Wednesday, March 11, 2015


One aspect of the University of Texas Marine Science Institute is to be the state agency that serves as the liaison between the state of Texas and the National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR), which is a federal agency under the auspices of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ( ).  There are 28 such reserves on the coasts of the United States, and the one I visited recently is called the Mission-Aransas Reserve.  It is named after the two river systems that flow into it, on the Texas Coastal Bend area.  The area is about 30 minutes northeast of Corpus Christi, Texas.  (Notice how the symbol of the NOAA demonstrates the relationship between life forms, with the sky above, and the sea below!)

I was visiting as a part of a Road Scholar program ( ) program emphasizing marine science.  Our group assembled in one of the newer buildings of the campus, to learn about the research being done there on various topics related to marine biology.  This photo demonstrates how translucent window walls can reduce the need for electric power to operate light bulbs. 

Since one of the goals of the Estuarine Research Reserve is to demonstrate coastal development practices that minimize environmental damage, it is not surprising that the new building was designed so that it could earn the prestigious "LEED" certification.  The abbreviation stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.  As indicated by a large gold medallion on the wall, they were successful!

Our Road Scholar group of about 14 adults, had the opportunity to experience one of the technologically advanced classrooms in the building.  The room was designed to be a demonstration model for a learning environment where everyone could see a video screen, no matter how far back in the room you were sitting.

We saw a presentation by one of the marine scientists who shared the results of on-going research about the environmental consequences of the disastrous B-P Oil Company's underwater drilling explosion that sent countless amounts of oil surging into the Gulf of Mexico.  Her illustrations demonstrated how devastating human activities can be, when man-made systems fail.

The Visitor Center for the Marine Science Institute is in a building adjacent to the NERR building.  There are numerous aquariums that allow one to see living examples of the ever-changing marine environment that surrounds the institute, and demonstrate what the actual living fish looks like, as opposed to fish photographs, posted above the aquarium.

I am always  fascinated by sea horses, and cannot pass up an opportunity to try to photograph one.  Even though this image is fuzzy, it is a reminder of how their curious design never ceases to amaze!  The sea horse life span demonstrates one of the most unique reproductive systems of the ocean realm!

From tiny sea horses to this massive whale's skull, there are items on display in the Visitor Center to demonstrate that both gigantic creatures and tiny creatures are part of the environment that make up a marine ecology system. 

This exhibit demonstrates to the visitor the interactions between all the curious creatures that live between the river and the sea---including us humans!

One area of the Visitor Center at the Marine Science Institute is specifically designed to engage youngsters.  In this area, they can try their luck at fishing, and they can demonstrate their skill at stepping into and out of a boat!  Likewise, they can compare the "fish" that they catch with the wall chart, to determine its length. 

These children can interact with this wall-sized magnet puzzle to see the name of various local marine life, then place it somewhere on the puzzle, where it might be found.  It is a demonstration that will teach them to identify a particular species, as well as learn about its habitat.

The young man under the dome is getting a demonstration of how life looks from the eye of a crab!

This display interested me because it was a collection of Petri dishes containing different kinds of sand, from all over the world.  The exhibit demonstrated the variety of colors and textures that a traveler would see on different parts of the planet. 

mural on the wall of the lecture hall demonstrates how elementary students can engage their "craftiness" to create a work of art, while learning about their area's significance as a habitat for the endangered Whooping Crane species.  Each bird in the mural had been individually colored and cut out by a student, then placed in an appropriate spot on the mural.  It made the students want to bring their parents to the Visitor Center to show off their "masterpiece" work of art!

The Visitor Center has a gift shop with a large selection of appropriate books and gifts available, related to environmental stewardship.  Each item for sale demonstrated in some way or another, the connection between us humans and the planet on which we live.

The Wetlands Education area is adjacent to the Visitor Center, and demonstrates the many ways we can work to preserve our nation's estuaries.  Notice the two floating education platforms that can be used for student field trips that allow the students to actually dip their specimen nets into the water.

The visitor can hike around the wetlands area on their own, or take one of the regularly offered guided tours.  Fortunately, there are educational placards throughout the wetlands that serve as demonstration boards of what you are seeing. 

This photo demonstrates how close the marsh is to the commercial shipping channel, Aransas Pass, that is just beyond the small hill.  When we were there, we saw a GIGANTIC freighter plowing through the water, on its way to overseas destinations. 

The commercial traffic on our waterways is usually the reason that an oil-spill occurs.  This area of the Marine Science Institute demonstrates the effects that such an oil spill can have on wildlife.  We saw waterfowl inside the fence that had lost their ability to fly because of such environmental accidents.

Reptiles, such as the turtles being cared for in these tanks, can also be injured as a result of bad stewardship on the part of us humans.  There was a demonstration of how the marine life can become entangled in plastic six-pack beverage holders, or fishing line. 

Each aspect of the Marine Science Institute campus is designed to demonstrate the interconnectedness between humans, the ocean, the wildlife, the marine life,  and the land.  This sculpture, titled "Interdependency" at the entrance of MSI,  looks like a fish from a distance.  But a closer view shows that it is made up of dozens of creatures, molded together to form something beautiful.  If you have read through this blog to the end, you have surely noticed how often I used the word "demonstrates"  all through the text.  That is because I am using my experience of all the DEMONSTRATIONS I saw at the Marine Science Institute, as the visual aid for one of my First Place 4 Health ( ) memory verses from Romans 5:8 that says, "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."   WOW!!   That is the ultimate and DIVINE DEMONSTRATION, and gives me a heart full of gratitude, and "Miles of Smiles"!  Tricia

Monday, March 9, 2015


The Whooping Crane Strut is a running/walking event that has been taking place in the city of Rockport, Texas, for the last 27 years.  I happened to be in that area on March 3 of this year, and was delighted to have the opportunity to see first-hand why it has been able to keep going for almost three decades!  The event encourages youngsters to be an active participant, as evidenced by the youth runners in this photo.  The youngsters know that they will get a reward, if they come in as the first runner of their age division.  But all the youth will receive the reward of a race tee shirt!

