When the sun shoots off the gulf and illuminates downtown in a wash of glow, it’s easy to see the beauty of the bayfront and become curious about the life that exists below the surface.
It’s this appreciation that prompts wonder about the world around us, who protects it and who seeks to conserve it. This concept was the catalyst for the new, custom-designed, 26,000-square-foot Port of Corpus Christi Center for Wildlife Rescue at The Texas State Aquarium (TSA), where creatures that roam the air and ocean can be rehabilitated and released back into the wild to live anew.
Tom Schmid, TSA’s previous CEO of 20 years (who is now with the Cincinnati Zoo), first approached the Port with the project, since the land the center sits on is Port property which TSA rents out. “We felt [the Center] was a nice fit with our continuing commitment to environmental stewardship and sustainability, so we went to our board and they committed $2.5 million to the initiative,” said Sean Strawbridge, CEO of the Port of Corpus Christi. In regard to the naming rights, Strawbridge elaborated on the marketing benefit but also how “it allows visitors to understand the Port Authority isn’t just about the economy, but driving economic prosperity for a reason, [as well as being] equally committed to environmental sustainability and stewardship.”
Funded by the Port of Corpus Christi, the City, the state and fundraising efforts from the community, the newly built Port of Corpus Christi Center for Wildlife Rescue at the Texas State Aquarium — which has its grand opening set for the beginning of this month — boasts major improvements and a cutting-edge experience that was not available to patrons who ventured to that part of the aquarium’s rescue center before. “I think the most exciting aspect is the turtle hospital itself,” said Philip Ramirez, the principal architect of the Center and President of Turner | Ramirez Architects. “We’re bringing that to the forefront of every space. This turns it inside out in a way that shows the public this is the work we do here; they can see how the turtles are cared for in real time.” In addition to the turtle hospital, visitors will be able to see when animals are taken through a CT scan and the interactions between staff and animals during the rehabilitation process.
8,795 Animals Admitted Between 2005 – 2020
Being the largest wildlife rescue program in Texas and one of the largest in the U.S., this sense of transparency in letting the public actually view medical procedures taking place makes a wildlife conservation effort such as this so revolutionary. The new center also contains the largest capacity for sea turtles (3,000 patients) in the country, houses the only CAT scan medical imagery technologies for wildlife in Texas and is the only rescue program in the state permitted for marine mammals, manatees, sea turtles and birds, making it one of only five in the country with these capabilities.
With talk of climate change, environmental upheaval and industrial expansion laying siege to lands that had previously been untainted, it serves as a bright light on the horizon to know that not all industrial expansion hinders conservation — in this case, it aids in it.
4,145 Animals Released Back into the Wild
“I think those are always going to be concerns,” said Jesse Gilbert, president and CEO of the Texas State Aquarium. “What we’ve always strived for at the Aquarium is that meeting point of conservation and stewardship for the future. Getting to teach and inform people now about the conservation and sustainability efforts of what we do here and hopefully shepherd newer generations who want to take up this kind of work.”
According to the Turner | Ramirez website, “The Wildlife Rescue Center will be open to the public, and its key exhibit spaces include the turtle hospital, surgery room, treatment room and marine mammal holding tank. With views and a terrace overlooking the Bay, the Wildlife Rescue Center will help bring education and awareness to the marine mammals, sea turtles, avian wildlife and ocean impacts of the Coastal Bend.”
1,290 Birds Released
So, while it is important to note the number of animals and wildlife that will be helped with the structure, it’s also worth mentioning the importance of that sentiment: In a city that has seen its share of hurricanes, floods, freezes and other natural disasters, the resilience of the wildlife and the efforts of those who keep it alive and thriving mean that this center will not only affect the natural world, but also shape the way we combat the effects of disasters in the future to come.
2,854 Sea Turtles Released
It’s easy for someone to have feelings of skepticism, in that building something concrete on someplace that was once natural land can seem counterintuitive to those efforts, but Strawbridge points toward another sentiment to alleviate those concerns. “There’s a lot of misunderstanding about the ability for both industry and environmental initiatives to coexist in tandem,” he said. “There is, in my opinion, no greater commitment to environmental protections than in the oil and gas industry, and we’ve seen that in their self-regulation and emissions reduction, and water discharge toxins, all of that … The Corpus Christi Ship Channel is so clean that the Texas State Aquarium draws its water for its aquatic exhibits directly from the ship channel, and that couldn’t happen without the efforts of the Port and other organizations who are trying to protect the region.”
And this protection of the region has prompted the aquarium to provide space for animal rehabilitation, as well as a place where patrons can not only hear about the work being done but actually see it for themselves, thus perpetuating a hopeful cycle of awareness and protection. After all, TSA’s mission is to increase the capacity for wildlife rescue and response, facilitate learning for veterinary medical students and veterinary technologists and foster a better understanding for the public regarding what each of us can do to help protect wildlife. As of this writing, the center has admitted more than 8,700 animals with more than 4,000 released back into the wild — 2,855 of which were endangered species.
2,855 of the Released Were Endangered Species
“This is definitely a step up from how we’ve been doing things in the past,” Gilbert said, “to be able to have a place where our veterinarians and rescue team can do the work, and have the public see it, whereas in the past, it’s been off-site and not accessible. This is not only an improvement but also a way for people to see what stewardship looks like while it’s actually in practice. It’s a wonderful thing.” An example of how this is already underway is the tremendous number of cold-stunned turtles who have been rescued, rehabilitated and released back into the wild over the last several months.
“Mother Nature can be very unforgiving, but if we have the ability to bring some forgiveness through manmade initiatives like the Center, that’s really satisfying,” said Gilbert. The Port of Corpus Christi Center for Wildlife Rescue at the Texas State Aquarium is a beacon of hope for aquatic and coastal mammal species, and will continue to nurture healthy populations of those species for years to come.