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FGCU's Vester Marine Research Station walloped by Ian; data lost, equipment and grounds damaged

Mike Braun
Dr. Michael Parsons looks over damage from storm surge at FGCU's Vester Marine & Environmental Science Research Field Station on Bonita Beach Road. The station sustained significant damage from Hurricane Ian's storm surge. Parsons is the director of the station.

The gulf giveth and the gulf taketh away.

For FGCU’s Vester Marine & Environmental Science Research Field Station, that taketh away was huge.

Sitting by a small spit of land on Little Hickory Island near Barefoot Beach and along Bonita Beach Road, the station has served as a resource for university students and faculty as well as researchers and scientists from around the world since 2007.

The passage of Hurricane Ian, however, stopped all activity at the former commercial fish house and old Florida-style resort.

“A couple years’ worth of samples, that’s just lost,” said Dr. Michael Parsons, director of the station and a marine science professor at FGCU. “We had freezers full of fish and bait. We had stone crab for a stone crab study.”

Mike Braun
Allan Grant, a student/intern at the Vester Maine & Environmental Science Research Field Station on Bonita Beach Road, helps with cleanup. The station sustained significant damage from Hurricane Ian's storm surge.

Those freezers and refrigerators now stand empty along the facility’s drive, amid trash and other debris.

Parsons said there were test tubes full of water and nutrient samples that were rendered useless due to rising temperatures when the power failed. “That’s just a waste,” he said. “We can’t get the data from them.”

And he didn’t know if research that needed to be done on some algal issues, both blue-green and red, could be carried out, given that people who may have been part of the research, giving blood to check for toxins and the like, are busy with cleanup.

“Do people want to do that if they are just surviving?” he wondered.

Additionally, Parsons said, tanks of fish and sea urchins were either able to swim away with the surge water or died from exposure. Amazingly, several mangrove plants that survived Irma also survived Ian and one living coral was saved.

“It’s not happy,” Parsons said of the coral, "but it’s alive.”

FGCU Vester Marine & Environmental Science Research Field Station Cleanup

He also wondered if remote equipment remains in place or if it is even accessible now by boat.

The facility director said it wasn’t wind that did the station in but rather the surge.

A debris line can be seen about eight feet high along the outside walls of the station’s three white-colored buildings, where classroom cabinets and counters were torn off walls and mud covers a lot of inside surfaces.

A group of FGCU officials, including President Mike Martin, took a tour of the facility Tuesday, flabbergasted at the damage and incredulous at the high-water mark.

“Basically, we’re shut down here,” said James Hehl, FGCU assistant vice president at the physical plant. “We have a restoration company coming in.”

Amid mud and debris but under a very blue sky and calm backwaters at the station, Hehl and Greg Tolley, executive director of FGCU’s The Water School, discussed just when the facility might reopen.

“By January, if possible,” Tolley suggested.,

“That’s a little aggressive,” Hehl said.

Mike Braun
Greg Tolley, executive director of FGCU's The Water School, looks at the debris line from storm surge at the Vester Maine & Environmental Science Research Field Station on Bonita Beach Road. The station sustained significant damage from Hurricane Ian's storm surge.

The consensus was that it could be a few more months beyond January before things are to the point that the station could again host classes with students, research activities by scientists, and other activities.

That timeline wasn’t something Parsons was happy with.

“We have a bunch of research we have to do,” he said.

In the end, research can still be conducted at the site but other activities such as classes will be done at FGCU.

“We’ll adapt,” Tolley said. “Just like we did before Vester."

While that adapting is happening, the clean-up has already started.

Austin Grant, an FGCU student and intern, was hauling out sodden books, muddy furniture and other water-logged items out of a classroom area.

Tolley said a lot of students like Grant have donated time and effort to help cleanup at the station.

“Even with damage to their own homes,” he said.

The staff was able to save some of the more expensive equipment, such as microscopes, by storing things on an upper floor.

The facility had just undergone about $200,000 in renovations, Adam Catasus, the research and education coordinator, said.

Mike Braun
"Broseidon," a statue of Greek god of the sea Poseidon, managed to keep the green plastic sunglasses that has adorned his face for several years, despite Hurricane Ian. The statue stands on the grounds of FGCU's Vester Marine & Environmental Research Field Station on Bonita Beach Road.

About the only thing at the station that wasn’t affected by Ian was a statue of Poseidon, the ancient Greek God of the sea, dubbed “Bro-seidon” by FGCU students.

“Bro-seidon” managed to thwart the water and winds and can be seen still wearing a pair of green plastic sunglasses put there by FGCU students several years ago.

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