Volunteering on the Coast

Kris Shipman
Volunteering on the Coast
You love fishing on the Texas coast, scuba diving in the Gulf, beachcombing along the shore or simply spending time on the beach. Did you know you could spend time doing all these things while supporting Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) at the same time? How, you might ask? You can be a volunteer for Texas Parks & Wildlife Department!

Last year, TPWD volunteers donated over 978,000 hours valued at $16.5 million dollars. Volunteers provide support to our state parks, historic sites, fish hatcheries and outreach programs assisting the agency in managing and conserving natural and cultural resources and providing hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation opportunities.

When people hear about volunteering at TPWD, many typically think about State Parks, but several volunteer opportunities are available with TPWD's Coastal Fisheries Division. These opportunities range from volunteering at our hatcheries such as CCA/CPL Marine Development Center in Corpus Christi, assisting biologists in the field, or helping to conduct habitat restoration efforts along the coast. The volunteer programs below help support Coastal Fisheries Division's efforts to manage marine fisheries and conserve coastal habitats and water resources.

If you live near Lake Jackson, Sea Center Texas (SCT) might just be the right place for you. Sea Center Texas is a marine fish hatchery, aquarium and education center which offers a myriad of volunteer opportunities with its outreach, education, fishing and gift shop programs. When asked why volunteers are an integral part of SCT, Connie Stolte, Visitor Center Manager, explained, "When SCT was founded; TPWD and its partners, Coastal Conservation Association and Dow Chemical Company, were committed to providing a facility that promoted conservation education opportunities that would be available for free. With limited state budgets and increased need for citizen support of coastal conservation, the use of volunteer manpower to help operate SCT is more critical than ever."

Each month over 100 volunteers contribute around 1,000 hours of service. Volunteers do everything from scuba diving to cleaning aquariums to assisting with general office tasks. Why do so many people enjoy volunteering at Sea Center Texas? According to Kerry B. Magee, "Volunteering at SCT gives me purpose (keeping me above ground!), and supplies me with joy and fun! As a Tour Guide I have constantly observed the wonders of marine life shown on the faces of many children as they experience observing nature. It is a joy to see their faces light up with excitement as they view the different aquariums and exhibits. Watching them have fun is contagious; we start having fun too! I also enjoy the camaraderie of my fellow SCT volunteers and staff. They are some of the best people I have ever known!"

Another volunteer opportunity occurs every February when people volunteer all along the Texas coast for the Abandoned Crab Trap Removal Program. "Since the annual crab trap removal began in 2002, volunteers have been the backbone of the program. More than 2,300 volunteers have removed 30,449 derelict crab traps from Texas waters. Without the tremendous sense of environmental stewardship these volunteers possess, the program would not be nearly as successful or as recognized as it has become," remarked Art Morris, Fishery Outreach Specialist and program coordinator. The problem with these abandoned traps is that they can continue to capture and kill crabs, fish and other species for years after being lost in a process called "ghost fishing". The crab trap removal program protects our Texas fisheries by removing the threat of these derelict traps. The program also reduces potential damages and expensive boat repairs and other fishing equipment that may come into contact with them. Abandoned crab traps are unsightly. By removing them, volunteers improve the natural beauty of our Texas coast.

Coastal Expo is another great volunteering opportunity. Why does Doriann Gibson volunteer for Coastal Expo? "First, it's my belief that we are all called to be conservators of our resources. Texas is a stunning and diverse resource that deserves each of her citizens to share in her conservation. Secondly, it is my desire to instill in children the love for the outdoors. Engaging them through hands-on activities at Coastal Expos gives them the opportunity to fall in love with nature. This, in turn, handles the first point. Thirdly, as a mom, volunteering with my children means I'm serving as an example and they are immediately reaping those benefits," she stated. Coastal Expo is an educational outreach event for children and their families to raise awareness of Texas coastal ecosystems, why they are important and how people can protect them. Each year, Coastal Expo events are conducted across the state utilizing hundreds of volunteers. Volunteers get to teach kids about fishing and other outdoor activities, introduce them to the natural resources and ecosystems found on the Texas coast and Gulf of Mexico, and discuss the importance of freshwater inflows to the bays and estuaries.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department volunteer program is an excellent opportunity for anyone interested in a challenging and rewarding experience. Programs throughout the state offer a broad range of volunteer options that can be tailored to fit individual talents, experience and time frames. Volunteering is a great way to experience the outdoors, promote conservation and outdoor recreation and share your passion. Jerry Eppner, a volunteer summed it up nicely when he said, "I enjoy volunteering at Sea Center Texas. It gives me a chance to share the excitement of nature along with the science and value of Sea Center Texas. As I tell my visitors, the volunteer pay grade is a little low, but the benefits of volunteering are priceless."

If you would like to learn more about how to volunteer for Coastal Fisheries or other volunteer opportunities at Texas Parks & Wildlife, please visit: http://ec.volunteernow.com/custom/1353 or contact Kris Shipman at [email protected] or call at 512-389-8737.