NC State alumnus pushes for more money for Gulf research

July 1, 2011
By Bill Krueger

Mike DeGruyThe 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico continues to send devastating ripples throughout the many communities in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and elsewhere that rely on the Gulf for seafood, tourism and the jobs that come with oil exploration.

But Mike DeGruy ’75 is hoping that something positive will come out of the oil spill and its aftermath – more funding for scientific research of the Gulf of Mexico.

DeGruy grew up in Mobile, Alabama, before coming to NC State as an undergraduate student and then on to a successful career as an underwater photographer and nature filmmaker. He lives in California now, but returned to the Gulf region this year to make a documentary on what the oil spill had done to the area.

We explore DeGruy’s journey in a story in the upcoming summer issue of NC State magazine. Part of the story looks at DeGruy’s frustration with many of the scientists he encountered in the Gulf region. They were either unwilling or unable to provide concrete answers to questions about the environmental impact of the oil spill in 2010.

But DeGruy says much of the problem is not with the scientists themselves, but with the lack of adequate funding for the sort of research that needs to be done to more fully understand a region as environmentally complex as the Gulf of Mexico. He is hoping that will change as a result of the spill.

“Research in the Gulf of Mexico is expensive,” DeGruy says. “You need ships and you need methods to go down deep. Historically, the federal government doesn’t support that level of research, not on a consistent basis.”

Kenneth L. Heck Jr., a professor of marine sciences at the University of Alabama, says research for the Gulf of Mexico has traditionally been underfunded because it is far from Washington and has had relatively few problems. As a result, he said, scientists lack basic baseline information about coastal systems.

Like DeGruy, he is hoping that may change now that there is a greater appreciation for the importance of the Gulf of Mexico in terms of seafood production, oil and gas production and tourism.

“It usually takes a disaster to free up funding, and this has been a big disaster,” Heck says. “I think there is a recognition that the scientists have a role to play and they need to have the resources. I’m hopeful that things will be different now.”

Read more about DeGruy’s visit to the Gulf and his efforts to document the unfolding story there in the summer issue of NC State magazine.

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