Waterway Wellness

Volunteers are fundamental to keeping Texas’ bodies of water clean

By Melissa Gaskill

One person swims while another swings from a rope swing into beautifully clear blue green water
Blue Hole Regional Park in Wimberley. Photo by Erich Schlegel

Our state’s 367 miles of coastline, 14 major rivers, 11,247 named streams, and countless lakes and ponds welcome thousands of travelers each year. Some waterside sites across Texas offer volunteers ways to give back through trash cleanup, fish tagging, and more. “Even kindergartners can tell you water is a basic need,” says Jenna Walker, director of watershed services at the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University. “Texas is generally very lucky to have clean rivers and aquifers.”

But the cleanliness of our waters is threatened by pollution and trash, which create ideal breeding grounds for mosquitoes and other pests, Walker says. Plastic trash breaks down into tiny pieces and leeches chemicals into the water, and fishing line can entangle wildlife. Cleanups and other volunteer activities at aquatic areas throughout the state help keep the waters of Texas safe and fun for generations to come.

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Lost and Found

Some of the oddest items found during Texas beach cleanups:

Rubber bales from a German ship sunk off the coast of Brazil in 1944

Asphalt chunks

Duck decoys

Artificial leg

Bowling ball

Message in a bottle

Half of a $10 bill

2 million

Nurdles collected by Nurdle Patrol volunteers since 2018


Fish tagged by volunteer anglers for the Center for Sportfish Science and Conservation


Total length, in miles, of Texas’ waterways

Young woman wearing textile gloves when picking up trash on sandy beach on Earth day

Nurdle Alert

Nurdles, or tiny plastic pellets used in manufacturing, wash up on Gulf of Mexico beaches—especially in Galveston Bay, which has the highest concentration of plastics manufacturing in the U.S. Nurdle Patrol volunteers collect nurdles to protect sea life. Jace Tunnell, reserve director at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute and founder of the project, says volunteers make the program successful.

Q: What is the goal of Nurdle Patrol?
A: To figure out where the highest concentrations are and where they are coming from. Then we have partners who take that information and try to create policy.

Q: What dangers do plastics pose to wildlife?
A: Once plastics are in the environment, they degrade over time and get smaller, which is a problem because the pieces become available to smaller animals in the food chain. We know this is a problem, and it’s 100% preventable. It is up to us to make changes so future generations don’t have to deal with this.

Q: How do volunteers fit into Nurdle Patrol?
A: After a nurdle spill in 2018, I started posting on Facebook and within a few weeks, hundreds of people in Texas and Mexico wanted to volunteer. Now we have 7,500 volunteers collecting in Texas.

To join the effort, request a starter kit from the Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research ­Reserve at The University of Texas Marine Science ­Institute in Port ­Aransas. nurdlepatrol.org

Taking Out the Trash

Volunteer with these organizations to help keep waterways clean

Texas Adopt a Beach holds annual coastal cleanups every fall and spring. Trash bags and gloves are provided. Register online. texasadoptabeach.org

Keep Texas Beautiful organizes Keep Texas Waterways Clean and river cleanup events. Request supplies and inform a local KTB affiliate about your cleanup, which can take place in any body of water within 30 miles of an H-E-B or Central Market. ktb.org

Dive Against Debris organizes certified scuba divers to take a specialty course, collect debris from the ocean floor, and report it to a global database through the PADI AWARE app. padi.com/aware/dive-against-debris

From the July 2023 issue

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