2023 Conservation and Environmental Stewardship Award Recipients


Armon Alex, a luminary in our community. Armon’s tireless dedication to the preservation of our natural resources has left an indelible mark on the Coastal Bend. His instrumental role in securing more than an impressive $4 million in sustainability funding for Corpus Christi’s FY24 Budget showcases his ability to drive substantial change. As the co-founder of the Gulf of Mexico Youth Climate Summit, Armon is at the forefront of cultivating a generation deeply committed to addressing the challenges facing the Gulf of Mexico, and now their organization is a youth premiere program under the Gulf Reach Institute where he works as the Co-Director of Youth Engagement. Mr. Alex is stopping at no level of engagement for conservation, his pivotal role on the Watershore and Beach Advisory Committee for the City of Corpus Christi underscores his invaluable contributions to safeguarding our shorelines and waters. His multifaceted efforts have woven a tapestry of positive change across our community. Armon Alex embodies the values and achievements that have a lasting impact in the Coastal Bend. His dedication serves as a guiding light for all who aspire to make a positive difference in our environment and community.


Dr. David Newstead is the Director of the Coastal Bird Program at the Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program (CBBEP). He has been leading CBBEP’s efforts to restore and protect coastal bird populations on the Texas coast for 20 years. During that time, he has grown the Coastal Bird Program to include five full-time staff and expanded the geographic focus beyond the Coastal Bend region to include the Lower Laguna Madre and mid-Texas coast as well. Throughout this broad geographic region of the Texas coast, David and his dedicated staff focus on providing science-driven conservation outcomes for coastal birds whether through active habitat management, education and outreach, interdisciplinary collaboration, or conducting carefully-designed monitoring and research projects. The Program manages nearly a hundred nesting islands along the Texas Coast, providing a safe place for colonial waterbirds to raise their young. Efforts on these islands involve improving vegetation available for nesting, managing predator impacts, and reducing human disturbance. The dynamic nature of nesting islands, coupled with the vulnerability of waterbirds to multiple stressors, requires consistent efforts year-after-year to ensure birds have safe habitat to raise their young. The Coastal Bird Program has also expanded its efforts to include conservation and research of migratory shorebirds that depend on the Texas coast for portions of their life. They are working with numerous partners to better understand migratory connectivity and annual movements, abundance and distribution, reproductive success, and critical habitats of several imperiled shorebirds. David has created a Coastal Bird Program that is well known and respected in both the region and internationally and he and his staff are frequently sought out for collaboration by a range of entities. With a changing world and emerging threats such as increased human activity and development on the coast, the future of birds in Texas is uncertain, but David and the Coastal Bird Program continue to lead bird conservation efforts by working with partners to create opportunities and realize measurable gains. David earned his Master of Science at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi focused on marine science and the early life history stages of fishes, and he recently received his PhD through Texas A&M University-Kingsville combining studies of survival and migratory connectivity of Red Knots in the Gulf of Mexico based on data collected over the past 15 years.

COASTAL COMMUNITY: Texas State Aquarium’s Port Corpus Christi Center for Wildlife Rescue

The new Wildlife Rescue Center is the largest coastal wildlife rescue facility in Texas, and one of the largest in the U.S. The center is the only Texas wildlife rescue facility permitted to treat marine mammals, raptors, shorebirds, and sea turtles and can accommodate thousands of animals at any given time. The center is outfitted with state-of-the-art veterinary medical equipment, an interpretive gallery, an emergency operations center, and the only CAT scan used specifically for wildlife in Texas. One of the Aquarium’s goals is to facilitate learning for veterinary medical students and veterinary technologists and to better understand what the community can do to help protect wildlife. On December 23, 2022, a cold front dropped temperatures in South Texas below freezing. When water and air temperatures drop rapidly in shallow bays and estuaries such as the Laguna Madre, sea turtles become lethargic and unable to swim. After just a few days of round-the-clock treatment, the sea turtles regained enough strength and were cleared for release. On Thursday, December 29, 2022, the Aquarium released 257 rehabilitated green sea turtles back into the Gulf of Mexico. This facility is crucial for wildlife conservation efforts.

