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Longtime Scientist’s Legacy Immortalized with Commissioning of New Research Vessel

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Pictured left to right: Jamie Miller, Mississippi Department of Marine Resources Executive Director, Read Hendon, Associate Director of Gulf Coast Research Laboratory, Jill Hendon, Sponsor, Jim Franks, Senior Research Scientist, Rodney D. Bennett, President of The University of Southern Mississippi, Monty Graham, Director of School of Science and Technology, and Gordon Cannon, Vice President for Research.

The legacy of James “Jim” S. Franks, senior research scientist at The University of Southern Mississippi, was featured Saturday, June 18 as guests gathered at the Point Cadet Marina in Biloxi to celebrate the commissioning of the University’s newest research vessel.

Naval flags danced in the breeze along the R/V Jim Franks as Southern Miss faculty, local and state officials, and marine science experts took the stage to honor the newest vessel and its namesake.

“I don’t know many other people that devote time to marine science and love what they do like Jim Franks,” said Dr. Read Hendon, associate director of the University’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory (GCRL). “In one way or another, Jim has touched the life of everyone involved with marine science on the Gulf Coast.”

Franks first came to GCRL in Ocean Springs during the summer of 1963. Some 53 years later, he has become one of the most recognizable scientists at the laboratory, representing GCRL at coastal fishing tournaments and other public events. The fisheries biologist’s research has focused on large pelagic fishes, such as billfishes and tunas, with a recent interest in changing the global perception of pelagic sargassum, an offshore essential habitat for various fish species. “For my name to even be mentioned in the same breath as the names that have been given to other GCRL vessels is a supreme honor,” Franks told the crowd. “It is important to remember this vessel isn’t about me, it’s about the future of marine and ocean technologies.”

Expanding the high-quality education and research opportunities the University provides, the 60-foot research vessel is equipped for both day and overnight trips. For day cruises, the R/V Jim Franks has a maximum capacity of 40 passengers, and it sports a cruising speed of 18 knots and a top speed of 24 knots. The R/V Jim Franks features both wet and dry laboratories and will allow University researchers to conduct projects such as water testing, trawling, long lining, surveying and research trips to the Mississippi barrier islands.

“The advantages scientists will have with this vessel in the GCRL fleet are infinite,” said Franks. “I have no doubt the results from its projects will greatly increase the information Coastians can obtain about the Gulf waters that surround them.”

The vessel offers advantages to partnering agencies like the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources (MDMR). MDMR Director Jamie Miller said information from GCRL scientists is imperative to the development of the revitalization of the Gulf Coast seafood industry.

“It is an honor to be associated with the real experts in marine science,” said Miller. “Jim Franks is one of the true giants of Gulf fisheries research.”

At the conclusion of the ceremony, the vessel was christened by sponsor Jill Hendon, assistant director of the Center for Fisheries Research and Development at Southern Miss. Afterwards, visitors were able to tour the vessel. Southern Miss School of Ocean Science and Technology Director Monty Graham was also aboard the R/V Jim Franks as onlookers got a first-hand look at the new vessel.

“Commissioning ceremonies are so important because when the crew is out on the water, this vessel becomes their home, their protector,” Graham said.

According to Graham, the addition of the R/V Jim Franks will help enhance the science and research being done in the Gulf Coast and will also help scientists bridge a scientific gap.

“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,” he said. “The vessel will be a critical science platform for many years. We proudly welcome her.”