Likewise, adult runners are encouraged to "seek their reward" by registering for the appropriate age category, which has no limit to how old a participant can be!  The age categories extend for both the 5K and 10K races.

Likewise, there is a two mile walk, and the folks in this photo were part of the walking participants.

Although the 5K and 10K race courses took participants along routes outside the park, the two mile walk was all within the confines of Rockport's Memorial Park.

As always, community volunteers are a big factor in the success of a fund-raising event, and this one is no exception.  There were volunteers to provide water and keep participants from taking a wrong turn along the route.

Memorial Park has been described as Nature's blend of woods and water, and is a popular place for locals and visitors to get their exercise, as well as a regular dose of the kind of medicine that will prevent the dreaded "Nature Deficit Disorder"!

On the deck extending out into the lake, there are placards,  that tell the names of wildlife the visitor is likely to spot from that vantage point.

Some man made "islands" give the waterfowl a place to dry their feathers and escape land-based predators.

The information about the Whooping Crane Strut indicated that $5 of every registration would be donated to the "Water for Wildlife Fund".  Funds raised can be used to drill new wells (such as the one shown here inside Memorial Park), at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge to provide more fresh water for the whooping cranes and other wildlife. 

This photo shows a real-life example of the permanently-bent, windswept oak trees that are synonymous with the Rockport area.  In fact, a stylized version of the windswept oak is the graphic for the city of Rockport website, as well as the Sunday announcements page of the First Baptist Church of Rockport ( ) which I also had the privilege of visiting.

The tall grasses around the pond provide a nice habitat for wildlife that depend on estuaries such as this to survive.  Marshes provide cover for whooping crane's nesting habitat. 
If you are not a birder, you may be asking, "What is a Whooping Crane, and who cares if they have enough water??!!".  To answer the first part, whooping cranes are tall, secretive birds.  They are often confused with other species, such as herons, egrets, and the abundant sandhill crane.  You can distinguish whooping cranes from other birds by knowing their size, coloration, and behavior.  Their survival is important because in 1941, only16 birds were left in North America, and their species was on the brink of extinction.  Thankfully,  due to habitat protection, captive breeding, and hunting restrictions, the remnant wild population has made a dramatic recovery.  Now there are more than 250 whooping cranes that migrate between Canada and Texas. 

In this photo, do you see one creature that is taller than any of the others??  That is the race's "Whooping Crane Mascot"!!  Its tall stature is significant, since whooping cranes are the tallest birds in North America!

Whereas us humans sought out the shelter of the park pavilion to register and pick up tee shirts because we know that is where things like this happen, so migratory birds seek out familiar places, where the right things happen.  Those "right things" for the whooping cranes occur at the end of a major North American migratory bird route called "The Central Flyway".  The area adjacent to Rockport, called Aransas Pass National Wildlife Refuge is where whooping cranes have been coming for decades to find the "right things"!

One of those "right things" for us humans is hot coffee in the mornings, and fortunately there were ample supplies of this beverage on the morning of the race!  Likewise there were energy-giving snacks for the participants under the pavilion.  In the same way, The Aransas Pass National Wildlife Refuge tries to make available all the right "beverages" and "energy-giving snacks" for the whooping cranes, to keep them healthy and returning every year!

The officials for the Whooping Crane Strut were using all the latest  race technology to make the times the runners recorded as accurate as possible.  In addition, their website had the directions for downloading a mobile app for your smart phone, that would get your time sent to your smart phone as soon as you finished!  Cool, huh??!!

those folks who did not want to carry a smart phone, there was also a very nice sign that gave the various routes of the three different divisions.  I took this photo because I liked the saying on the back of this runner's hoodie that said, "I RUN THIS TOWN"!!  And it was true---he was indeed "running the town" that morning!

Everyone gathered around the rewards table at the end of the race to see who had the best times.

The Whooping Crane mascot was there throughout the race to pose for photos and remind participants that their efforts were going for a good cause.  The costume is a reminder that whooping cranes are almost entirely white.  The only non-white markings on whooping cranes are their black wingtips and black facial markings, a bare patch of red skin on top of their heads, and black legs and feet.

I walked with these ladies for a short distance, and they told me they represented three generations participating that morning.  A grandmother on the right, her daughter, and her granddaughter in the stroller.  What a great tradition! 

The news story about the race said that 150 people participated in the Whooping Crane Strut, so a total of $750 was raised to donate to the "Water for Wildlife Fund".  That means that water can continue to run under wildlife refuge bridges, and not just dry, barren stream beds!  The fact that early settlers drained marshes to make them suitable for agriculture, is one of the factors that caused whooping cranes to become an endangered species. 

This photo shows the Whooping Crane mascot with the air horn, preparing to get the race off to a great start!  The sound can be a reminder of the distinctive "whooping" sound made by whooping cranes!

Seeing these REWARDS that the winning runners were given, is serving as the visual aid to help me learn one of my First Place 4 Health ( ) memory verses that says, "And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he REWARDS those who earnestly seek him." ( Hebrews 11:6 ).  If you would like to be eligible for one of the Whooping Crane Strut rewards in 2016, just log on to the city's for more information.  Being a part of this worthwhile event will give you "MILES OF SMILES" (and you might get the REWARD of seeing a live whooping crane in the wild!)!!  Tricia