NON-PROFIT ORGANIZATION: Friends of Redhead Pond and Environmental Stewardship Association

Friends of Redhead Pond and Environmental Stewardship Association
The Friends of Redhead Pond and Environmental Stewardship Association (FRP) originated as a loose collation of like-minded individuals from varying backgrounds with the intent of restoring Redhead Pond Wildlife Management Area in Flour Bluff, Corpus
Christi, Texas. Redhead Pond was originally a freshwater wetland that has been recently affected by salt-water intrusion and erosion due to impacts from hurricane-force winds and storm surge. A variety of birds and other wildlife use the area, and a platform that overlooks the pond is available for wildlife viewing. Their initial goals include: 1) protecting the area from further degradation, 2) improving and maintaining the various habitats, and 3) providing public access to this unique area for education outreach and community involvement. Volunteers have participated in debris pick up, invasive species removal, and monitoring of the area for bird and wildlife use. The City of Corpus Christi and Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries Program have partnered with them on these efforts, and recently the city included diverting storm water drainage to Redhead Pond to increase freshwater supply to the pond as part of their proposed mitigation for improvements to Laguna Shores Road. The result has been a decline in salinity levels in the pond from over 40 ppt to now ranging from 8-15 ppt, and the redhead ducks have returned to use the pond as have numerous other waterfowl. Other partners of FRP include American Conservation Experience, Jack and Jill Landscaping, Flour Bluff Citizens Council, TAMUCC, FBISD, Boy Scouts, and Nueces County. With the help of grants from TGLO and Ducks Unlimited they have removed hundreds of pounds of debris and illegally dumped appliances from the area, removed and treated invasive Brazilian pepper trees and guinea grass, distributed native seeds, and provided outreach in the form of presentations to other community groups. They have hosted World Migratory Bird Day education events for those interested in birding in partnership with FBISD and with funding through the HEB Foundation. Kiosks, built for the high school construction class at FBISD, have been installed and now provide site information. In the Flour Bluff Area Development Plan, Redhead Pond is identified as an area of opportunity for improving wildlife habitat, and wildlife viewing by the public. FRP keeps the public informed of issues and outreach events that may be of interest to its members through posts to Facebook.

EDUCATION – K-12: Martha McLeod, Rockport-Fulton ISD

When Cornell Lab of Ornithology released its first-ever comprehensive assessment of net population changes in bird species in the U.S. and Canada and it reveals across-the-board declines that scientists call “staggering” all told, the North American bird population is down by 2.9 billion breeding adults, with devastating losses among birds in every biome. Forests alone have lost 1 billion birds. Grassland bird populations collectively have declined by 53%, or another 720 million birds. “A staggering loss that suggests the very fabric of North America’s ecosystem is unraveling.” Cornell Lab director John Fitzpatrick and study coauthor Peter Marra.’ Because of data like this, concerned citizens in Aransas County are doing their part to help birds. Fulton 3-5 Learning Center (FLC) within the Rockport-Fulton ISD formed a youth birding program approximately 15 years ago by science teacher Martha McLeod that has educated almost 200 students directly, plus their families, staff, and community members. Her program has created and maintained a large garden habitat area for birds at the school. She has led educational sessions at the community’s “Hummer Bird Celebration” for visiting tourists about the importance of providing adequate habitat for birds while sharing information about resident and migrant species of birds. Martha McLeod and the RFISD birding students have worked collaboratively with the local rehabilitation center for birdlife called the Wings Rescue Center (WRC) to heighten efforts for public education. Two informative birding field guides have been jointly created and published with proceeds from the sales being evenly split between both groups for both group’s costs. The students also created an “infomercial” which gives detailed information on ways the public can help bird life. After 30 years working full time in the classroom, McLeod retired in 2022. However, her retirement did not stop her passion for working with young students to teach them about the nature and wildlife of the Coastal Bend. She has continued her birdwatching program with students in the RFISD as a contract employee with the school district. During the 2022-2023 school year, she worked with 8 teams of students, both elementary and secondary, that met weekly for study sessions, took monthly field trips, and then competed in the TPWD Great Texas Birding Classic during the spring semester. A couple of her teams took top honors in this friendly statewide competition that benefits avian life. McLeod became a certified Texas Master Naturalist during the spring of 2023 as a way to heighten her own knowledge about the coastal environment and wildlife of the Coastal Bend. She will be adding a Junior Texas Naturalist program in addition to her weekly birdwatching class for kids at the Fulton 3-5 Learning Center with weekly study sessions, guest presenters and field trips.

