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$5M grant to UTMSI in Port A expands research

The Economic Development Administration is funding the establishment of a new Center for Coastal Ocean Science at UT Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas. Photo by Jace Tunnell

The University of Texas Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas will soon open a center to study the effect of chemicals on marine life and the ecosystem. Using a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce, the institute will build The Center for Coastal Ocean Science, the first research facility in the state dedicated to marine chemical ecology.

The money is part of $600 million in disaster relief appropriated by Congress for recovery from hurricanes Harvey, Maria, Irma, and other 2017 natural disasters. The institute will provide an additional $1.25 million.

“This grant will enable MSI to not only rebuild but to reach new heights as a leader in oceanic research,” said UT-Austin President Gregory L. Fenves in a statement.

The grant is only the latest in federal funds appropriated to rebuild the center. Earlier this year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration granted $11.7 million to complete repairs on the visitors center and the research pier.

“We are grateful to Congress for these funds,” said Robert Dickey, the institute’s director and a professor of marine science. “This final piece of the puzzle will help us get over the finish line.”

After the hurricane, staff moved to Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi to work while the Port Aransas campus was rebuilt. They moved back in this past June, but only at 80 percent capacity.

Hurricane Harvey caused more than $45 million in damage to the UTMSI campus, which consisted of 70 buildings.

The new center won’t be built from scratch. A building already exists to house the facility. It was damaged during Hurricane Harvey as was much of the University of Texas Marine Science Institute’s Port Aransas campus when the Category 4 storm hit on August 25, 2017.

Research will center on the effects of human migration to coastal zones and how that effects marine ecosystems. The new center will be the first non-inland facility to study how these pressures could impact the ocean’s food chains and fisheries, Dickey explained.

"The Center for Coastal Ocean Science will be a discovery enterprise," Dickey said. "The products of discovery at this center will help inform decision making to increase the productivity, resilience, and the myriad socioeconomic services of our coastal waters. In short, we aim to serve and to raise awareness of the interdependency of a prosperous society and vibrant, productive marine ecosystems."

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