The University of Texas at Austin
Tony Amos has spent more than 25 years surveying the gulfside beaches of Mustang and San Josť Islands, monitoring the effects of weather and garbage on the fragile dunes. As he scans the horizon, he often finds injured creatures. A veritable Dr. Doolittle to the swimming and flying wounded around Port Aransas, Amos scoops the animals into his beachworthy "ambulance" and transports them to the Animal Rehabilitation Keep (ARK) at UT Austin's Marine Science Institute.
At the ARK, injured turtles receive veterinary care and respite in special holding tanks. There is an aviary for birds with broken wings and facilities for the raccoons, possums, bats, cottontail rabbits, skunks, and other small mammals that check into the ARK from time to time. The goal is to rehabilitate the animals and return them to the wild. In the 20-plus years that Amos has been running the rescue mission, more than 700 sea turtles alone have been treated and more than half released.
"That's what it's all about," Amos says. He and his fellow researchers ferry the reptiles on the institute's research ship, the RV/Longhorn. "Our goal is to release every animal we receive."
Among the birds that are treated and released are pelicans, loons, boobies, cormorants, gulls, terns, herons, and egrets. Most of the creatures, regardless of their species, are injured because of some kind of human activity. Birds often get caught in fishing lines or hit by vehicles on beaches or the roadside. Turtles can fall victim to fishing lines, as well as shrimp trawls and boat propellers.
It's a costly mission of mercy. Each month, the ARK feeds its patients 1,700 pounds of fish. There are veterinary bills and salaries for three part-time workers who clean the tanks, feed the animals, and keep the ARK in working order. Until recently, the day-to-day operations were funded by occasional donations from concerned individuals. That changed in March when an anonymous donor provided the seed money to fund the Anthony F. Amos Endowment for Support of the Animal Rehabilitation Keep at The University of Texas at Austin Marine Science Institute, which will support the ARK's operations, maintenance, and other needs. Efforts are currently under way to enhance the endowment. The endowment is invested in the Long Term Fund and has a market value of $124,162 as of August 31, 2004.
In addition to animal rescue, Amos, his staff, and 25 volunteers host tours for area schoolchildren. He also writes a local column about the ARK's colorful residents. Over the years, Amos and UT students have amassed information on weather conditions, water salinity, and other factors that contribute to aquatic life becoming stranded on the area's beaches. In one study, a student researcher found that more than half of the dead sea turtles that wash ashore have ingested some form of plastic.
Many of the animals that the ARK rescues and rehabilitates are endangered or protected, and Amos is proud of his work to preserve these species. "These creatures are the essence of our coastal environment," he says. "The coast wouldn't be the coast without the pelicans and the laughing gulls. They're all wonderful animals." - Sheila Allee