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Science Community Rallies for Marine Science Institute

Science Community Rallies for Marine Science Institute
The scientific community has offered assistance to UTMSI researchers displaced by Hurricane Harvey.

Amidst the life-threatening floods and devastating damages to property, Hurricane Harvey also wreaked havoc on science institutions along the Texas coast. With the storm dissipated, scientists are now faced with both the personal toll and damage to research equipment and facilities.

Harvey made landfall and the eyewall crossed over The University of Texas at Austin Marine Science Institute (UTMSI) in Port Aransas, causing damage to facilities. Several other research institutions in Texas sustained damages caused by Harvey as well. The journal Nature reported that UTMSI is in the company of affected research institutions such as Houston's Johnson Space Center and the University of Houston.

UTMSI microbiologist Brett Baker described to the Washington Post and Nature that prior to the hurricane's arrival, his laboratory members had stored supplies in cabinets and secured larger instruments. While most of his equipment remained intact afterwards, other labs were not as fortunate.

While the institute undergoes repairs, many displaced researchers, students and staff have been able to relocate temporarily at the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi's Harte Research Institute and continue their work. Kelly Quintanilla, the president of Texas A&M's Corpus Christi campus, explained in a statement that, "In times of disaster, Texans pull together" and welcomed the faculty, staff and students of UTMSI. 

"We are very grateful for our colleagues at Texas A&M University and their generous assistance and hospitality," said UTMSI Director Dr. Robert Dickey

On Twitter, the hashtag #SciHelpTx has spread through the scientific community to offer assistance to researchers displaced by the storm.

The #SciHelpTx initiative, spearheaded by Thomas Jefferson University professor Tim Mosca in collaboration with Houston's March for Science organization, has led to over 300 laboratories from around the nation offering lab and storage space, equipment and materials, including to researchers at UTMSI.

"Beyond Texas, the scientific community has rallied to assist," Dickey said in a statement this week. "They have offered to host our students and researchers and to help perform analyses for time-sensitive faculty research and student theses, and they have donated both personal and institutional funds to support students and staff members who have been displaced. We are most grateful for their support"

The damage is extensive and initial assessment of the cost to rebuild are in the multiple tens of millions of dollars. 

"UTMSI is particularly blessed to have a strong and supportive Advisory Council that immediately rose to the occasion with offers to support our students, staff and faculty with emergency funds exceeding $100,000," Dickey said. UTMSI has also raised over $23,000 through HornRaiser to support students, staff and faculty, as well as clean and rebuild facilities.

Biology senior Jenelle Estrada, who has been working at the UTMSI this past year, told the Daily Texan that various efforts are also underway to help UTMSI members obtain food and pay for gas.

"I know there's such a strong spirit and bond within MSI and Port Aransas," Estrada said. "So I really just hope that kind of shows through, and that they're really able to do these recovery efforts as fast as they can to get … back up on their feet."

"In crises like this it is important to be resilient and positive; help one another; and above all keep the vision of coming back stronger and better than before squarely in mind," Dickey said. "Together, we will make that happen."

Read More:

San Antonio Express News: In storm-battered coastal towns, resilience takes many forms

Houston Chronicle: Harvey deals major blow to UT marine research institute

Science Magazine: A lab flees from Harvey: We were 'just so damn lucky'

Washington Post: Scientists offer help to labs hit by Harvey, even tending to their fruit flies

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Saturday, 04 February 2023

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