Senior Executive Director Dr. Larry McKinney Announces Retirement after 12 years of Leadership at Harte Research Institute

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CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Dr. Larry McKinney, Senior Executive Director for the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies (HRI) at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, has announced that after more than a decade of service he will retire from his position leading the Gulf’s only dedicated marine science and policy institute effective August 30, 2020.

 “The work of the Harte Research Institute, under the leadership of Larry McKinney, has been nothing short of extraordinary. Over the last decade, Dr. McKinney has made science-driven solutions for the Gulf of Mexico synonymous with HRI,” said President Kelly Quintanilla.

A national search committee will be convened to choose McKinney’s replacement.

The first scientist to lead HRI as director after its founding in 2000, McKinney was hired in 2008. He was uniquely qualified to lead a Gulf of Mexico institute bridging scientific research and marine policy after spending half of his career managing Texas fish and wildlife resources with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) and the other half as an academic researcher.

Over his 50-year career as a researcher and resource manager, McKinney has secured some $186 million in research and conservation funding and spent nearly seven and a half months underwater, completing over 8,000 dives. While the bulk of that work has been in the Gulf of Mexico, he has worked in the Arctic, Antarctic, Caribbean and even the Aral Sea, as well as, Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. There is no Texas bay, estuary or lagoon untouched by McKinney’s research.

During his tenure at HRI McKinney completed the recruiting of the first team of Endowed Chairs, as envisioned by the institute’s founders — hiring Socio-Economic Chair Dr. David Yoskowitz and Ocean Health and Fisheries Chair Dr. Greg Stunz.

He grew the institute from a total of 37 staff and students with a $2.9 million annual budget in 2008 to 154 staff and students and an annual budget of nearly $27 million in 2020. He significantly expanded HRI’s international reach, establishing two international chairs — one in Cuba and one in Mexico. He also developed the international student program, now known as Student Workshop on International Coastal and Marine Management (SWIMM) and secured National Academy of Sciences funding for it. He launched international research projects in both Cuba and Mexico on fisheries development, biodiversity, and coral reefs. All these projects continue today.

Through his leadership, HRI has become now one of the most impactful and well-known research institutes in the Gulf of Mexico. HRI was the first to fully integrate natural sciences, marine policy, law, and socio-economic expertise in its unique “HRI Model” to address pressing Gulf of Mexico problems. Using this model, McKinney led some of the Gulf’s most respected researchers at HRI in efforts in responding the Gulf’s largest environmental disaster, Deepwater Horizon; revising fisheries management of recreational species at both regional and national levels: dealing with sea level rise in Texas and the Gulf, improving coastal community and ecosystem resilience; securing environmental water for Texas bays and estuaries; and, most recently, developing the Texas Coast Report Card evaluating the environmental health of the Texas Gulf Coast.

“It has been my honor and privilege to be part of HRI,” McKinney said. “From the Foundation Board that oversees Ed Harte’s incredible founding gift of $46 million, to the students that wash the bottles in the labs, and everyone in between, there could be no more dedicated, nor talented group of people. When you are part of a team like that you just do not want to let them down, so you must give 100 percent of your effort all the time, doing all you can to make them successful. However, I do feel it is time to step back and allow new energy and perspectives carry HRI forward, into a very bright and impactful future.”

Securing HRI’s credibility has been McKinney’s primary goal as a director, and he has led major summits on the state of the Gulf of Mexico in 2011, 2014 and 2017, bringing hundreds of Gulf leaders together to find common cause. McKinney established and directs Texas OneGulf, a consortium of Texas’ nine leading marine research institutions and the first RESTORE Center of Excellence designated as such in the Gulf of Mexico. McKinney is a founding board member and former chair of the Gulf of Mexico University Research Collaborative (GOMURC), an organization of 80+ marine research institutes from across the Gulf of Mexico. He also chairs the Program Committee for GoMOSES, the Gulf’s largest annual marine science meeting. Dr. McKinney will continue at HRI as Chair for Gulf Strategies, supporting the new director and helping to sustain and grow the institute’s capacity to provide science driven solutions to Gulf of Mexico problems.

