GULFPORT -- The Institute for Marine Mammal Studies and Mississippi State University's College of Veterinary Medicine will work together to study the health of the Gulf of Mexico, officials said.
On Wednesday, representatives from each group announced a formal partnership to research protected, threatened and endangered species in the Gulf, especially after recent hurricanes and the BP oil spill.
The goal, officials said, is to improve the ecological health of the Gulf and to find out how natural and man-made disasters have affected one of the largest ecosystems in the world.
"In the aftermath of the BP oil spill, it is imperative that we study our marine resources," said Moby Solangi, president of IMMS. "We felt the need to bring to bear the tremendous assets to study the health of the environment and provide answers to the questions about the Gulf of Mexico."
IMMS and MSU have worked together for about 25 years on various projects, but officials said the partnership needed structure in order to fully study the Gulf and the species that live in it, so they signed a formal memorandum of understanding.
"The resources of the Gulf of Mexico are extremely important to us and our economy," said Kent Hoblet, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine. "We're excited to formalize our collaboration and provide better research and public service and study ecological richness of the Gulf."
He added that the partnership would provide research opportunities for students and help expand the curriculum at the veterinary school.
Bill Walker, executive director of the state Department of Marine Resources, said the benefits will be seen throughout the state.
"We do a lot of great work on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and most of that is done through partnerships," he said. "This partnership is really going to do a wealth of wonderful good for the Coast, the animals who live in the water and the people who enjoy the water."
U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran and Rep. Steven Palazzo were on hand for the announcement, as well as state Sen. Sean Tindell, state Rep. Richard Bennett and Kim Savant, president of the Harrison County Board of Supervisors.