Patton Center for Marine Science Education recovers from Hurricane Harvey, provides learning opportunities about local marine life

Sydney Boo, General News Reporter

The newly renovated Patton Center for Marine Science Education opened to the public at the UT-Austin Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas, Texas. With help from the University, the center fully recovered from the damages of Hurricane Harvey, and is now upgraded with exhibitions and educational programming.

At approximately 2,000 square feet, the center features eight large aquariums with local fish, giant monitors, kiosks for digital interactives, touch tanks and programs such as fish-feeding demonstrations and keeper chats, said Sally Palmer, communications manager at the Marine Science Institute.

The Patton Center and the entire Marine Science Institute experienced severe damage from Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and has been in the renovation process over the past five years, Palmer said.

“There was a lot of damage everywhere and we were all discouraged,” said Edward Buskey, director of the Marine Science Institute. “Five years later, we have this wonderful new center that’s been completely rebuilt.”

In total, the hurricane caused approximately $55 million worth of damage, Buskey said. Palmer said the center was renovated with support from the University, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and donors Bobby Patton and Sherri Patton.

Buskey said he is looking forward to finishing up the renovations by adding student dormitories within the Marine Science Institute. The additional dormitories will house graduate students and undergraduate students visiting the institute in various UT programs.

“We’re still recovering to a certain extent,” Buskey said. “An old saying is when life gives you lemons, you try to make lemonade. We’ve gotten some additional funding. We’re building a new dormitory.” 

The Patton Center focuses on unique local estuarine and wetland environments, as well as beach shorelines in the Port Aransas Bay areas, mainly located within walkable distance, program administrator Adriana Reza said.

“The type of education that we focus on is place-based education where we take (visitors) out, immerse them into the environment that is around us and talk about why it’s so important to us,” Reza said.

Reza said the educational programs at the center allow visitors to engage in hands-on experiences. She said the programs apply to every age group.

“We usually say it will support K to gray,” Reza said. “There’s a wide range of information that is available. Our volunteers and docents are really well versed in the environment so we could have a conversation with our visitors if they want to know more.”

With Port Aransas increasingly attracting more tourists, Palmer said the center only exhibits local nature and promotes tourism with less environmental impact.

“Now that (the center) is also bigger and better, it’s a really big draw for the community to also bring in visitors,” Palmer said. “(We’re) really interested in promoting sustainable tourism.”

Reza said she is looking forward to communicating with the researchers at the Marine Science Institute and conducting programs based on research and real-world data.

“It’s been nice to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Palmer said. “I think people are going to really love the Patton Center and all that there is to offer. I’m excited for people to learn more about the ocean that surrounds them.”