McKinney’s 50-year career as a student of the Gulf of Mexico began as an undergraduate at Texas A&M University (TAMU)  in College Station studying the impact of shell dredging on whooping cranes in 1969. Larry later used that research to end that destructive practice in Texas. He went on to earn his doctorate from TAMU in 1976. McKinney spend 23 years at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), where he became the agency’s youngest ever Division Director, and eventually the longest tenured Director, before he retired in 2008 to move to HRI. At TPWD, McKinney was a key architect in building the agency’s Resource Protection Division, Endangered Species, GIS and Legal Programs. He oversaw all outreach and education programs for many years, eventually being named Senior Director for Aquatic Resources and Director for Coastal Fisheries.

While at TPWD, McKinney directed the final stages of recovery programs for red drum and spotted seatrout; oversaw the most significant growth period ever for Texas saltwater fishing; and instituted regional management for Texas sportfish. McKinney was Texas’ first trustee for natural resources and helped initiate the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) program for the state of Texas.  Under his guidance the program restored more than 10,000 acres of wetlands, including one of the USA’s largest ever NRDA restoration (Lavaca Bay) projects. McKinney led development of the fish and wildlife valuation program, recovering millions of dollars from poachers and polluters to restore Texas fisheries and habitat. He oversaw implementation of the shrimp license buyback effort that reduced harmful impacts of that industry. He also established over thirty marine protected areas and launched the Texas Coastal Paddling Trails. He and his colleague Dr. Bill Harvey mapping out and putting up trail markers themselves established the state’s first paddling trail in Lighthouse Lakes, near Port Aransas, Texas. McKinney developed successful adaptive regulatory processes for coastal shrimp farms, management of invasive aquatic vegetation; and, development of offshore aquaculture. During his tenure, he directed oil spill response for TPWD and chaired the EPA Science Advisory Committee for the Gulf of Mexico Program.

Dr. McKinney chaired the Morris-Deal Commission on Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Management, producing the 2014 report – A Vision for Managing America’s Saltwater Recreational Fisheries. Larry led a select group of the USA’s top fisheries experts to produce one of the most influential policy documents in recent times. Both NOAA’s Recreational Fisheries Policy, adopted in 2015 and the Modern Fish Act, signed into law by President Trump on December 30, 2018, included nearly all of the report’s recommendations. Dr. McKinney has regularly testified before Congress on a broad range of environmental and fisheries topics from dead zones, to ocean monitoring, oil spills and fisheries. His testimony on fisheries issues was especially critical to passage of the Modern Fish Act.

McKinney serves on numerous committees and boards, including the Florida Institute of Oceanography Board of Visitors and Florida’s RESTORE Center of Excellence Advisory Committee; Texas State Audubon Board of Directors; the Flower Gardens National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Committee (former chair); and, the Consortium for Ocean Leadership’s Policy Committee. He has served as a member of the Texas Sea Grant Advisory Committee (former chair), NASA’s SSC Applied Sciences Steering Committee, the Texas State Aquarium Board, the Gulf Alliance’s Ecosystem Assessment and Integration Team, and the Texas Academy of Science, where he was also past President. McKinney is a respected advisor to diverse Gulf stakeholders from conservation organizations like the Coastal Conservation Association, Gulf Restoration Network, SeaKeepers, Texas RESTORE and the oil and gas industry.

Larry has received numerous recognitions for his work over the years, including: Outstanding Public Service Award — Nature Conservancy, 1991. Conservationist of the Year — Sportsmen Conservationists of Texas, 1992. Outstanding Fisheries Administrator — American Fisheries Society, Texas Chapter, 2007; Kemp Ridley Award — Ocean Trust, 2008; Platinum Pro Diver — SSI, 2011; Conservation and Stewardship, Presidents Award — Coastal Bend Bays Foundation, 2016; and, Perry R. Bass Sports Fishing Wall of Fame — Texas Maritime Museum, 2019.

See photos of Dr. McKinney's career here