Thomas M. Pullen Herbarium
Monday, March 19, 2018 University of Mississippi | Biology Department

GCRL Restoration Project

Despite some frustrating set-backs, a team assembled and managed to evacuate 100% of the mounted accessioned specimens from the Gulf Coast Research Lab in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. The damage to the Ocean Springs area, to GCRL, and to this collection is really undescribable. Patrick Biber and J.D. Caldwell are working and living amongst piles of rubble, and yet they managed to put lots of energy and time into getting the GCRL herbarium to safe, high ground.

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Here is what happened: After the "all-clear" from the EPA, people began to arrive on Friday, 16 September---this was almost three weeks since the storm surge blew open the herbarium door and sent the herbarium cabinets tumbling. None of the cabinet doors had popped open, but some of the cabinets were damaged, causing the gaskets to lose their effectiveness. On that Friday morning, Patrick assembled a crew to put the cabinets upright. Although most of the water in the herbarium had been pumped out, there were still piles of debris and a thick black organic sludge that was un-pumpable. By Friday afternoon, some of us arrived to do an assessment of the specimens and to determine how to proceed. That afternoon, we started the specimen evacuation by sending one load to Louisiana State University (LSU) with Diane Ferguson, including some dry specimens and several genera of special conservation concern for the region. The next morning, a much larger team gathered, and we got the balance of the collection out and into vehicles by noon, where they were taken to University of Southern Alabama (USA), University of Southern Mississippi (USM) and University of Mississippi (MISS). A host of volunteers helped with the hot and dirty work, including three National Park Service Conservation Specialists who had been deployed to Gulf Islands National Seashore to rescue and preserve artifacts scattered from the Visitor Center there.

This is how we dealt with the specimens: Patrick Biber and J.D. Caldwell removed specimen bundles from cabinets and assessed their condition (dry, damp, damp & moldy, wet, wet & moldy, wet & muddy, get the picture). The bundles were carried to outdoor staging areas where each bundle was labeled according to condition and genera included, and wet corrugates or folders were replaced, if possible. No attempt was made to pry open the bundles because damage to the specimens was certain to occur and there was no place (or electricity) to deal with specimens on an individual basis. Each bundle had new corrugates added to the top and the bottom of the bundle, and tied securely with string. The bundles were then moved to a collection area in the shade and put in groups according to their condition. When all the bundles were finished, we packed them according to condition. The dry bundles were put into herbarium boxes for transport; the wet and moldy and muddy bundles were placed in groups in plastic bags. Each box or bag was labeled and loaded into a vehicle, depending upon the capability for storage at each institution represented. For instance, Kelly and Smoot Major from USA had plenty of freezer space at their institution (including a walk-in freezer belonging to their zoologist/herpetologist Dr. David Nelson---MANY thanks to him), and so they took the bulk of the bagged wet, moldy & muddy specimens and got them directly into freezers in Mobile. We kept a log book that included where each bundle was sent. Two cabinets of specimens in newsprint were so far gone that they were not removed.

So, while we can report that 100% of the accessioned collection is stabilized, it is hard to predict what percentage of the collection will be able to be conserved. The difficult and time-consuming work of trying to conserve the wet and damaged specimens will have to begin soon.

The folks that worked so hard to get this collection to high ground include:
  • Patrick Biber, GCRL
  • JD Caldwell, GCRL
  • Loretta Leist, TNC
  • Scott Caldwell, volunteer
  • Art Karels, GCRL
  • Diane Karels, volunteer
  • Kelly Major, USA
  • Smoot Major, USA
  • David Nelson, USA
  • Mac Alford, USM
  • Earl Alford, volunteer
  • Pauline Alford, volunteer
  • Diane Ferguson, LSU
  • Steve Ginzbarg, UNA
  • Lucile McCook, MISS
  • Cliff Ochs, volunteer
  • Theresa Shockey, NPS
  • Trudy Kelly, NPS
  • Gloria Swift, NPS
  • Adrienne Russell, GCRL
  • American Society of Plant Taxonomists HEF Committee
  • folks
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