records of exceptional academic performance, leadership and service to their fellow students and community honored recently at The University of Southern Mississippi with induction into its 2020 Graduate School Hall of Fame.

kelly DarnellDR. KELLY DARNELL
Congratulations to Dr. Kelly Darnell and her team on a successful award ($3.68.M) from MDEQ for the Mississippi Based RESTORE Act Center of Excellence (MBRACE). The grant will support Center of Excellence operations for the next 2 years and provide $2.85M in research funds for projects addressing oyster sustainability and water quality through MBRACE’s second RFP that was released in 2019.

rachel muggeRACHEL MUGGE
Graduate Research Assistant Rachel Mugge received the 2020 Graduate Assistant of the Year Award. The award recognizes an exemplary graduate assistant for their character; their service and outstanding contributions to the mission of the University through teaching and research; and their scholarly achievements.

NOAA is establishing a new Unmanned Systems Operations Program to support the rapidly expanding use of these systems across the agency. The new program will be housed at two locations. One of those locations will be a new facility being built by the Mississippi State Port Authority in partnership with The University of Southern Mississippi in Gulfport, Mississippi known as Ocean Enterprise. Read more

ashton jacksonASHTON JACKSON
was selected to participate in the Ocean Exploration Trust (OET) Science and Engineering Internship this summer. She has been invited a position aboard Exploration Vessel Nautilus as a ROV Engineering Intern.


zach darnellDR. ZACH DARNELL
has been awarded the the Aubrey Keith Lucas and Ella Ginn Lucas Endowment for Faculty Excellence Award for the 2020-2021 academic year. This endowment was established in honor of Dr. and Mrs. Aubrey K. Lucas to support and reward faculty excellence in instruction and research.

The keel laying ceremony formally recognizes the start of a ship’s construction. In maritime traditions, a keel laying ceremony is said to bring luck to the ship during construction and to the captain and crew during her later life. USM has officially commemorated the start of construction for the R/V Gilbert R. Mason.