Wetlands center offering tours
Twice weekly, guided tours of the Wetlands Education Center (WEC) that are open to the public begin today, Thursday, Jan. 29.
Tours will be offered at 2 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.
The tours start one hour before the 3 p.m. movies that are shown in the University of Texas Marine Science Institute's Visitor Center auditorium, so those going on the 45-minute tours of the WEC will be back in time to see the free movies that are shown Monday through Thursday.
The WEC tours will start at the amphitheater next to the Visitor Center, which is at the east end of Cotter Avenue before the street ends at the beach.
The boardwalks at the WEC are ADA accessible, and several benches are scattered throughout the facility.
Carolyn Rose, who is volunteer coordinator for the Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve Systen (NERR), of which the WEC is part, said the tours may be moved to earlier in the day as the weather warms up. The NERR is a network of coastal sites tht operate as a partnership with the federal government and coastal states.
Initially, Rose will lead the tours, but is looking for volunteers to lead them in the future.
The purpose of the tours is, Rose said, "to help people appreciate how important Texas coastal wetlands are to our environment and economy and to help people learn how plants and animals adapt to life in salt marsh and sand dune habitats."
The WEC is a 3.6-acre salt marsh just off the Aransas Pass, adjacent to UTMSI Visitor Center.
Salt marshes are among the more ecologically productive habitats on the planet.
That's one of the facts that visitors will learn when they walk through the WEC.
The new center was officially dedicated in August 2008, and is included in the 185,000-acre NERR that is administered in Texas by the institute as part of a worldwide program administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The WEC is open all day, every day, and, in addition to the guided tours, features a self-guided tour of a transition zone between the mainland and open bays, estuaries and lagoons.
Visitors can view the vegetation in sand dunes and identify the various species of plants by reading displays that are located throughout the outdoor center.
The salt marsh that is featured in the center is a unique habitat for a large variety of plants and animals.
Kiosks along the trail that winds around the marsh provide information about the wetlands.
A geodetic marker also exists at the entryway to the center, and provides distances to other National Estuarine Research Reserves throughout the world.
The center was created through a 13-year-long collaboration between federal, state and county governments as well as The University of Texas at Austin and private donors to raise $4.4 million to build it.
The center was designed by Corpus Christi architect David Richter, and its concept was developed by Dr. Rick Tinnin, director of marine education at UTMSI and the education coordinator for the Mission-Aransas Reserve.
More information about The University of Texas Marine Science Institute can be found at www.utmsi. utexas.edu.