Endowment Honors HRI’s Dr. Wes Tunnell

Press Release
Dr. Wes Tunnell Endowment

A new fellowship has been established to continue the teaching legacy of long-time educator, author and marine scientist Dr. Wes Tunnell, Harte Research Institute (HRI) for Gulf of Mexico Studies Endowed Chair for Biodiversity and Conservation Science.  HRI honored Tunnell at a reception with his friends, family, colleagues and former students Thursday, April 21. 

Inspired by Tunnell’s commitment to his students and to Mexico, the Harte Charitable Foundation has committed to funding the Dr. Wes Tunnell Gulf of Mexico Fellowship Program. The fellowship will support a Mexican or American graduate student with a commitment to research in Mexico while he or she pursues graduate education at the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi. The Harte Charitable Foundation will establish the fellowship program in perpetuity, funding the program at $50,000 per year for the first eight years before establishing a $1 million endowment.

”My family and I are deeply and sincerely appreciative of this designation and honor, but like my career working on the Gulf, and especially in Mexico, I am really happy for the opportunities this will provide to future generations of students,” Tunnell said. “I am also particularly gratified by the widening and deepening influence of TAMU-CC, HRI, and the Harte family on the education, science, research, and conservation all around the Gulf of Mexico in the U.S., Mexico and Cuba.”

Tunnell is a marine ecologist and biologist focusing primarily on coastal and coral reef ecosystems, and has been studying the banks off South Texas since his graduate research work in the late 1960s.  He is founder and former Director of the Center for Coastal Studies, and he assisted in the development of the Harte Research Institute, served as its first Associate Director and helped design its building.

Harte Research Institute

Tunnell also assisted in the development of two Bachelor of Science degree programs along with four master’s degree and two doctoral programs at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.  Tunnell was also instrumental in establishing seven graduate student scholarships in the Center for Coastal Studies and has advised or co-advised 70 M.S. students, 7 Ph.D. students and 4 post-doctoral research associates.

"Through his efforts, our understanding and appreciation of the Gulf of Mexico has significantly increased,” said Dr. Larry McKinney, HRI Executive Director. "While TAMU-CC and its predecessor institutions have a distinguished lineage of well-known marine experts, Dr. Wes Tunnell easily stands first among them."

Dr. Wes Tunnell

For 32 years, Tunnell taught Coral Reef Ecology, taking students on two-week field trips to Veracruz and the Mexican Caribbean as part of an international teaching and research program. One of 18 classes Tunnell taught over the course of his career, he was known for making classrooms out of the deck of a boat and conducting his lectures while wearing scuba gear.

Dr. Kim Withers, TAMUCC assistant professor of biology, was a student of Tunnell’s and later came to work for him in the Center for Coastal Studies, handling logistics for the Coral Reef Ecology class. A Renaissance man with varied interests, Withers said, Tunnell taught his students to look at the system as a whole, studying the mangroves, the birds, the invertebrates and even the local people as well as the reefs that supported them.

“I learned so much from him, but I think the biggest lesson that I took away was that it’s about an education, not just a course,” Withers said. “In any lesson there’s always room for history, geography, archaeology, botany, because everything connects. I wouldn’t be where I am today without him.”

The Harte Charitable Foundation established the fellowship program  with the goal of continuing his work enriching the lives of students and scholars in pursuit of the conservation and study of the Gulf of Mexico.

“The Harte Charitable Foundation is deeply appreciative of the leadership that Dr. Wes Tunnell has provided to conceive and develop the Harte Research Institute,” said Don Perkins, Executive Director of the Harte Charitable Foundation. “First and foremost, Wes is a teacher.  He has been dedicated to his students over the years.  As a scientist, Wes has led HRI’s research initiatives in Mexico. We look forward to these students following in his footsteps.”


Dr. Wes Tunnell Endowment


Dr. Wes Tunnell



If you would like to contribute to the Dr. Wes Tunnell Gulf of Mexico Fellowship Program, you can do so by credit card or by check.

To use a credit card, visit giving.tamucc.edu and under “select an option,” pick “Harte Research Institute.” Under Special Instructions write “Dr. Wes Tunnell Fellowship Program.”

If you would like to send a check, please mail it to:

Attn: Kristen Dwyer

Harte Research Institute

6300 Ocean Drive, Unit 5869

Corpus Christi, TX 78412


If you have any questions, please contact Kristen Dwyer, Outreach Program Manager, 361-825-2052 orkristen.dwyer@tamucc.edu.