The University of Texas Marine Science Institute officially opens its newest campus building, the Estuarine Research Center, this weekend in Port Aransas.
The sustainably designed building expands the research capacity of the Marine Science Institute with three floors of state-of-the-art marine laboratories. It also is the headquarters for the Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR), a 185,708-acre area of estuarine habitat established in 2006 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and managed by the institute.
"Estuaries are some of the most economically and ecologically important places on Earth," said Dr. Lee Fuiman, director of the Marine Science Institute. "They are where human populations meet the sea, and they provide many services that we depend upon. Threats to our estuaries, such as last year's Deepwater Horizon oil spill, hypoxia and climate change, underscore the importance of estuarine research. This new facility represents a significant expansion of our expertise in coastal ecology, and we are especially proud that it was designed and constructed in an environmentally responsible way."
"Partnerships and cutting-edge facilities such as this one are concrete examples of science, service and stewardship in action," said Dr. Larry Robinson, assistant secretary of commerce for conservation and management and NOAA deputy administrator. "This facility will bring the reserve's research, training and monitoring capabilities under one roof and allow scientists to conduct research critical to protecting and sustaining Texas' coastal communities and ecosystems."
Marine Science Institute faculty, staff and students will continue their groundbreaking research and stewardship activities related to the Texas Gulf coast estuarine environment in the building. They will seek to further understand the role that estuarine ecosystems play for our economy and environment, including serving as fish hatcheries, pollutant filtration systems and buffers from storms.
The building is the first educational facility in South Texas constructed for certification by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) at the silver level, and includes a number of innovative features that decrease its impact on the sensitive coastal environment while also protecting it from hurricanes and extreme coastal temperatures and winds.
Designed by Richter Architects, the building's east-west orientation helps decrease solar heat gain and will help to protect it from hurricane storm surges. The southern face of the building is stepped inward from roof-to-ground to provide shading from summer sun, while its north face opens upward to provide natural light to the interiors. It also features solar panels, large cisterns for rainwater capture and surrounding gardens that highlight local flora and are part of the educational tour services offered on the institute's campus.
The Estuarine Research Center was built as a partnership between The University of Texas at Austin, NOAA and the Texas General Land Office.
Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison will deliver the keynote address at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Saturday, July 23.