2022 Conservation & Stewardship Environmental Award Winners
COASTAL STEWARD VOLUNTEER – Louis Scott Murray
Louis Scott Murray exemplifies the Coastal Steward concept through his tireless efforts to raise awareness of conservation issues on the Texas coast, and in the Laguna Madre-Baffin Bay complex in particular. He has served on the Governor’s Advisory Committee on Texas Coastal Zone Management, the Coastal Conservation Association State Executive Board, the Nature Conservancy Coastal Bend Advisory Board, and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Spotted Seatrout and Flounder Work Groups. Over the years, he has played an essential role in efforts to address concerns about trout populations in the Laguna Madre, and his love and respect for trout fishing is apparent in his forward-looking, conservation minded book, “World Class Texas Trout Tomorrow”. In 2012, alarmed by changes that were happening in Baffin Bay that were suggestive of an ecosystem that was not as healthy as it used to be, Scott brought together resource managers, researchers and community members to figure out what needed to be done to get to the bottom of what was ailing this long-neglected bay. This culminated in the formation of the Baffin Bay Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring Program in which a team of 18 “citizen scientists”, led by Scott, partnered with TAMUCC researchers to collect much needed water quality data from Baffin Bay. That data has now proven crucial for identifying the main conservation challenges facing Baffin Bay and has been the cornerstone of the new Bringing Baffin Back initiative that seeks to improve the health of the bay to ensure that future generations can enjoy this Texas treasure. This local conservation initiative would not have been possible without the efforts of Scott and others. Most people in the Coastal Bend know how important Baffin Bay is from a fisheries standpoint, but for many folks, it also represents a “family heirloom” that has been fished for generations. On more than one occasion, Scott has mentioned that he wants to make sure that Baffin Bay remains a place for the community to enjoy in the future. This selfless attitude is commendable, and most worthy of recognition by citizens of the Coastal Bend.
COASTAL STEWARD PROFESSIONAL – Frank Ernst
Frank has worked for the University of Texas Marine Science Institute for many years and is one of the most important assets to the marine operations department. For years, Frank has gone above and beyond on a daily basis to help everyone get where they needed to be via boat, whether it be research, class trips, or animal rescues. Frank has come in so many times on weekends or holidays in order to launch a boat to help rescue a distressed animal to be taken into rehabilitation and answered phone calls at all times of the day and has always been willing to help. Not only does Frank take great pride in the marine operations department, but he is also more than willing to help others learn as well. Frank is well-versed in not only boat operation, but also maintenance, diving, and many other things that all make him an essential and important part of the team.
EDUCATION – K-12- Katie Lynn Doyle, Flour Bluff ISD
Katie Lynn Doyle is a passionate teacher at Flour Bluff ISD where she has made a name for herself in teaching a class called Oceans. She teaches 5th and 6th graders about life in the oceans, but not just in the classroom. Katie takes her students on many field trips throughout the school year, to such sites as the Texas State Aquarium, the University of Texas Marine Science Institute, the Nueces Delta Preserve, the Oso Bay Wetlands Preserve, along with North Padre Island beaches to conduct trash cleanups and Nurdle Patrol surveys. In the class, she creates experiments about wetlands and ocean chemistry. She has a classroom full of reptiles, fish, and other animals that the students learn to take care of. They walk around in the marsh near their school to see wildlife and learn about what is living in nature. Outside of the classroom during the summer, Katie volunteers on research vessels in the ocean, and helps to conduct real world science that she then brings back to the classroom to teach the students.
