O’Connell ‘Ideal’ Brazoria County marine agent

March 08, 2012

ANGLETON, TX — John O’Connell welcomes the task of confronting coastal resource issues that Brazoria County’s burgeoning population creates. It’s the reason he sought to be the county’s new coastal and marine resources agent.

O’Connell, who has been Matagorda County Coastal and Marine Resources Agent for the past nine years, will begin his new job on April 2. He replaces Rich Tillman, who retired in 2010 after 14 years on the job. The position is funded jointly by the Texas Sea Grant College Program, Texas AgriLife Extension Service and Brazoria County.

O’Connell’s office is moving just 40 miles northeast on SH 35 and he’ll work on many of the same coastal concerns he faced in Matagorda County, but the issues are magnified by the nearly eight-fold population difference between the two counties.

“Moving from a county with 40,000 people to one with 300,000 people offers many interesting challenges for me,” said O’Connell, who was introduced to the Brazoria County Commissioners Court on Feb. 28. “The main challenges relate to the sheer number of people and the pressure they put on coastal resources. We deal with issues like water quality, sustainable development, fisheries and coastal hazards on a daily basis, but the way in which we address them takes on added complexity when so many people are involved. I’m grateful for the opportunity to work with the Brazoria County Commissioners Court and the Extension staff here as we tackle these pressing coastal issues.”

O’Connell, a native of San Antonio, received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in wildlife and fisheries sciences from Texas A&M University. He began his career as an assistant county extension agent for 4H and marine resources in Louisiana in 1994. He returned to Texas in 1996 as Calhoun County Marine Agent, a position he held until moving to Matagorda County in 2003.

During his career, O’Connell has worked in the areas of aquaculture, recreational and commercial fisheries, nature tourism, community needs assessment, marine education and leadership training. He created and leads Texas Sea Grant’s Monofilament Recovery and Recycling Program — a statewide effort to remove discarded fishing line from the environment, where it poses a threat to aquatic life. The collected monofilament is recycled by Pure Fishing, the parent company of fishing products giant Berkley. The used monofilament is chopped up, melted down and used to manufacture new fishing-related products like tackle boxes, spools for lines and artificial fish habitats. It is not made into more monofilament line.

O’Connell has also worked extensively with Matagorda County’s Master Naturalists, and he plans to continue this partnership with Master Naturalists in his new home county. Brazoria County will benefit greatly from O’Connell’s breadth of experience and commitment to serving stakeholders, according to Texas Sea Grant’s Associate Director and extension program leader.

“Brazoria County faces many critical decisions concerning the wise use and conservation of its coastal and marine resources,” Logan Respess said. “The work John has done in Calhoun and Matagorda counties makes him the ideal person to help Brazoria County leaders assess these issues and develop practical, effective and long-lasting solutions.”

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Texas Sea Grant is a unique partnership that unites the resources of the federal government, the State of Texas and universities across the state to create knowledge, tools, products and services that benefit the economy, the environment and the citizens of Texas. It is administered through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and is one of 33 university-based Sea Grant Programs around the country. Texas Sea Grant is a non-academic research center in the College of Geosciences at Texas A&M University. The program’s mission is to improve the understanding, wise use and stewardship of Texas coastal and marine resources.