Meet Alicia Walker, Program Coordinator at Amos Rehabilitation Keep
Port Aransas is known for its wildlife—cute nesting turtles, jumping dolphins that play in boat wakes, some of the best birdwatching in the country—but Earth Day is the perfect time to dig a little deeper. Earth Day is all about making a difference and investing in the place we all call home. One of the changemakers putting wildlife at the forefront is Alicia Walker, the program coordinator for Amos Rehabilitation Keep.
The Amos Rehabilitation Keep, better known locally as the ARK, is a wildlife rehabilitation center that takes in marine birds, raptors, and sea turtles. The center was founded in 1982 by Tony Amos, a researcher at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute who traveled everywhere from Antarctica down to the Texas coast for his research. Upon founding the Keep, Amos quickly became a “warrior for the coast,” as Alicia explains, and someone she personally looked up to.
Alicia grew up in Louisiana, reading her fisherman father’s conservation magazines and doing her own turtle cataloging in the creek area near her house. Eventually, she made her way to Texas, and started working at the ARK in 2016. “When Tony (Amos) called me and said that I was selected for the position, I can honestly say that I blanked over. I didn’t hear anything about salary or benefits…I was going to be working with my hero.”
On Alicia’s very first day on the job, Tony told her he was sick. She made a resolution to “learn as much as I could from him, ask as many questions as I could possibly think to ask, and get as much as I could in those moments.” Tony passed away a little over a year after Alicia started. She made it her goal to carry his legacy on….and she has done just that! The Amos Rehabilitation Keep now sees around 1,500 patients a year, and handles more stranded sea turtles than any other facility in the United States.
A Favorite Rescue
During her time at the ARK, Alicia has been present for—and made herself—some pretty incredible rescues. She recalls one Kemp's Ridley sea turtle that was entangled and stranded towards the end of Horace Caldwell Pier. Alicia says, “It was in the deep water, and it was choppy that day…As I walked out, I could see schools of fish and a shark or two, and it was the stingray time of the year, too.” It wasn’t exactly an inviting sight, and the waves were too rough to use a boat. She recalls telling herself, “This turtle needs you. You gotta do it.”
Alicia and an ARK intern swam all the way to the turtle’s location, holding on to clippers to cut the line and a net. When they finally got to the turtle, the hook caught on Alicia’s shirt, only complicating the situation further. By the time the trio (including the turtle) found their way back to the beach, they were exhausted…but their hard work paid off. The team untangled the turtle and she survived and was able to be released a couple weeks later. “We definitely go the lengths for our animals,” Alicia says. That they do!
The Future of the ARK
Alicia is excited about the future of Amos Rehabilitation Keep. Currently, the pelican suite is getting a facelift and improvements are set to be made to several of the enclosures. The most exciting future project, though, is the new animal hospital in the works for the next couple years. The space will be top of the line, complete with a surgery suite, space for food prep and storage, staff offices, animal enclosures, and more!
Visiting the ARK
Though the ARK does their best to release all their rescues back into the wild, some patients require permanent care and call the Keep’s facilities their home. From birds like Reba the Redtail Hawk and Tara the Crested Caracara to turtles like Barnacle Billy and Nosey the Kemp's Ridley, the permanent residents certainly have personalities of their own. These are also the animals you will meet when you take a tour of the ARK. ARK tours are held every Wednesday and Friday at 10 a.m. Registration can be made here.
ARK also hosts sea turtle releases, which are open to the public and hosted as needed. These events can be found on the ARK Facebook page.
How Can I Get Involved?
Donations are always welcome. All funding for the facility comes from grants and private donations, so donations are vital to the center’s continued growth and lifesaving work. If you’d like to give, you can find instructions to do so here.
If you’re not able to donate at this time, the Amos Rehabilitation Keep is always looking for volunteers that make the work they do possible, so consider signing up to help. Another easy way to get involved from afar is to follow along on social media for the latest info and updates from the team.
What Do I Do If I See Wildlife in Need of Help?
If you see an injured turtle, the number to call is 1-866-TURTLE5. That number works on the whole Texas coast and will connect you with local rescue services, like the ARK, who can help. This time of year (April through mid-July) is also the sea turtle nesting season. Alicia urges visitors to use that same number to call in any sea turtles you see nesting on the beach so the ARK can be aware and ready to assist in any way possible. Additionally, if you see turtles stuck in the jetties, it’s important to call. Even if the turtle can be easily freed, experts at the ARK may be able to detect injuries that aren’t immediately visible and provide appropriate care.
For injured birds, call the ARK directly at (361) 749-6793.
Happy Earth Day, everybody!