EDUCATION – HIGHER EDUCATION – Dr. Philippe E. Tissot, Ph.D., Conrad Blucher Institute Chair for Coastal Artificial Intelligence at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi
Dr. Philippe Tissot is the Chair for Artificial Intelligence at the Conrad Blucher Institute (CBI) and also serves as the Director of the Coastal Dynamics Lab. While at CBI, Dr. Tissot has been striving to create a positive impact within the Coastal Bend community, while also pushing CBI to be an industry leader in geospatial science research and engineering. In the early 2000’s, Dr. Tissot, along with his colleagues, began using artificial intelligence (AI) to analyze environmental data sets. By the mid-2000s, they had implemented AI-based operational models to analyze water levels, temperatures, and currents. With these technologies, Tissot and other CBI experts can make predictions that allow agencies like the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the National Park Service, and the National Weather Service as well as volunteers to mobilize and prepare for emergencies. More specifically, Dr. Tissot has led the development of AI deep learning model for the prediction of coastal fog, overseen the development of AI models to help the mitigation with sea turtle cold stunning events and broadly sea turtle conservation, studied local and regional sea level rise and its impact, and developed models and methods to predict coastal inundation including runup to inform planning, emergency management, sea turtle nesting. Dr. Tissot has authored or co-authored around 50 peer reviewed articles, over 230 proceedings, abstracts, technical and stakeholder presentations, a Physical Science textbook for future K-12 teachers, and two US patents.
NON-PROFIT ORGANIZATION – CCA Texas Aransas Bay Chapter
When Game Warden Scott McLeod retired in 2021, he knew something had to happen to conserve the oyster reefs of the Coastal Bend and prevent overharvesting. In his 30-year tenure on the coast, he saw many reefs disappear and was worried about bay system failure with the disappearing reefs. As a member of CCA, he became a constant voice for the disappearing reefs in our bays. Along with John Blaha, Shane Bonnot, and other CCA members, they became a unified effort for conservation and stewardship of the reefs and oysters in general. They now have public informative billboards, videos and ads. They have also joined forces with HRI, and have attended several TPWD commissioner meetings to get harvest laws changed.
BUSINESS – Save our Shores Junk Removal
Save Our Shores Junk Removal is veteran owned and local to Corpus Christi. The company offers Residential and Commercial junk removal services along with Dumpster Rental and Light Demolition. They are based out of Corpus Christi but serve in all of the surrounding areas to include Kingsville and everywhere in between. The company can be seen many times a year conducting cleanups along beaches, roadways, and bay shorelines. They dispose of all items they remove properly and ensure that they follow the three-step recycle, repurpose, or reuse method to keep as many items as they can out of the landfill. This is an environmentally conscious company that is doing a great job on helping to keep the environment clean and going above and beyond to ensure it.
COASTAL COMMUNITY – Flour Bluff Citizens Council
The Flour Bluff Citizens Council (FBCC) was formed in 2016 by a grassroots effort from local Flour Bluff citizens. Their mission is to identify and discuss issues impacting the Flour Bluff community, to inform and advise policymakers regarding those issues, and to enrich the Flour Bluff community through civic engagement, fundraising, and volunteerism. FBCC has over 100 members and several contribute over 40 hrs/month in volunteer labor and activities, many others contribute over 10 hrs/month. FBCC has prepared a concept paper as a step-down from the Flour Bluff Area Development Plan developed by the City of Corpus Christi and serves as a living planning document to provide a framework to coordinate planning and implementation of outdoor recreation enhancements supported by the community. Currently, 5 areas in need of enhancements have been prioritized by FBCC and and FBCC is promoting and assisting the City and the community in preparing a funding strategy, and outreach strategy, and providing input on specific design components. The 5 areas include the proposed Oso Bay Hike and Bike Trail over the existing abandoned trestle, a trailhead and amenities for the Hike and Bike Trail at the Grove ( near the corner of Flour Bluff Drive and Division St. ), Waldon Park pond restoration and trail improvements, Dimmitt Pier wetland enhancements, restoration, and enhancement for the ponds along Laguna Shores (FBISD wetland, City- owned Duncan Pond, and adjacent Redhead Pond WMA). Trash and debris clean-up occur regularly at each site, invasive species control is occurring at Redhead Pond WMA, dense understory of cat claw and dead limbs have been cleaned from the Grove and picnic tables installed, and vandalism issues are reported to the City and so that they can rectified in a timely fashion. . FBCC’s Outdoor Recreation Enhancement Committee was recently formed to coordinate with several partners FBISD Board Members, City Councilman for District 4, the County Sheriff, City Constable, ESD #2, and the Flour Bluff Business Association. The City Parks and Recreation Department also recently worked with OREC and was awarded a TGLO grant for ~$180,000 for initial engineering phase for the proposed Oso Bay into a hike and bike trail, and additional funding may be available as the City has included $500,000 for this project in the upcoming Bond election. FBCC participates in community events such Earth Day/Bay Day to provide information on project status and engage the public with outdoor learning activities such as fishing techniques, bird watching tips, and environmentally sustainable practices.
