Post-Ian Rebuilding Progress
Below are some milestones of the Museum’s rebuilding following the September 2022 impact of Hurricane Ian. The Museum is very grateful for the support of donors, Members, and volunteers who have contributed to our recovery, and who continue to help meet the need. We also thank you for your interest in the renewal of the Museum, the Islands, and all communities affected by the storm.
The Museum’s reopening will be phased, with a target of opening the ground level (aquariums, welcome lobby, Museum Store) in the first part of 2024, with the second floor (Great Hall of Shells, special exhibition galleries, auditorium, and classroom) to follow.
Aquarium Systems Repaired and Prepped for Animals… We Have Water in the Tanks
When staff first accessed the island four days after the storm, they discovered most of the equipment that runs the aquariums (such as pumps, heat exchangers, filters, etc.) had been destroyed. They salvaged what was reusable for future use, new equipment was ordered, and in early summer the ‘’back-of-house’’ rooms that house these systems were fully repaired with new walls, ceilings, floors, and electrical. In July the new aquarium systems were installed with the assistance of Aquarium Reef Illusions. The systems and the aquariums in the galleries have now been cleaned, sanitized, and filled with water to begin preparations to receive new marine life!
Making our Own Saltwater Again
Despite being located on a barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico, the Museum makes its own salt water for the aquariums instead of pumping it in from the surrounding area. This helps control optimal conditions for salinity and water quality for the animals. The Museum’s two water reservoirs each hold 1,000 gallons, are strapped to the ground with heavy cables, and plumbed into cement.
Hurricane Ian’s storm surge snapped the cables and plumbing and tossed these large reservoirs into the wetlands behind the Museum. In the months following the storm the reservoirs were retrieved, tested for leaks, sanitized, and the plumbing was flushed out as it had been filled with storm debris. During the summer the plumbing was reconnected and we are again able to make clean, safe, saltwater with the proper elements for our future animals.
Research Lab and Quarantine Up and Running
Among the back-of-house aquarium support rooms at the Museum is the Research Lab, where in addition to performing research and animal care staff manages a system of quarantine tanks for newly arrived animals. Quarantine is an important step to prevent the spread of pathogens or diseases between animals before introducing them to other species in the Living Gallery, and to reduce stress for animals as they transition to a new home.
The Research Lab received over five feet of water in the storm and had to be gutted. This spring and summer, with the help of Aquarium Reef Illusions, the Lab’s systems and equipment were replaced and reconnected and the Museum is again ready to provide the best possible animal care.
Restoring the Wetlands
In partnership with Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF) and with the help of dozens of volunteers the Museum installed over 800 plants in about a dozen species of native vegetation and grasses between the Museum and Sanibel-Captiva Road. Museum volunteers along with members of Rotary Club of Sanibel-Captiva, FISH, and Florida Gulf Coast University dedicated two days of hard work to completing the restoration. SCCF guided the project by creating the landscape plan, determining the appropriate native species, and supervising the installation.
This work helps restore these wetlands to a healthy ecosystem and will serve as an educational opportunity for visitors to the Museum in the future.
Roof and Structure
While the storm surge’s flooding caused the most damage, the Museum also suffered a 20-foot hole in a brand-new metal roof, exposing the second and third floors – which include The Great Hall of Shells and storage for the shell collection – to water damage and the elements. Also significantly damaged was the structural truss that underpins the roof, and surrounding soffit.
A temporary patch was applied to the roof soon after the storm, and a more substantive seal installed afterwards. This spring the structural truss was rebuilt and the soffit repaired. This clears the path for the permanent repair to the roof.
Winter + Spring 2023
On the first floor, which includes the aquariums, Museum Store, and welcome lobby, substantial progress was made this winter and spring restoring electrical rewiring and major panels and switches, completing elevator repair, framing and installation of walls and ceilings, evaluating and planning for air systems repairs, and reinstalling IT systems. Work is ongoing in all areas.