Harte Research Institute Announces Dr. Keisha Bahr as Chair for Coral Reef and Ocean Health

Press Release
Dr. Keisha Bahr

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – The Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies (HRI) at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi announces the appointment of Dr. Keisha Bahr as Chair for Coral Reef and Ocean Health, effective June 1, on World Reef Awareness Day. As the 10th chair of the institute, Bahr’s expertise will bring an integral research area to HRI — coral reef ecology.

Bahr comes to HRI from the TAMU-CC College of Science, Department of Life Sciences, where she was an Assistant Professor of Marine Biology and led the coral reef ecology laboratory, also known as the Bahr Marine Ecology Lab. Her research focuses on how corals and coral reefs react and adapt to environmental changes, including ocean warming, acidification, sedimentation, and nutrient loading.

“Coral reefs provide essential services that support vibrant marine communities and benefit us on land,” Bahr said. “These massive three-dimensional structures offer food and shelter for marine life, act as the rainforests of the sea, and provide natural coastal protection for our shorelines. We also rely on coral reefs for medicinal resources, sources of protein, and tourism, and they hold immense cultural value, but we are losing coral reefs at an alarming rate. It is estimated that we have lost half of our coral reefs over the last three decades.”

Bahr’s journey into the depths of ocean life began in a place surrounded by dry land — a small Ohio town called Ashland, which lies between Columbus and Cleveland. It was in her high school years when she was first introduced to marine biology. Her collegiate path would take her to the University of South Florida for a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science. Next, she journeyed to the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology and a Ph.D. in Zoology. She spent nearly a decade in Hawaiʻi doing hands-on coral reef research, and in 2019, she brought that knowledge to the Island University.

Bahr collaborates closely with Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary and the NOAA Coral Reef Monitoring Program, contributing to the long-term monitoring of coral reefs across the U.S. and its territories. Last year, she led a symposium aimed at refining management strategies for the newly expanded sanctuary. Bahr has been an HRI Fellow since 2022, working with Dr. Mark Besonen, HRI Director of International Programs, and HRI’s International Chairs for Mexico, Dr. Nuno Simões, and Cuba, Dr. Patricia González Díaz, to co-develop and support standardized monitoring methods for coral reefs throughout the Gulf of Mexico.

Bahr’s new role at HRI will advance her current research on understanding and mitigating the effects of environmental change on corals. She will explore innovative techniques for coral cultivation and test marine carbon removal technologies. She will continue to work with the Flower Garden Banks Sanctuary and HRI’s international chairs for coral reefs throughout the Caribbean and Yucatan Peninsula. She also works closely with other HRI researchers focused on ocean acidification, oyster reef ecology, socioeconomics, resiliency, and water quality. Bahr also maintains a partnership with the Texas State Aquarium, assisting with coral health and propagation research as well as educational and workforce outreach programs.

“We are thrilled to have Dr. Bahr joining the Harte Research Institute as its Chair for Coral Reef and Ocean Health,” said Dr. Greg Stunz, HRI Senior Executive Director. “There has been a long-term desire and plan to incorporate the field of coral reef ecology as part of HRI’s research capacity. Dr. Bahr’s expertise meets those needs perfectly, and the timing could not be better. The current health of coral reefs is very troubling, and the long-term persistence of these magnificent marine ecosystems is of utmost concern to the scientific community. Dr. Bahr’s work and the great team she will be assembling here at HRI will highlight and meet these concerns by providing the most impactful science necessary to improve the health of coral reefs in the Gulf and beyond.”

Stunz went on to say that the Harte Charitable Foundation and the families of Ed Harte recognize the importance of Gulf of Mexico coral reefs, and coral reefs worldwide, and support bringing this area of expertise to HRI.

In addition, a state-of-the-art laboratory renovation will take place later this year at HRI to allow Bahr and her co-researchers and students to study, culture, and house corals in automated aquarium systems. Bahr said training and educating the next generation of marine biologists is a major pride point.

“I am so fortunate to have had such amazing mentors and I recognize the impact it can have on a person’s life,” Bahr said. “I believe in paying it forward through mentoring. Success is not just about climbing the ladder ourselves; it’s also about leaving steps for others to follow in our path.”