Founded in 2003 to promote awareness of coastal ecosystems and the marine environment through the disciplines of science and art, Galveston’s nonprofit Artist Boat Adventures offers the unusual combination of kayaking and art-making in some of Texas’ most important and diverse ecosystems. Biologist and Artist Boat Adventures employee Kari Howard enjoys leading these creative tours, and provided further insights during a recent conversation.
“I got a marine biology degree from Texas A&M,” Kari told us, “and after graduation I got a job identifying wetlands and marking them in the field. I had heard about the Artist Boat from a friend who had worked here, and I decided to volunteer leading some kayaking trips. Artist Boat also had a habitat restoration program at Galveston Island State Park, and so I volunteered to collect plants that they were going to use. We were growing them at schools in Galveston; the students were responsible for caring for plants like wildflowers, and grasses.
“I saw that Artist Boat was looking for an Eco Art Educator who would do workshops, teach in schools, and lead kayaking and walking adventures. But when I was called, they were considering me for the job of Habitat and Stewardship Coordinator. In that capacity I assisted with two habitat restoration grants. Ultimately, we ended up with 27 acres of dune habitat, including dunes that had been destroyed by Hurricane Ike.
“In some locations, such as Galveston Island State Park, there were initiatives to build up the dunes, and then plant. Remember that the dunes essentially do what the Seawall does; they absorb impact from waves, and the foliage and root systems of the dune plants help capture and trap the sand to keep it from eroding.
“Follett’s Island (across San Luis Pass at the southwestern end of Galveston Island) didn’t have the funds to build up the dunes first, but they did have funds to plant. Artist Boat Adventures had applied for and received grant money from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for habitat restoration on a barrier island. We felt that that dunes were habitats that were overlooked, but had significant value for their role in the protection of both property and wildlife such as sea turtles. And so we partnered with the county, the city of Galveston park board, and private landowners. Our original goal was to plant 10 miles of dunes in Galveston and Brazoria counties, but we wound up planting 15.
“We finished that grant in 2013 and are looking to do more wetlands restoration. The public kayaking trips are an extension of what we do. We engage the public and make them aware of the environmental work being done out there. We have found that there are a lot of environmental consultants but very few that engage youth. Artist Boat has found a unique niche in bringing together not just art and science but also all ages.
“So we offer programs for adults and also for youth from kindergarten through 12th grade. For elementary school students, we take them on a walking adventure at Galveston Island State Park or the San Jacinto Monument, we take them to the different habitats; we have beaches, dunes, coastal prairies, wetlands, and bay habitats.
“For students in the 6th grade or older, we offer a kayaking adventure similar to the one we offer to the general public, with an introduction to the importance of the wetlands and a watercolor activity. Some students are learning to paddle for the first time.
“Our art programs help drive interest in conservation. We have other programs that we offer youth; one is an artist’s residency, where we bring an artist into the classroom to teach students about science—it might be the Gulf of Mexico, different zones of the ocean, or mammals of the Gulf. They get about an hour’s worth of environmental science, then an hour of art.
“We are also installing benches along the seawall, and each bench will have a mosaic mural depicting different aspects of Galveston Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. We’re calling it the Seawall Interpretive Trail, and the murals will both promote local artists and our mission of education. After all, our goal is to beautify the seawall and teach visitors about the five different ecosystems found here.”
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