The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently awarded $11.7 million in funding to the UT Marine Science Institute to finish fixing what Hurricane Harvey destroyed in 2017.
Institute communications coordinator Sally Palmer said the UT Marine Science Department and Institute manages a National Estuarine Research Reserve through a federal and state partnership.
Palmer said the newly awarded funds will help the institute and the reserve return to full operations and reopen on-site marine science education programs to visitors. After over two years of construction and reinforcements, Palmer said the project is nearing 80% completion and they anticipate three more years of construction.
“There were several research reserves affected by hurricanes during 2017, so Congress appropriated funds to help with hurricane recovery for our reserves and for others around the country,” Palmer said. “The fund was very specific to Hurricane Harvey.”
Palmer said Harvey caused over $45 million in damage to the reserve, which affected all 70 buildings maintained by the oldest marine research facility on the Texas coast. After the storm, she said researchers and students came back to find labs filled with standing water and destroyed samples.
Palmer said students had to be temporarily relocated to Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi for the fall 2017 semester. The institute has since replaced more than three football fields’ worth of roofing, Palmer said.
“We didn’t quite know what was going on,” said Sarah Douglas, marine science graduate student. “The classes that happened down here at the institute are mainly graduate classes, and since that was the fall semester, it was all graduate classes. After the hurricane, we didn’t have labs, but some of the professors were very generous with their office spaces.”
According to the institute’s website, it previously drew in tens of thousands of visitors annually. Since Harvey, visitor facilities have been closed and K-12 education programs reduced, according to a press release from UT.
“We are grateful to Congress for these funds,” said Robert Dickey, the institute’s director and a marine science professor. “Rebuilding for the future has taken a combination of support from the University, insurance, state and federal government, and our generous donors. This final piece of the puzzle will help us get over the finish line.”