Science News

Anthony “Tony” Amos: Adventurer, Scientist, Conservationist, Humanitarian and All Around Good Guy

By: Quenton Dokken, President/CEO Gulf of Mexico Foundation

I just attended a ceremony in which my friend Anthony “Tony” Amos was presented the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Recovery Champion Award.

 

Their citation reads, “Over the course of more than 30 years, Anthony Amos has served as a major contributor to our knowledge of shorebirds, sea turtles, and manatees along the Central Texas coast. Mr. Amos compiled an incredible long-term data set of bird and sea turtle observations that has proven invaluable to the recovery efforts of many species. He has worked tirelessly to rescue and rehabilitate sea turtles and birds, including piping plovers, red knots, brown pelicans, and bald eagles. He is an outstanding spokesman for wildlife conservation in the Texas Coastal Bend region and his dedication to wildlife rescue has been an effective outreach and education resource for listed sea turtles and birds.”

The award inspired me to reflect on the achievements of this remarkable man. In fact, when I caught up with Tony at the ceremony, his first comment was, “Quenton, I just found a picture of you and me with Garry Mauro.”

Mauro was Commissioner of the Texas General Land Office in the late 1980s. So, I’ve known Tony for a few decades and his home base has always been the University of Texas Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas, Texas. When Tony arrived on campus with substantial credentials as an explorer/scientist of Antarctica. To have someone with his resume of oceanographic research in Antarctica living in balmy Port Aransas on the South Texas coast was a novelty. His British accent, unruly hair, bushy beard, and gentle ways added to the persona of this unique person. He soon became a much sought after luncheon speaker for civic clubs within a 100 mile radius; and, I doubt he ever declined a request to entertain with stories of the places he has explored.

Tony’s stories are never about himself, but about the places and wildlife of his travels. His passion is the world of nature. True to form, as soon as he settled in Port Aransas, at that time a slow paced island fishing village, he began to explore the natural environments and wildlife of Mustang Island. Much of the Texas Gulf coast is bordered by one of the longest barrier islands in the world. Port Aransas sits on the northern most reach of Mustang Island. Driven by the predominant southeast wind, the waves of the Gulf of Mexico have been rolling onto these beaches for millennia depositing flotsam and jetsam from the wider Caribbean province.

Appalled by the human based trash washing up on the beaches, Tony initiated a trash monitoring program that today is the longest known continuous data set of beach debris, more than 35 years of continuous weekly data collection and he is still adding to this valuable data set, conducting surveys every other day.

Being a compassionate man, one winter Tony found “cold stunned” sea turtles on the beach and immediately launched a rescue mission to protect these cold blooded reptiles until warm weather returned and they could be released to continue their endless journey around the Gulf of Mexico. This effort grew into the Animal Rehabilitation Keep or ARK. Since inception, ARK has rescued and rehabilitated more than 5,000 sea turtles.

One endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle saved by ARK, arrived on the Mexican nesting beach, Rancho Nuevo, to lay 120 eggs 13 years after being released by ARK! And, it is not just turtles that have benefited from Tony’s tender hearted efforts. Many species of birds, dolphins, and manatees have been rescued by ARK. Once the community learned that Tony could not turn his back on an animal in need of rescue, his phone began ringing as it still does today.

Just as importantly as the injured animals, countless volunteers have also been collected off the beaches by Tony to help in this mission, teaching them the value of nature every step of the way. You will never meet a more enthusiastic and energetic group of volunteers. They follow their leader.

When presented the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service award, Tony took to the podium to say a few words. As to what motivates him, Tony told of Piping Plover 19, or “green over yellow green” in Tony’s ID shorthand referring to the colored bands on the birds legs. Tony first recorded this banded bird 14 years ago. Sightings of endangered species are always important recordings. Every year since, Tony has recorded this particular bird returning to the beaches of Mustang Island to within 100 meters of where it was first sighted.

To Tony, this relationship with “green over yellow green” is personal, a gift from nature that touches his soul. With a note of sadness, Tony noted that 14 years is old in Piping Plover age and he will be surprised to see his far ranging feathered friend back next year. That is what gets Tony on the beaches before sunrise every morning, the opportunity to be one with nature. And always with an eye to creating his next educational opportunity, before relinquishing the microphone he invited everyone in the audience of about 150 to Marker 35 the following Saturday to help him release recently rescued “cold stunned” turtles.

Tony Amos is a man to be admired and emulated. A scientist of old school standards who understands that scientific observation is best done on a long-term scale. A patient and compassionate man who is a passionate teacher. I will be on the beach at Marker 35 this coming Saturday with my grandson Eric. We will learn a lot.

Post Note: Eric and I were indeed on the beach at Marker 35 along with 200 other excited observers to watch Tony and the ARK Volunteers release 17 turtles (see picture). ARK is completely funded by donations. We bought T-shirts and made a donation. You can too here.

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