The Harte Research Institute (HRI) for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi is the only marine research institute dedicated solely to advancing the long-term sustainable use and conservation of the world’s ninth-largest body of water. Through its innovative “Harte Model” HRI integrates outstanding scientific research with public policy to provide international leadership in generating and disseminating knowledge about the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem and its critical role in the economies of the North American region.
In 2000, knowing that former Corpus Christi Caller-Times Publisher Edward H. Harte had been deeply impressed by internationally-famed oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle’s book Sea Change: A Message of the Oceans, University President Robert Furgason approached the committed philanthropist and conservationist about establishing an internationally distinguished research organization focused on the exploration and sustainability of the Gulf of Mexico. After first acknowledging that there were already a number of excellent marine research institutes across the country, Dr. Furgason pointed out that none focused principally on the Gulf of Mexico despite the fact that it is a vital part of the economies of the three countries surrounding the Gulf of Mexico: The Southern United States, Mexico and Cuba.
On September 19, 2000, Mr. Harte donated $46 million to create and establish the new research institute dedicated to promoting excellence in conservation, research and innovative public policy in the Gulf of Mexico through a tri-national relationship between scientists from the United States, Mexico and Cuba. Subsequently, the Harte Research Support Foundation was established to manage the assets until the institute was fully established and operative. The Foundation consisted of three Trustees: Mr. Will Harte, Mr. Jonathan M. Hornblower and Mr. David L. Sinak.
In summer 2001, after meetings and discussions with Mr. Harte and Dr, Furgason, Dr. Sylvia Earle agreed to Chair the new institute’s Advisory Council, which included highly distinguished leaders in academia, industry, and conservation from the United States, Mexico, and Cuba.
With the assistance of State Rep. resentative Rob Junnell, Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, $15 was obtained from the Texas legislature for construction of the HRI building. Later, another $3 million was allocated from other state building funds for the construction of four graduate instruction and research laboratories and eight offices. These labs and offices allow collaboration between HRI research scientists and faculty and students within the University’s College of Science and Engineering. Other Texas A&M-Corpus Christi colleges and entities working cooperatively and collaboratively with HRI include:
- Center for Coastal Studies
- Center for Water Supply Studies
- Conrad Blucher Institute for Surveying and Science
- Geographic Information Science Research Program
- Texas Coastal Ocean Observation Network
In September 2001, Dr. John W. ("Wes") Tunnell, Jr. was appointed Associate Director and that fall the new institute was officially named the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies. Over the next several years the organization and structure of HRI was developed, the research areas were determined and the University’s first science Ph.D. program was implemented.
Following his retirement as University President, in January 2005 Dr. Furgason became HRI’s first Executive Director. Under Furgason’s leadership, HRI hired its endowed chairs as well as senior staff in several key programs; appointed 16 research assistants and associates to work in the field and HRI’s high-tech laboratories; received license for its scientists and researchers to travel to Cuba; was awarded two grants to work in Cuba; and sponsored its first three underwater expeditions. The new building was occupied in November 2005.
In 2006, the first State of the Gulf of Mexico Summit was held in Corpus Christi, Texas. This international event brought together leaders from science, industry, government, and non-governmental organizations to reinforce the importance of sound science supporting sustainable economic growth of this vital ecological and economic resource. Originally scheduled for 2005, the summit was postponed after Hurricane Katrina devastated much of the Gulf Coast, which restricted the availability of key leaders until the next year.
On Dec. 31, 2007, Dr. Furgason retired a second time. University President Flavius Killebrew named Dr. Larry McKinney, retired director of Coastal Fisheries and senior director of Aquatic Resources for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, HRI Executive Director. In December 2011, HRI hosted the second State of the Gulf of Mexico Summit in Houston, Texas to develop a shared vision and to formulate a roadmap for restoring the Gulf of Mexico following the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. Today, HRI scientists continue to provide leadership in assessing the long-term impacts of the largest ever-accidental marine oil spill and are helping guide restoration to assure that conservation efforts are effective and long lasting.
In fall 2012, The Coastal Conservation Association committed $500,000 for HRI to establish the Center for Sportfish Science and Conservation, the first research center for the study of sportfish in the western Gulf of Mexico. The Harte Research Support Foundation contributed more than $300,000 to build an offshore research vessel, purchase other supporting equipment such as new vehicles, and other funding. The Center focuses on the many challenges to maintaining healthy populations, both inshore and offshore, to assure the best decisions are made in managing fisheries and the marine environment.