May 26, 2016  

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GCRL Welcomes New 60-Foot Research Vessel to South Mississippi

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The R/V Jim Franks is the newest addition to The University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory (GCRL) fleet. (Submitted photo)

The R/V Jim Franks made its way from New Iberia, La. after a 12-hour journey to the Point Cadet Marina in Biloxi last week. The 60-foot research vessel is the newest addition to The University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory (GCRL) fleet and will replace the R/V Tom McIlwain, which is being retired later this year.

Planning for the R/V Jim Franks began in 2012 with the actual on-site construction at the GEO Shipyard beginning in early 2015.

“We are very excited to be receiving the R/V Jim Franks as the newest addition to our research fleet, said Dr. Gordon Cannon, vice president for Research at Southern Miss. “She was especially designed by our scientists to perform their current and future work. We greatly appreciate the resources provided by the Mississippi legislature that allow us to expand our ocean studies in the Gulf of Mexico.”

The R/V Jim Franks is named after longtime GCRL senior research scientist James S. (Jim) Franks. After a poll of GCRL faculty and staff, the decision was made to immortalize the work and dedication of the still-practicing fisheries biologist.

“I am extremely proud and honored to have my name on this beautiful, new research vessel,” Franks said. “This honor is something I will cherish for the rest of my life.”

Franks has been the public face of GCRL at local fishing tournaments for decades and is frequently asked to interpret what’s going on in marine environment to the general public as a spokesman for the Center of Fisheries Research and Development. He has more than 35 years of experience as a fisheries biologist and 50 publications credited to his name. Franks is one of the few GCRL scientists who witnessed the devastation inflicted by both Hurricane Camille and Hurricane Katrina on South Mississippi.

During his career, Franks has been a passionate advocate for the conservation of the marine environment. He has used his research work to change the global perception of pelagic sargassum and fight the proposal of burning the free-floating seaweed after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Sargassum was long believed by scientists to be nothing more than the ocean’s waste until Franks’ research proved sargassum is actually critical to marine life and is home to more than 150 species of pelagic fish. For his groundbreaking work with sargassum, the American Fisheries Society presented Franks and the GCRL with the Outstanding National Project of the Year in 2003.

Franks serves on the Mississippi Wildlife Federation’s Board of Directors, the Marine Fisheries Initiative panel, Highly Migratory Species panel, and is the chairman of the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute.

“It was an emotional experience when I first saw my name on the boat,” he said. “I wondered if I even deserved such an incredible honor.”

The R/V Jim Franks has a max capacity of 40 passengers and will assume all duties currently performed by the R/V Tom McIlwain. The primary use of the vessel will be to provide a platform for numerous in-house and external research projects.

With a berthing of eight, the vessel is equipped for both day cruises and overnight trips for projects such as water testing, trawling, long-lining, trips to the barrier islands, surveying, and fishing. Researchers will also have access to both an interior and exterior wet laboratory and a dry laboratory on board.

“The addition of the R/V Jim Franks to the GCRL fleet fills a much needed gap in our ability to understand our valuable marine resources,” said Dr. Monty Graham, interim director of the GCRL and chair of the Department of Marine Science at Southern Miss. “The vessel will be a critical science platform for many years. We proudly welcome her home.”

GCRL will hold a commissioning ceremony honoring the vessel and its namesake this summer.