Faculty Profile of
Dr. Wes Tunnell

Dr. Wes Tunnell
When Dr. Wes Tunnell was a young man in
Taft, Texas, his father told him, “Pick something you are going to enjoy doing and do a good job of it.” The words of his father have never been lost on him.

Tunnell, associate director of the Harte Institute for Gulf of Mexico Research, professor of biology and director of the Center for Coastal Studies at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, attributes much of his success to his parents, Dr. John W. Tunnell Sr. and Dr. Rose Tunnell. “My early connections with nature were through my parents,” said Tunnell. “Dad liked nature. He took me on many hunting and fishing trips.”

After obtaining his bachelor of science degree in 1967 at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, he began work on his master of science degree. At that time Dr. Alan Chaney introduced Tunnell to marine fieldwork. “He had an innate interest in everything living,” said Tunnell of Chaney. “He made me want to become a professor.”

Following completion of his master of science degree at A&M-Kingsville in 1969, Tunnell was drafted into the U.S. Army and served two years at Ft. Baker in Sausalito, California. There he studied at the University of California-Berkeley at night. After his military duty, he began work on his Ph.D. at the University of South Florida.

While in Florida, Tunnell went to the Bahamas to study molluscs with Dr. Donald R. Moore, an international micromollusc specialist from the University of Miami. The two-week excursion of daily shallow water snorkeling crystallized Tunnell’s career vision. “I thought to myself, ‘This is what I want to do,’” Tunnell recalled. “This trip gave birth to the idea for the reef ecology class I have now taught for 26 years.”

After one year in Florida, Tunnell transferred to Texas A&M University, where he obtained his Ph.D. in biology in 1974. That same year, he became an assistant professor of biology at A&M-Corpus Christi (then Texas A&I at Corpus Christi). He was instrumental with other faculty in starting the biology master of science program in 1975, emphasizing research in field biology and coastal studies. In 1984, Tunnell joined with Dr. Steve Barnes, Dr. Alan Berkebile and Dr. Brian Chapman to form the University’s first research center, the Center for Coastal Studies.

Tunnell was selected as the University’s first Fulbright Fellow in 1985. Under the fellowship, he lived in Merida, Mexico, for a year where he decided the Yucatan would be the focus of future reef ecology classes.

Tunnell has been recognized in other academic circles. He was named a Fellow in the Texas Academy of Sciences in 1981, received an EPA Award for Environmental Excellence in Wetlands in 1994 and was named Texas A&M University System Regents Professor in 1998.

He has authored hundreds of papers, reports and articles in books and journals. He is currently general editor for the Gulf Coast Studies Series of the Texas A&M University Press. His latest book, “The Laguna Madre of Texas and Tamaulipas,” is set for publication in January 2002.

Tunnell’s writing ability goes beyond academic publications. He wrote the prospectus for the 100,000 square foot Natural Resources Center. Tunnell’s pen has also pulled in more than 50 grants and contracts over the past 10 years, totaling more than $1.5 million, for his research and work with graduate students.

A mission throughout Tunnell’s career has been to provide experiences and opportunities for students. “I really do enjoy training students at the graduate level,” Tunnell said. “This is a time in their education where they develop into professionals. Much of the gratification with my work is linked to my former students. I have had many come up to me and say, ‘Are you still doing that reef ecology class in Mexico? That was the greatest learning experience of my life.’”

Enthusiasm for life and life around him is at the core of Tunnell’s being; so is sharing that enthusiasm. “I have had tremendous opportunities lain at my feet and much of that is through people I have met,” Tunnell said. “My life is guided by God and I do not accept the notion that my successes are because of my individual efforts.”


Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Foundation • Annual Report 2001