EDUCATION – HIGHER EDUCATION: Dr. Christopher Biggs, University of Texas Marine Science Institute

As the lead instructor and organizer for the University of Texas Marine Science Institute’s Semester by the Sea, Dr. Biggs has exemplified these qualities through his dedication to ensuring that students learn about and develop a stewardship for the coast and marine environments. Dr. Biggs’ leadership has played a pivotal role in providing students with immersive learning experiences that connect classroom knowledge with real-world applications. He’s been able to engage students in real-time research and provide them with the skills they need to conduct meaningful research. Dr. Biggs’ emphasis on Gulf of Mexico ecosystems underscores the significance of understanding and conserving the Coastal Bend’s ecological heritage. His teaching methodology, which incorporates hands-on field and laboratory activities, ensures that students engage deeply with the subject matter and gain practical skills that extend beyond the classroom. Through his teachings, Dr. Biggs has empowered countless students to develop a profound appreciation for the region’s delicate balance of marine ecosystems. Dr. Biggs’ dedication extends beyond his commitment to teaching. He invests additional time and effort to create a sense of place and foster collegiality. This commitment underscores his desire to provide students with a holistic and enriching educational experience that prepares them to be thoughtful stewards of natural resources. Through his passion, expertise, and innovative teaching methods, Dr. Biggs has undoubtedly made a lasting impact on both students and the environment.

BUSINESS: JT Van Zandt Fly Fishing

Fly Fishing has been the center of JT Van Zandt’s life since 1991. Based out of Rockport, TX, Van Zandt is a passionate and patient guide whose sole mission is to share the beauty of the resource with his clients. He fell in love with the outdoors at a very early age and was hunting and fishing every moment he had. Fast forward to present day, and JT has cemented his name as one of the most knowledgeable and reputable fly-fishing guides on the Texas coast. He’s an ardent conservationist and fights hard to preserve his home waters from development, over-harvest, and harmful environmental practices that threaten his livelihood. JT is an ambassador for Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation’s “We Will Not Be Tamed” campaign. The campaign encourages all Texans to get involved in conserving the wild things and wild places of our state. For JT, it’s important to share his love for fly fishing with others, especially young people.

INDUSTRY: Gulf Coast Growth Ventures

The Gulf Coast Growth Venture (GCGV) began operations in January 2022. This state-of-the-art facility was built for today with tomorrow in mind, and staff have prioritized the need to be a responsible environmental operator. This is shown through GCGV’s investment of over $1 billion in process safety and environmental protection. The facility uses the best environmental control technologies available for its business – plastic pellet interceptors at the site outfalls, interior unit collection systems, and pellet handling enclosures preventing pellets from entering the marine ecosystem, a flare gas recovery system that recycles waste gas streams turning them into fuel and eliminating routine flaring, and utilization of hydrogen for boiler and furnace fuel reducing CO2 emissions. In addition, GCGV has responded to the community’s concerns about a lack of air quality monitors in the region by funding the installation and operation of two community air monitors by an independent third-party monitor. GCGV also has a team of environmentally focused professionals that have organized numerous volunteer activities within the Coastal Bend that have supported the ongoing missions of local partners, such as the Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program, Harte Research Institute, Keep Aransas Beautiful, Texas Sea Life Center, and Audubon Outdoor Club. Finally, through its Good Neighbor Program, GCGV has put environmental stewardship as one of its four priority areas. To date, GCGV has contributed significant funding to environmental organizations, including Texas State Aquarium, the Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program, Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies, University of Texas Marine Science Institute, and the National Audubon Society. GCGV is supporting habitat protection for whooping cranes, oyster reef restoration, wildlife rescue and rehabilitation and environmental education.

