UT Marine Institute makes preparations for hurricane season

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Researchers at the UT Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas are already preparing for hurricane season. Officials said scientists and animal rehabilitation experts are used to the impact hurricanes have on their work.

Steve Lanoux, assistant director of operations at the institute, said the institute has shut down four times in the last 10 years although only one of those was for a mandatory evacuation during Hurricane Rita. He said every year he revises the institute’s evacuation plan to accommodate for changes at the institute and to the county’s evacuation plan.

Lanoux said island residents can only leave the island by boarding the Texas Department of Transportation’s ferry or by using the Corpus Christi Causeway. He said this makes it a challenge to evacuate the island according to plan.

“If the water floods by over five feet, the highway is not usable and the ferry is not usable either because of the ramp angle,” Lanoux said.
Lanoux said the shutdowns and evacuations of the institute interfere with instruction time and productivity.

“The research staff has to put its research on hold,” Lanoux said. “We remove our seawater pumps [during evacuations] so researchers have to treat water and recirculate it instead of having fresh water for their experiments.”

Animals in the process of rehabilitation are the most vulnerable during hurricane season and must be taken into consideration when planning for evacuation at the UT Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas, said Tony Amos, who manages the institute’s Animal Rehabilitation Keep.

Amos said the keep currently houses 30 green sea turtles and many baby birds because their breeding seasons are underway. He said many of the birds will be able to fly on their own by the end of August.

“Every year we try to make sure that the animals that can be released are released before a hurricane is coming,” Amos said. “We do it only if and when they are ready to go, however.”

Amos’ team is ready to evacuate the animals in a boat fitted with cages and in tanks and cages that can be taken by hand if necessary.

“We would probably leave some of the big [sea turtles] in the tank,” Amos said. “Should it overflow they would probably survive. We have some permanent home birds that do not have full use of their wings so those will have to come with us.”

Amos said hurricane season storms bring in most of the animals they care for — including many not indigenous to the area.

“One storm brought in a white tailed tropic,” Amos said. “It’s a beautiful bird with a really long tail, and it’s the symbol of Bermuda. Another storm brought in a rare yellow nosed albatross, but unfortunately it was found dead.”

Candice Mottet, who rehabilitates animals at the institute, said Hurricane Katrina washed many animals on to shore that were in need of constant care. Ike was more devastating to the island, and she took many small reptiles with her when she and other scientists evacuated before the storm.

“I brought home a diamondback terrepin, a red-eared slider, an ornate box turtle and I ended up also bring with me a black cat that had been hanging around our area,” Mottet said. “I had them for approximately a week.”

Mottet said it was a great experience to be able to ensure the safety of the animals she had been trying to rehabilitate.

Danielle Hale, Nueces County emergency management coordinator, said the county is hosting a meeting today at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi to remind the population about hurricane season awareness since peak hurricane activity happens in September and October. She said a tropical storm is currently brewing that will be named Don if it fully develops. She said she hopes it increases the attendance at tonight’s meeting.

Printed on Thursday, July 28, 2011 as: Marine Science Institute plans for animal evacuation