Wes Tunnell Honored with Texas State Aquarium Funded Scholarship

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi is proud to announce “The Texas State Aquarium Endowed Scholarship in Biodiversity and Conservation Science,” a new scholarship funded by the Texas State Aquarium (TSA). The $50,000 scholarship is in honor of the late Dr. John Wesley “Wes” Tunnell, Jr., a prolific marine ecologist and biologist who made valuable contributions to the Island University, TSA, and the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies (HRI).

This scholarship will provide financial support for students following in the footsteps of Tunnell, who dedicated his career to researching the marine ecosystems of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. He also offered his valuable insight to numerous students, as well as many research and conservation organizations throughout his lifetime.

Tunnell was a professor at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi for more than 40 years, an endowed chair of biodiversity and conservation science, and the first assistant director at HRI, which he helped found, and a longtime advisor of the Aquarium, to name just a few of his many accomplishments. Tunnell also aided the development of the TSA and provided additional input on the Aquarium’s newest addition, Caribbean Journey.

“When we made the decision to move forward with our Caribbean Journey project, one of the first phone calls I made was to Dr. Tunnell.  His expertise and knowledge of the Yucatán region and west Caribbean helped shape our program,” said Tom Schmid, president & CEO of the TSA. “He guided us on several trips to the region, introducing us to the flora, fauna, and people that are working to preserve these very special places. However, Wes much more than a guide and advisor, he was a mentor and friend to many of us.”

Many of the Aquarium’s employees were inspired to pursue marine science through Tunnell’s teachings and mentorship, with some even staying in touch with their former professor throughout their careers. Tunnell was treasured by students and colleagues alike for his engaging personality that fueled in others a lasting passion for marine biology and conservation. After a long battle with cancer, Tunnell passed away on July 14, 2018.

 “The Texas State Aquarium has been a long-term conservation and research partner with HRI and celebrating that collaboration through support of an endowed scholarship is a wonderful recognition of what Dr. Tunnell meant to both our organizations,” said Dr. Larry McKinney, senior executive director at HRI and former colleague of Tunnell. “Because of the Aquarium’s thoughtful gift, HRI students with an interest in studying biodiversity or conservation science in the Gulf will now have a source of funds to support their studies.”

The scholarship will draw from the Aquarium’s Wildlife Care, Conservation, and Research Fund and will be held by the A&M-Corpus Christi Foundation. Students pursuing a graduate degree conducting biodiversity and/or conservation science research in the Gulf or Caribbean Sea will be eligible for the scholarship, with the recipient being selected by HRI. The students selected for the scholarship will, in many ways, carry on Tunnell’s legacy by working with the Biodiversity and Conservation Group at HRI, which Tunnell himself founded.