UT’s Marine Science Institute Shut Down by Harvey

Hurricane Harvey slammed the Texas Gulf Coast on Friday evening, its 120 mph gusts of wind sinking docked boats, caving in roofs, and smashing windows. Among the catastrophic damage to homes and vehicles in Port Aransas, a barrier-island city 250 miles southwest of Houston on the Gulf of Mexico, is extensive damage to UT’s Marine Science Institute, a research, education, and outreach facility that opened in 1941.

Campus operations at UTMSI are suspended indefinitely, according to staffer Sally Palmer. Several of the facilities have roof failures and some windows have been broken, leading to water damage. According to a statement released by UT President Greg Fenves, the pier and the R/V Katy are still operational. According to Palmer, crews from Austin including UTPD and a contract response team are heading to UTMSI on Monday to assess damage for insurance purposes and begin cleaning up. MSI director Robert Dickey, director of external affairs Georgia Nesbitt, and members of the facilities team will also be onsite today.

A key component of the facility is the Amos Endowment, named after MSI associate Anthony F. Amos, who patrols the coast in an animal ambulance, brings wounded animals at the Animal Rehabilitation Keep, and releases them back into the wild. A clutch of rehabilitated turtles were set to be released on Labor Day weekend, but when Harvey hit, staffers pushed the date up to Sunday. The 40 turtles ready to go were released, with the remainder of reptiles relocated to the Texas Sealife Center in Corpus Christi.

“It was a 100 percent success rate,” Palmer says.

Many of the birds not ready for release found a new temporary home off the island—in the home of a MSI staffer—until a new facility is found. Nearby Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi has offered the use of their facilities and MSI has “tentatively accepted,” according to Palmer, but they haven’t worked out “any details whatsoever.

“Despite the damage, additional loss was averted through the conscientious efforts of MSI staff members and residents of Port Aransas,” concludes Fenves’ statement. “On behalf of the entire UT community, I thank them for their help at this critical time. Our thoughts are with everyone in Port Aransas and in the path of the storm.​”

We will update with more details as the story unfolds.

Correction: Another version of this story incorrectly identified the Texas Sealife Center as located on South Padre Island. It is located on South Padre Island Drive in Corpus Christi.

Update (8/29/17, 4:13 p.m.): MSI staff learned this morning that the research pier thought to be intact has indeed been destroyed by Harvey. Additionally, the newest MSI building, the Estuarine Research Center, “suffered significant roof damage and water penetration damage,” according to a UT press release. The administration, Fisheries and Mariculture Laboratory, and some housing facilities on Beach Street used by visiting scientists and students sustained water and roof damage. The MSI’s researchers, students, and staffers will indeed spend the coming weeks at Texas A&M–Corpus Christi’s Harte Research Institute while the MSI remains closed. After TAMU Chancellor John Sharp offered the facilities to the MSI on Sunday, TAMU–Corpus Christi President Kelly Quintanilla said, ““In times of disaster, Texans pull together. Chancellor John Sharp and I welcome students, faculty and staff from UT’s Marine Science Institute.”

Photo by Anna Donlan.


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