CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (KXAN) – The Texas State Aquarium’s wildlife rescue program will get a major upgrade next month. The program, which is the leading marine life rescue program in the state, will soon open up a new Wildlife Rescue Center in Corpus Christi.

Up until now, the program, which has helped sea turtles frozen during the winter months and injured dolphins, has operated off-site.

Kristen Currie spoke with Jesse Gilbert, CEO and President of the Texas State Aquarium, about the new facility, how it will help marine life and why they’re now letting visitors see their work.

You can watch the interview above or read the transcript below to learn more. This interview has been edited for clarity.

KRISTEN CURRIE, KXAN NEWS: Whether you’ve been in Texas for a long time, or you’re new, there was a really neat aquarium we have right here in our backyard. We’re talking about the Texas State Aquarium. Joining me today is CEO and president Jesse Gilbert. Talk to me a little bit about the uniqueness of the Texas State Aquarium.

JESSE GILBERT, TEXAS STATE AQUARIUM: As the largest aquarium in the state of Texas and the official aquarium, we’re right on the Gulf Coast of Corpus Christi Bay. And you can come to the aquarium and spend a great day seeing some of the different fish, the sharks, we have bottlenose dolphins, otters, and ocelots.

You can see all sorts of different animals from the Texas area, as well as, walk through a jungle exhibit where you get up in close encounters with flamingos and some of the different animals that call the Yucatan Peninsula, kind of the Cancun area, home.

So it’s a great experience, you can have a wonderful time with your family and friends. I think what’s great about it is you also know that all of that initial price is helping take care of the animals here as well as fun our wildlife rescue program.

CURRIE: For those who have never been or those who’ve been before, you have a brand new wildlife rescue center opening soon. Talk to me about that?

GILBERT: The aquariums have had a wildlife rescue program since the mid 90s. And it’s the leading wildlife rescue program for marine life in the state of Texas, one of the largest in the country, we see over sometimes 1000 patients a year.

Sea turtles have been a big part of what we do over the last couple of years. marine mammals, dolphins, manatees different birds. And so we’ve had this program, very active program for the last 20, 25 years. It’s all been done about two miles away at an off site facility.

This year, in March, we’re going to open the new Port of Corpus Christi Wildlife Rescue Center. And so guests can actually now see this work in action.

As these animals run into trouble, whether it’s cold weather like we’re experiencing in Texas, whether it’s, you know, some sort of wind event, hurricanes, whatever the disaster might be, guests can actually see now the different technologies that go into place to really recover Texas wildlife, make sure those populations are resilient and make sure that Texas is a good place for nature.

CURRIE: Do you guys collaborate with anybody? Or is it just kind of in house?

GILBERT: We do. So we have a great relationship with Texas A&M, some of the different campuses within the system, primarily here in Corpus Christi also in Kingsville. So there is a lot of research that goes on around the endangered species.

What’s unique about the rescue programs, you see such a large volume of animals coming through which are endangered, mostly sea turtles, the occasional manatees.

There’s an opportunity to study these populations, what can we learn about these populations because it’s unusual to have 1600 sea turtles at one time at one in one place. And so this program kind of facilitates some really high end research around wildlife resiliency and how we help recover those endangered populations.

CURRIE: And you know, what brought about this was the fact that here on KXAN, we’ve been talking recently about the fact that there was a big surge in sea turtles and sea turtles that call South Texas home last year. Is that going to be kind of worked into it at all?

GILBERT: Absolutely. So your viewers probably saw a lot of video around some of the Loggerhead sea turtle response this year and green sea turtle response. It was a historic year for the aquarium’s rescue program. We brought in these massive Loggerhead sea turtles that were stranding along the barrier islands here in South Texas. So again, all that work was done about two miles away in these off site facilities.

And so in March, you’ll be able to see that up close and personal. You’ll be able to see what this wildlife looks like right when it comes off the beach and how it’s recovered. You’ll see them in different states of care, you might see them and they’ve got bandages, they’ve been hit by votes.

What’s also incredible is you’ll see the hospital setting where these animals live, and they recover and they go through the rehabilitation, but you also see all the medical care that goes into it. And so you’ll have windows into the surgery area will have the only CAT scan available for wildlife dedicated a wildlife in the state of Texas. So there might be a dolphin going through a CT scanner and so you’ll be able to see all of this in real time. See it live.

I really hope that people continue to get an appreciation for Texas Nature, but also inspire that next group. You know, that’s what’s unique about living in Texas is this connection to nature, we need to make sure that we preserve that legacy with the next generations. And so we think that this new port of Corpus Christi Wildlife Rescue Center will really kind of foster that appreciation.