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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes

TIJUANA SLOUGH NWR: “Shorebird Stewards” Program Leader inspires visitors to care about endangered birds

Region 8, April 8, 2013
Shannon Tunks, Shorebird Stewards Program Leader, goes over data collection duties and interpretive techniques while training the new volunteers in the field.
Shannon Tunks, Shorebird Stewards Program Leader, goes over data collection duties and interpretive techniques while training the new volunteers in the field. - Photo Credit: n/a
Shannon Tunks has a conversation with a visiting bicylist about the trail system on the refuge.
Shannon Tunks has a conversation with a visiting bicylist about the trail system on the refuge. - Photo Credit: n/a

By Lisa Cox    

Volunteering for the Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) can be an experience you’ll never forget. You’ll meet people from all over the world, with different conservation interests  who are working together to restore one of the last remaining fragments of wetlands in California. Whether you like to talk with the public and educate them on their natural resources, or you like to get your hands dirty and improve native habitats, there is something for everyone to get involved in. Several of these dedicated volunteers have even become employees of the refuge after the training season.

The Tijuana NWR is included in the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve (TRNERR), and is currently instructing people in its new-and-improved volunteer program. Now called Information Ambassadors, the 10-hour training course started in March, and will continue into April until the volunteers are proficient in the complex functions of the reserve. These new Information Ambassadors may then venture out to be specialty-trained in different long-term volunteer programs such as the Shorebird Stewards.

San Diego native and Program Leader for Shorebird Stewards, Shannon Tunks, has been through the volunteer program’s many phases and will continue for her second season as the Program Leader. The Program Lead position is funded by a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Connecting People with Nature program. She has a profound appreciation for nature, truly cares about educating people about their public land, and cheerfully delivers a community conservation message to visitors. For these reasons and many more we wanted to share her story.

“I first heard about the estuary about six years ago through volunteermatch.org as I was looking for a place that my son could do some volunteer work to satisfy his community service requirement at school. I saw a posting for a volunteer planting event and it was close to home and sounded interesting, so we went," said Tunks. " By the time that 3-hour event was over, I was so enamored with the estuary that I spoke with the outreach coordinator to see if there were any long-term volunteer opportunities. I've been there ever since!

Tunks believes that the estuary is such a valuable resource to our community in so many ways! As a nature lover,  the variety of plants, animals and habitats that make their homes in the estuary are a never-ending source of fascination to her. "Every invasive plant I pull out and every native plant I put in the ground, makes life that much nicer for countless birds, insects and mammals – including humans, " she says. "The more I learn about the dynamics and history of the area, the more I realize what a valuable cultural resource it is as well. It feels really good to be part of helping to restore and maintain such a beautiful part of our city. I can't help but stay connected to it."

There are so many ways that people can connect with the estuary, her hope is every visitor finds just one, and that that one is enough to keep them coming back to discover more. Maybe one person catches a glimpse of an endangered bird, or another spots a plant he's never seen before, or another is witness to one of our spectacular sunsets, or another catches the perfect wave. The list could go on and on! She hopes that everyone discovers, as she has, that you never really stop discovering new things here.

Tunks is a student at Southwestern College in Chula Vista. She is working toward an Associate in Science Degree in Biology, which she will finish by the end of the year. She eventually plans to go on to San Diego State University (who is also a research partner with the Estuary) and earn a Bachelor in Science Degree in Zoology with an emphasis in Ornithology. She is one impressive woman.

If you want to talk more with Tunks, or get to know all the other incredibly talented staff and volunteers at the Tijuana Estuary, then get involved. Become a Tijuana Estuary Information Ambassador next spring and experience why so many people make their connection to nature at this wetland.

Any new, long-term volunteers who want to be a part of programs such as Shorebird Stewards, must first complete the mandatory 10-hour Information Ambassador training. This is the prequisite course to all other volunteer training courses. Long-term volunteers must also be willing to commit to serving a minimum of 4 hours per month. Information Ambassadors can assist with special events, such as Visitor Center and Speaker Series greeters and more.

Lisa Cox is a public information and outreach specialist at the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex in San Diego, Calif.

Contact Info: Lisa Cox, 619.476.9150 ext. 106, lisa_cox@fws.gov