LSU Dean of the College of the Coast and Environment Christopher D’Elia has received the Wes Tunnell Lifetime Recognition for Gulf Science and Conservation from the Gulf of Mexico University Research Collaborative.
“I’m passionate about coastal issues, and the reason I came to LSU is because Louisiana is where the action is in the United States,” D’Elia said. “If you are an environmental scientist, and you want to study the coast and provide understanding and answers to coastal problems, Louisiana is the best place in the world.”
D’Elia received his award on Feb. 7 at the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill & Ecosystem Science Conference in New Orleans.
The award is named after Wes Tunnell, who died last July. He was a biology professor at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi for 40 years. He was instrumental in founding Texas A&M in Corpus Christi’s first research center, the Center of Coastal Studies. He was the first associate director of the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies.
“[Tunnell] was the best naturalist I’ve ever met,” D’Elia said “He knew all the Gulf of Mexico like the back of his hand. Even though he was an Aggie, we still loved him.”
D’Elia has been working in the Gulf for a decade and provided a lot of leadership during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
D’Elia was one of the founders of the Gulf of Mexico University Research Collaborative, which represents all five states that border the Gulf — Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. The goal of the collaborative is to provide representation of universities in the department of coastal sciences in the Gulf.
The collaborative is the counterpart to the Gulf of Mexico Association, which works closely with the government. They represent universities, advocate for university research and funding and connect together the universities on the gulf coast community.
In the early 1980s, when D’Elia was at the University of Maryland, he had a consulting job with a Mexican oil company to look at coral reefs off the coast of the Yucatan. They were going to lay pipelines for oil, and he convinced them to leave the island alone and go offshore. The company then made the island a nature reserve.
D’Elia grew up close to the Long Island Sound, in Connecticut, near the New York Metropolitan area.
“I was always interested in things marine and from the sea,” D’Elia said. “I always loved it.”