2021 Conservation & Stewardship Environmental Award Winners
COASTAL STEWARD VOLUNTEER – Philip Woods
Phil Woods, a valued volunteer in the CBBEP Nueces Delta Preserve Education, has worked with students of all ages as a volunteer environmental educator, promoting good stewardship care and practices in future South Texas generations. In addition to launching a virtual learning program, he spends countless hours serving the Sea Turtle Recovery Program at the Padre Island National Seashore as a volunteer educator for the City of Corpus Christi’s Oso Bay & Wetlands Preserve. Phil is the leader for the New Training Classes for upcoming Texas Master Naturalists in the South Texas Chapter, building a foundation for their future service.
COASTAL STEWARD PROFESSIONAL – Sam Sugarek, Nueces River Authority
Sam Sugarek, Director of Water Quality for the Nueces River Authority (NRA), oversees the implementation of the Clean Rivers Program (CRP) in the Nueces River basin and associated coastal basins, bays, estuaries, and a portion of the Gulf of Mexico. Sugarek has been with the NRA for 21 years and the Director of the Nueces Basin CRP for 8 years, which has included collecting and analyzing thousands of water samples from Coastal Bend rivers, lakes, and bays. CRP is a partnership between the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and regional water and river authorities across the State, responsible for conducting water quality monitoring, assessment, and stakeholder participation to improve the quality of surface waters in Texas. Sugarek has also helped organize and/or participate in cleanups anywhere in the watershed jurisdiction.
EDUCATION – K-12- Chanta Gidrey, Christina Campos, Noah Gonzalez, West Oso Jr. High School
This all-star team of West Oso ISD Science and GT educators is committed to teaching their community through a partnership with TAMUCC to hire STEM trained teachers in order to serve their students. They have created numerous learning opportunities so students growing up around South Texas ecosystems will become knowledgeable critical thinkers as current residents and future voters, employees, and recreation participants. They also provide hands-on field experiences through field trip opportunities and scheduling guest speakers. As a result of their efforts, the Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program has accepted their grant proposal and these educational leaders will be working with students, fellow educators, and the West Oso community to implement and utilize their plans for the Outdoor Classroom.
EDUCATION – HIGHER EDUCATION – Dr. Michael Wetz, PhD, Harte Research Institute Chair for Coastal Ecosystem Processes
Dr. Mike Wetz is the Harte Research Institute Chair for Coastal Ecosystem Processes whose expertise and research focus on phytoplankton ecology and water quality studies. While grounded in aspects of coastal ecology, Wetz also conducts applied research aimed at solving vexing regional environmental problems such as the ongoing water quality issues in Baffin Bay. Wetz strives to provide a sound scientific basis for stakeholder-led restoration and management efforts. The once pristine water quality of Baffin Bay that supported a vibrant fishery has deteriorated in recent years due to excessive nutrient loads and persistent brown tide algal blooms. Wetz has led water quality sampling efforts in Baffin Bay for almost 8 years, and the results from that work are guiding watershed restoration and protection efforts that are being coordinated by the Baffin Bay Stakeholder group, which Wetz co-chairs.
NON-PROFIT ORGANIZATION – Friends of the ARK
Friends of the ARK, a non-profit organization founded in 2006, to help support the Amos Rehabilitation Keep (ARK) in Port Aransas, Texas, by providing education, volunteers, and funding. ARK, a program of Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve at University of Texas Marine Science Institute, rescues and rehabilitates sick and injured birds, sea turtles, terrestrial turtles, and tortoises found along the South Texas coast and returns them to their native habitat. Its volunteer force is a dedicated and passionate group that strives to educate communities and their visitors about the potential impacts of population growth and urban development on coastal wildlife, as well as the importance of safe and clean beaches and water. Additionally, this program was instrumental in providing the ARK the resources needed to help rescue and rehabilitate 1,000 sea turtles during the February 2021 Freeze Event, by donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to the ARK. Friends of the ARK and the ARK work together to ensure the legacy and life’s work of the ARK’s founder, Tony Amos, lives on for future generations.
