Rebuilding the ARK
The first ARK tour where the public saw sea turtles and birds.
When Hurricane Harvey landed on the Mission-Aransas Reserve in 2017, one of the many casualties was the ARK (Amos Rehabilitation Keep). Named for its beloved founders, Tony and Lynn Amos, this wildlife rehabilitation center was damaged beyond repair. Today, thanks to the support of NOAA and local friends, the ARK is returning about 500 turtles and 1000 birds to their native habitats every year.
“We started rebuilding—and improving—the ARK and other facilities right after Harvey hit,” says Jace Tunnell, manager of the Reserve. “But we found it takes more than funding, it takes partnerships at every level and lots of time for all of the pieces to come together.”
With $11.7 million from the Continuing Appropriations Act in 2018 and Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Requirements Act in 2017, the Reserve team has been working with partners to rebuild the ARK, along with a new animal hospital, headquarters building, dorms, and visitor centers. Each of the structures is designed to be more hurricane resilient. The ARK’s repaired above ground turtle pool, for example, is rated for category 3 storms, and the new building is designed to meet current flood elevations.
When it came to furnish the new hospital, however, the Reserve team found the cost of inflation and supply chain issues had left them without the funds to furnish the new facility. So the Friends of the ARK did what they have been doing since 2006—they stepped up. Through t-shirt sales and fundraising events, they collected $100,000, enough to provide technology and furnishings to support laser surgery, x-ray machines, new caging and tanks, and an operating room.
“When the ARK started in 1982, the facility rehabbed and cared for 7 sea turtles and 15 birds at a time,” says Tunnell. “It is what it is today because of our volunteers. The Friends of the ARK are the heart and soul of the place. Whether it’s filling a funding gap or helping with daily operations, they do what it takes.”
Understanding the power of public support, the Reserve team has worked to increase public access throughout the rebuilding process. Their visitor center, for example, which is set to be re-opened in August 2022, will include technology to support hybrid in-person/online events, learning touch tanks, aquariums, and video kiosks with short videos focused on local research.
“People have to know and love a place to want to protect it, and all Reserves work very hard to build that connection,” says Rebecca Roth, NERRA’s executive director. “A sense of community is an integral part of building resilience—whether it’s happening post Harvey in Texas, after Sandy in New Jersey, or after Maria in Puerto Rico.”