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Voluntourism: 7 Ways to Give Back to South Padre Island

Jamie Whetstone
July 17, 2018

Voluntourism — “a form of tourism in which travelers participate in voluntary work, typically for a charity.”

Whether you’re on the Island for a day, a week, or a month, there are several ways you can become more interconnected with the community and the wildlife that call South Padre Island home. Volunteers are the beating heart of the Island’s conservation efforts and public works. Without the work and dedication of volunteers, many of the organizations that protect endangered wildlife life and improve the quality of life on the Island wouldn’t be able to do what they do. We’ve gathered some opportunities for you to be a “voluntourist” on South Padre Island

SPI Birding & Nature Center

The South Padre Island Birding & Nature Center is one of nine World Birding Center sites in the Rio Grande Valley. The Birding & Nature Center strives to provide excellent birding and educational opportunities, engaging tours, and interactive learning about birds and other living creatures native to the area. Their mission is to educate the public about the birds of South Padre Island and its environs: the flora, fauna and the natural environment of South Padre Island and the Laguna Madre Coastal area, with an emphasis on conservation and environmental awareness.

Like many non-profit organizations, the Birding & Nature Center depends on volunteers for many of its key functions, including tour guides, bilingual interpreters and social media. If you’re unable to volunteer but still want to help, you can buy an annual pass or become a supporting member.

Coastal Studies Lab

For anyone looking to go the “extra mile” and preserve the wildlife of the Gulf of Mexico, consider volunteering with The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) Coastal Studies Lab. UTRGV works toward preserving, understanding and caring for the marine life in the Gulf of Mexico. To that end, researchers and students look at all aspects of marine life, from the condition of the beaches to the creation of artificial reefs in Isla Blanca Park.

There are two main volunteer programs:

  • Seasonal camp counselors: Camp counselor positions are open to high school and college students 14 years and older. Counselors will learn how to prepare marine specimens for dissection and proper collection techniques of marine specimens using field equipment.
  • Texas coastal naturalists: Naturalists are “first responders trained for coastal natural emergencies such as: harmful algal blooms, sea turtle cold stun events and nest monitoring, marine mammal strandings, and oiled wildlife.”

Friends of RGV Reef at SPI

Fishing is a big deal on the Island, but all the wonderful fish need time and space to grow. Friends of RGV Reef at SPI is working to create a self-sustaining artificial reef. The artificial reef covers 1650 acres and is the largest artificial reef off the coast of Texas. The organization is still fairly new, but they are doing some wonderful things and are looking for volunteers to help their vision come to fruition. Visit their website to find out how you can help.

Friends of Animal Rescue

As a no kill shelter, Friends of Animal Rescue works towards finding a home for each and every animal that comes through their doors. Friends of Animal Rescue serves the Island community in many ways, including reuniting lost pets with residents and tourists, adopting out the homeless and unclaimed pets, reducing the feral cat population and the spread of disease through a community cats program (spay/neuter & vaccinate), and caring for local wildlife.

There are many ways to lend a helping hand to Friends of Animal Rescue. For hands on work, apply to volunteer. Volunteers help with dog walking, socializing cats, cleaning, sorting donations and helping at special events.

Donations are always welcome, both financially and in the form of gently used clothing, shoes, jewelry, home goods, and various other things. The resale shop at the front of the shelter — Rescue ME Resale — sells the donated items and all of the proceeds go to the care of the lost and homeless animals.  Of course, the best way to lend a helping hand is to adopt a fur baby of your very own and give it a loving home.

Sea Turtle Inc.

A non-profit organization rescuing and protecting marine turtles on the island for more than 30 years, Sea Turtle Inc. assists the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in patrolling beaches to look for and protect nesting sea turtles. South Padre Island is a nesting ground to the world’s most endangered sea turtle, the Kemp’s Ridley. Sea Turtle Inc. provides the Kemp’s Ridley, and other sea turtles, with medical and rehabilitation care to return them to the wild. The facility also offers visitors up-close-and-personal views of local marine life as well as educational programs, presentations and guided tours.

If you’re going to be in the area for awhile, consider volunteering at Sea Turtle Inc. Volunteers get the chance to learn about and work with sea turtles. This is perfect for a Winter Texan who is here for 3 months or more at a time.

If you can’t give your time, consider giving your money. Sea Turtle Inc. depends on donations to fund their mission, and your donations directly benefit sea turtles and help to educate the public.

“Keep South Padre Island Beautiful”

The mission of the “Keep South Padre Island Beautiful” program is to educate and engage individuals and businesses to take responsibility for improving the community’s environment. Their vision statement is to make South Padre Island a clean, beautiful environment in which to live, work, and visit. Whether you’re here for a day, a week or a season, you can do your part to help keep South Padre Island beautiful.

Recycle

The Environmental Health Services Department, in conjunction with Allied Waste Services, provides a drop off location for recycling of household items once a week, and one time a month for brush. The City recycling hours are every Saturday from 8:00 AM to 11:00 AM at 4501 Padre Blvd. (City Hall) | (956) 761-8123

Take Part in a Beach Clean-Up

South Padre Island is committed to preserving and restoring the local beaches to maintain the quality of life and keep the environment safe for wildlife. Trash is the cause of many of the injuries and diseases sea turtles and other wildlife in the area sustain. Help us keep the beaches and Gulf of Mexico clean and safe by taking part in a beach clean-up. Not all beach clean-ups are necessarily scheduled events. However, you can always do your part by making sure you clean up your own area and picking up trash you may see along the beach. If you want to get more involved you can reach out to the South Padre Island Shoreline Department about organizing a clean-up with a group.

Island Insider Tip: The Shoreline Department can customize an experience around the needs and abilities of a company, girl/boy scout troop, school group, etc. if it is scheduled in advance. For smaller groups, they provide gloves and trash bags and proceed to go on nature walks. On these walks you’ll pick up trash and have interactive educational talks about the beach, dunes, aquatic life, birds and overall dynamic environment that they are helping maintain.  Contact Manuel Aguilar for more info: (956) 761-8111 | jaguilar@myspi.org

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