BUSINESS – Corpus Christi Hooks
The Hooks are a professional baseball team located in Corpus Christi, Texas, and a member of Minor League Baseball. The Hooks are proud to partner with the Houston Astros on the Astros Foundation and the Share2Care 50/50 Raffle. Tickets are purchased at each Hooks game, with the winner of the raffle receiving half of that game’s net raffle proceeds and the Astros Foundation receiving and donating the other half to a local charity. The Astros Foundation has donated proceeds from the 50/50 raffle to the Amos Rehabilitation Keep in Port Aransas for the past two years. Additionally, the Hooks hosts a Coastal Bend Weekend, where non-profit and conservation organizations can set up booths on the concourse and provide education and outreach at the Hooks games that weekend. The Corpus Christi Hooks is a business deeply committed to the community and supporting the organizations that help make sure our environment is healthy and a great place to play.
COASTAL COMMUNITY – Jace Tunnell, Nurdle Patrol
Nurdle Patrol, a citizen science project that was started in 2018 in response to a large number of plastic pellets washed up on Mustang and North Padre Islands that summer. Nurdle Patrol founder and Director of the Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve at UTMSI, Jace Tunnell, launched the program after authorities couldn’t help. Nurdle Patrol’s goal is to learn where nurdles are located, remove the nurdles from the environment, and create awareness of the issue to all citizen scientists. Since its formation, a website and app for data entry has been developed, and there have been more than 10,000 entries of data from citizen scientists throughout Texas and the Gulf Coast, the east and west coasts of the US and up the Mississippi River Basin, as well as into Mexico and even overseas. As a result, there is a Texas Legislature bill to require ˜Zero Pellet Loss” in all TCEQ Stormwater Permits to plastics manufacturing facilities. Additionally, 485 Teacher Nurdle Kits have been distributed to teachers to help educate students in the United States and internationally.
INDUSTRY – Port of Corpus Christi
In 2020, the Port of Corpus Christi Authority (PCCA) codified environmental stewardship as a central priority for the organization by appointing a Chief Strategy Officer over the Environmental Planning & Compliance Department, and then expanding that role in 2021 to Chief Strategy and Sustainability Officer. In the last five years, the PCCA’s Environmental Planning & Compliance Department has expanded to three functional areas – Permitting/Planning, Compliance, and Sustainability and Resilience. PCCA is in its 14th year of ISO14001 certification. PCCA is also in its fifth year of Green Marine Certification and implementation of a rigorous Environmental Policy aimed at advancing initiatives in five focus areas – air quality, water quality, soils and sediments, habitat creation, and environmental sustainability. PCCA is voluntarily purchasing electricity from 100% renewable sources, recycling (totaling over 1MIL pounds of materials since 2006) and implementing Clean Fleet and Clean Equipment programs to convert the fleet and reduce emissions. Other major initiatives include installing a trash skimmer through an EPA grant that will collect trash in storm water runoff from urbanized areas; completing a Port wide emission inventory every three years that includes greenhouse gases and lightering emissions in the Gulf of Mexico in 2020; undertaking a feasibility study through a TCEQ grant for emission reduction/capture for vessels at berth; designing a 15,000-ft living shoreline solution for Nueces Bay Shoreline; and completing a Stormwater Master Plan for the Inner Harbor. PCCA is leading the nation’s ports in energy transition initiatives as well as operationalizing a robust commitment to decarbonization through strategic MOU’s and scalable projects.
President’s Award- Lea Walker, Posthumous Award
In 1993, Lea Walker first volunteered for the Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network (TMMSN) when a live Fraser’s dolphin washed ashore. She would spend the next three decades devoting her life to the rescue, rehabilitation, release, and research of marine mammals of the Texas Coast. During her time with TMMSN, Lea served on the Board of Directors from 2000 to 2005, and as the procurement officer was instrumental in acquiring equipment, supplies, and medication for live marine mammal response. Lea became the regional coordinator of the Corpus Christi Region in 2005– a position to which she volunteered thousands of hours for the remainder of her life. During this time, she coordinated the response for 272 dead marine mammals and 29 live marine mammals between the Corpus Christi and Port Aransas regions, including many dolphin species, whales and manatees. In addition, she oversaw the rehabilitation of nine marine mammals at the Texas State Aquarium. She gave up nights, weekends, and vacations; and worked long hours through exhaustion, blistering physical conditions, and personal tragedies to ensure the well-being of both finned and footed. Lea’s efforts didn’t stop with animals, she worked hard to get to know all her volunteers and was affectionately referred to as “mother.” Sadly, Lea was diagnosed with terminal cancer in early 2021 and remained dedicated to her passion until physically unable to continue. Her life and good works have touched us all, and Lea left the world a better place than she found it.