Located adjacent to the Corpus Christi State Aquarium, the new Port of Corpus Christi Wildlife Rescue Center at the Texas State Aquarium will be operational March 2, 2023. The 20,000-foot facility squares will serve as the base of operations for the region’s wildlife rehabilitation program. Animals rehabilitated at the new center will include dolphins, otters, birds and loggerhead turtles – which are wash on the shores in record numbers.
The Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife contributed $3 million to the project while $2.5 million from the Port Authority, $2 million from ExxonMobil, $1 million from the state, a few millions more from various other corporate and individual donors.
Corpus Christi voters approved a $75 million bond in 2020 for various projectsincluding $3 million for the rescue center.
The Texas State Aquarium – the state’s largest aquarium and the nation’s fifth largest – will oversee the operations of the new center.
The rescue program itself has been around since 1995, beginning in Corpus due to the abundance of marine wildlife, but functions as the program is currently constituted began around 2005.
The project has been in the works for several years. Gilbert said the COVID-19 pandemic has made things particularly difficult and related supply shortages continue to cause him problems like everywhere else in the world.
Aquarium President and CEO Jesse Gilbert said The Texan during a fundraiser for the new center on Friday, that Hurricane Harvey caused a massive increase in the number of animals in need of rehabilitation, pushing the annual number of “patients” from 400 to thousands.
He added that the winter storm of 2021 sent around 1,600 turtles into the aquarium.
“The aquarium built this portfolio of being able to perform mass marine animal rescues and we quickly realized we were running out of operating space that we needed, and that’s how the conceptualization of this new center is. born,” Gilbert said.
Due to the recent arrival of injured wildlife, if the center became operational today, Gilbert said it would already be at full capacity: “We will literally cut the ribbon with it completely full.”
Rehabilitation time varies by species and specific injuries, but Gilbert said the longest such case occurred with a young dolphin who took nine to 10 months to heal and required a 24-hour attention. Loggerhead sea turtles, on the other hand, usually take two and a half to three months to rehabilitate.
“It’s an interesting political coalition of oil and gas, city, state, but I think it shows that you can really have all these different functions that play a role in creating an ecosystem that’s really healthy,” Gilbert said.
Corpus is ideally located for this type of center due to its unique geography and the variety of species that inhabit the bay. Gilbert said he sees this center as a model for other places to establish their own programs.
The center will be guided by the 33-year-old aquarium, which Gilbert now oversees, which has grown from a small regional aquarium to one of the largest in the country. The center will put another feather in the hat for the aquarium that has become one of Texas’ biggest intrastate travel destinations. Gilbert says his economic impact in 2021 was $120 million.
“I think of the rescue program because you have this amazing place where you can come and have a great experience with your family, you can see this incredible view, and you have all this phenomenal science and conservation going on,” he said. he concluded.
“And so when you buy a ticket here, it funds the center and everything else we do. Thus, the capital expenditure of the [rescue center’s] the construction is finished, but we still have to feed the animals, we have to pay the staff. And that’s how we do it and people visit and have a great time here.