FBCC is focusing the community on conservation and sustainable actions by engaging them in promoting and maintaining safer, cleaner outdoor spaces for responsible public access, and building respect for environmental and conservation values through improved experiences and education. FBCC’s hope is that by increasing the community’s participation in outdoor activities, it will increase the community’s respect and pride in the unique features of Flour Bluff, and ultimately the Flour Bluff community will be recognized regionally as a favorite of outdoor recreationists and as a leader in environmental stewardship.
INDUSTRY – Valero Corpus Christi Refineries
Valero is the largest independent petroleum refiner in the world and the world’s second largest renewable fuels producer. They provide fuel while protecting our communities and the environment with industry-leading safety records and continued efforts to reduce emissions. Valero strives to be a good neighbor and looks for opportunities to work directly with local officials and fence-line residents to improve the quality of life in its communities. They work to ensure that their neighbors have an opportunity to understand proposed activities and provide them with meaningful opportunities to have their concerns heard. They are a sponsor of the Corpus Christi Community Advisory Council meetings, which hosts monthly meetings that are designed to keep the lines of communication open between industry and community that they work in.
Valero is committed to the environment and consistently supports local environmental initiatives. Valero employees volunteer at work days at the Nueces Delta Preserve and have supported the Conservation & Environmental Stewardship Awards Banquet and Earth Day-Bay Day annually. They have supported CBBEP’s environmental education programs, and in 2021 they sponsored a native plant giveaway for Earth Day-Bay Day where they donated 400 native plants to the community, and again in 2022 they sponsored the native plant giveaway and provided $10,000 worth of native plants! Their commitment to the environment extends not only throughout their refinery operations, but to the bays, estuaries, and habitats of the Coastal Bend.
President’s Award- Gretchen Arnold
Gretchen Arnold served as Director of the Corpus Christi Air Quality Group for more than 27 years. Established in 1995 by a small ad hoc task force made up of a group of air quality advocates including former Corpus Christi Mayor Mary Rhodes, and Bill Hennings, the air quality group developed numerous long-term partnerships with municipal, county, industry, public agency, and port representatives. These partnerships, in addition to financial support, made the expansion of the group’s strategic outreach and programs possible.
Today, the volunteer group has grown into partnerships, bound by a shared mission to protect the coastal bend’s air quality, and has been tremendously successful to include strong partnerships with representatives from across the region that bring with them opportunities to develop and participate in air emission reduction efforts.
For nearly three decades, the informal group has been providing the tools and resources needed to maintain and protect the region’s air quality. During that time, the region has remained in ozone attainment and significantly reduced overall emissions. This year, Gretchen led the group in establishing a sustainable 501(c)(3), with a board of directors, along with a new Executive Director. The organization seeks to continue its mission of protecting the region’s air quality as our region grows and prospers.
Legacy Award: Sky Lewey (Posthumous Award)
Sky Lewey touched thousands of lives, spearheaded award-winning programs, and lead wide-reaching efforts to control invasive plants and protect water quality. Her smile, her tenacity, her knowledge, and her contagious love of the Nueces River have changed Texas rivers for the better. From an early age Sky set her intention to work on rivers, and true to her word, she became one of our State’s strongest advocates for pristine streams and healthy watershed. As a natural teacher, Sky published several editorials and helped edit field guides to equip landowners with the knowledge needed to be better stewards. In the Coastal Bend she led efforts to work with riparian landowners in Baffin Bay and its tributaries to help address water quality issues, as well as helped develop the Baffin Bay Watershed Protection Plan. She led septic replacement programs on the lower Nueces River, and helped develop Nueces River watershed models for education and outreach. On May 31,2022, Sky Marshal Jones-Lewey, a native of Uvalde, Texas, passed on from this life peacefully in her home on the east bank of the Nueces River. Sky dedicated her life to spreading knowledge, cultivating passion for river protection, and inspiring many others to do the same. She will be dearly missed by her family, many friends and colleagues, and especially by the Nueces River.