PRESIDENT’S AWARD: City of Portland

City of Portland is being honored for their positive impact and commitment to improve the Coastal Bend’s environment through such actions as purchasing property assessed/remediated under TCEQ’s Voluntary Cleanup program for indoor/outdoor recreational use and will be converted to green spaces, implementing a large project to stabilize the shoreline of Violet Andrews Park (top 10 in the world kite-boarding location), complete renovation of Indian Point Pier as well as environmental work on former gas well pad site at Sunset Lake by creating new seagrass and salt flat habitat. Additional plans and projects include a bike and pedestrian master plan, streetlight conversion of all streetlights in Portland to LED resulting in substantial energy savings, applied for National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (“NEVI”) grant to hopefully install several electric vehicle charging stations, recently adopted an ordinance requiring all newly constructed one- and two-family homes to plant trees in yards, hosting a tree planting event on Arbor Day, and so much more.

1. Leisure and Entertainment District (“LED”) -The City purchased properties in the Old Town Area that will be used to create a venue for indoor and outdoor recreation. The purchased properties were assessed and remediated under the TCEQ’s Voluntary Cleanup program to ensure the areas did not contain contaminants from future property uses. The properties will be converted to green spaces that include a significant amount of new trees and outdoor recreation opportunities. A large building on the site will be repurposed to include venue spaces, indoor recreation, and a restaurant. The building design includes movable walls that will allow the building to be opened during mild weather to provide an open-air environment and to save energy. The streets surrounding the facility will be reconfigured to include sidewalks that connect with other existing non-vehicle systems to enhance walkability within the entire area, including the adjacent Sunset lake hike and bike trails as well as connectivity to Violet Andrews Park. The LED includes an area that is specifically designed for food trucks that includes electrical power supplies for operations. Old wastewater and water lines in the LED and surrounding areas are being replaced or rehabilitated to improve water quality and wastewater management.

2. Portland’s Violet Andrews Park is often cited as one of the top ten locations in the world for kite- boarding. The City is currently implementing a large project to stabilize the shoreline of Violet Andrews Park and improve recreational access. The project includes increased / enhanced green spaces and habitat as well as the use of green infrastructure for stormwater treatment.

3. Sunset lake has a large hike and bike trail that extends from the adjacent neighborhood all the way to Indian Point Pier. A second loop is being considered that will add substantially more walking distance and different views of the surrounding area.

4. Indian point pier has been completely renovated. This renovation includes conversion of all existing lights to LED lights, which has resulted in substantial energy savings for the City. A wildlife observation pier was constructed adjacent to the parking lot and offers great opportunities for observing wildlife and plant life. The overhead light fixtures within the Indian Point parking lot also contain electrical connections for food trucks.

5. As a part of the Indian Point project, the City completed environmental work on a former gas well pad site at Sunset Lake. This project involved creating new seagrass and salt flat habitat.

6. The City has a bike and pedestrian master plan that is used to design future infrastructure. For example, all the current City street expansion projects include sidewalks and bike lanes, and the Memorial Parkway median has been reconfigured to create an extensive green space and bicycle / pedestrian pathway.

7. The City has recently completed and extensive energy audit of all City facilities and is implementing the recommendations of the audit

8. The City is currently implementing a streetlight conversion program that will convert all streetlights in Portland to LED, resulting in substantial energy savings.

9. The City has applied for the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (“NEVI”) grant and will hopefully receive an award to install several electric vehicle charging stations.

10. The City analyzed fleet operations and chose to use hybrid trucks for use in the Public Works, Streets, and Parks departments. Thes new hybrid vehicles produce significantly less emissions and consume less fuel than the standard fuel vehicles they replaced.

11. Portland recently adopted an ordinance requiring all newly constructed one- and two-family homes to plant trees in yards. The number of trees depends on the size of the lots and range from 1 to 4 trees per lot. Trees must be chosen from an approved plant list.

12. The City hosts a tree planting event on Arbor Day. During this event, citizen volunteers plant larger trees on public properties and receive a smaller tree to plant at their home.