BlueValue gift guide 2022

Back by popular demand, we are re-posting last year’s Holiday Gift Guide (read the original, True Blue Gifts), with a few new additions – scroll down for the 2022 updates! And while you are at it, check out our Beginner’s Guide to Green Gift Giving!

With the help of fellow members of the Texas Children in Nature-Coastal Bend Chapter, as well as input from other knowledgeable colleagues and friends, we have curated a list of nature-based gift ideas to consider for the holidays, or any time of year! The goal here isn’t to get you to spend your money on any one organization, company, or product, but simply to consider nature as the greatest gift of all.  

Gyotaku: Fish Print

For anyone who enjoys art, fish, or both, our friend Holly Grand with Texas Parks and Wildlife’s Coastal Fisheries Division suggests fish prints as a unique gift. Not sure what a fish print is, or how to make one? Holly’s got you covered. Check out her video where she explains this ancient Japanese art form while demonstrating how to do it. You can approach this gift idea several ways: make your own print to give, or purchase enough supplies to make the print together with your loved ones. If you decide to make the print together, you can even consider a fishing trip as part of the gift, if you want to use a real fish for the print rather than a model/faux fish. Get outside and get creative!

Birding Journal

Got a birder in the fam? Give a blank-paged journal to your favorite birder to sketch and take notes in the field (see these DIY tips), or purchase from a wide selection of ready-made birding journals online or at your favorite local bookstore. Sara Jose, Preserve Manager at Oso Bay Wetlands Preserve and Learning Center, recommends Bird Watching Book for Kids: A Journal to Observe and Record Your Birding Adventures by Kristine Rivers. Sara adds that this book can be used not only at Oso Bay preserve and other parks, but in your backyard too. She also recommends pairing the book or journal with a map of the Central Coast Birding Trail to help families discover new places, such as this one from Texas Parks and Wildlife.

Padre Island National Seashore Park Pass

Kelly Taylor, Chief of Interpretation and Education at Padre Island National Seashore (PINS), recommends purchase of a Padre Island National Seashore Annual Pass as a gift of nature. Purchased online or in person, the annual pass is $45, allows for unlimited entrance, and is valid for one year from the month of purchase. The annual pass waives the entrance fee for everyone in the vehicle with the passholder and is only valid if held by the person who signs the pass. Additionally, for those folks who say, “Well, we don’t go to the Padre Island National Seashore because we don’t fish, camp, or drive on the beach…,” Kelly offers these PINS activities as great alternatives to fishing and camping, which are also covered by purchase of a park pass:

  • Walk the Grasslands Nature Trail 
  • Walk down the old road to the Novillo Line Camp and explore the camp
  • Watch migrating shore birds feed at the edge of the Laguna Madre
  • Check out the night sky (the National Seashore is open 24 hours a day!)
  • Watch a sea turtle release 
  • Watch the sun rise over the Gulf
  • Watch the sun set over the Laguna Madre
  • Participate in a Ranger guided program 
  • Search for treasures left by Mother Nature between the tides
Sea turtle release event at Padre Island National Seashore. Photo by Chris Hale

Along those same lines, consider the federal interagency pass, America the Beautiful – National Parks & Federal Recreational Lands Annual Pass which offers even more entrance perks across the country. And if you have a 4th grader that you are shopping for, you should know about the Every Kid Outdoors initiative, which is a free pass for any U.S. 4th grader and their families to enter into any public lands or waters in the U.S. for the entire school year, with fun activity guides you can download as well.

Texas State Parks Annual Pass

If a pass into the Seashore isn’t your thing, how about a pass that gets you into ALL Texas State Parks?! Our friendly local Ranger, Sarah Affeldt, previously with Goose Island State Park and now with the up-and-coming Powderhorn Ranch State Park, shares that a Texas State Parks Annual Pass is $70 and good for one year. An annual pass waives entrance fees for the pass holder and everyone in their vehicle (up to 15 people) at all Texas State Parks and provides discounts on camping, park store purchases, and equipment rentals. There are also a variety of free passes that provide discounted entrance fees for those who qualify. Passes can be purchased online or at any Texas State Park. Click here for Pass information. And if your gift-getter is into swag, TPWD also just launched an online park store with ornaments, mugs, stickers, and other fun state park collectibles.

Nature Activities Bingo

The fabulous Kim Ogden, Education Coordinator with the Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program and Nueces Delta Preserve suggests Nature Activities Bingo as a nature-based game fun for all ages. This creative version of bingo gets people interacting with their immediate environment to engage the senses, emotions, brain, and body. It’s a great way to get people thinking about and experiencing their connection to the natural world, and it’s simple and FREE. Click below to view, download, and print, or use it as a model to create your own version.

Ecosystem Services Jenga

What about the people that really don’t enjoy sand in their suits or mud under their fingernails, or maybe they simply don’t have immediate access to nature? That’s ok! We have a gift for them, too. Our team here at BlueValue created the Ecosystem Services Jenga game, an interactive game that demonstrates the relationship between the physical, biological, and human component of coastal estuarine systems, such as those found along the Gulf of Mexico. The game uses the traditional Jenga © pieces to demonstrate how environmental and human changes can impact habitats and associated ecosystem services. Read more about it in Diana’s previous blog post! This is a great gift idea for educators of all types, or for science and nature enthusiasts. Click HERE to download and print a copy of the instructions, and to learn how to make a version of the game that is tailored to your ecoregion. And if regular- sized Jenga isn’t exciting enough, consider creating Ecosystem Services Giant Jenga for your next outdoor party!

Scavenger Hunt & Nature Trail

Photo courtesy of Adriana Reza.

Over at the Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve located in Port Aransas, Education Coordinator Adriana Reza invites you to take a walk with friends and family along the trail at the Wetlands Education Center. This loop trail provides a snapshot look at various ecosystems from back-dunes to a man-made salt marsh and offers a variety of plants and animals to discover. Free guided tours are available on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 9 a.m. This is a great opportunity to chat with a Texas Master Naturalist who enjoys sharing their knowledge with everyone. As an added nature bonus, they offer a Scavenger Hunt for visitors. You can pick up their scavenger hunt card on-site or click below to view and print it for the next time you visit. Pair this idea with one of the nature identification guides suggested below!

Nature Identification Guidebooks

We all know a book worm. And most likely, that book worm needs more books. There are millions of nature-based books to choose from out there in the world, but Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies makes the choice much easier for us. In partnership with the Texas A&M University Press, they offer a wide variety of locally-relevant and nature-centric books covering a range of topics throughout Texas and the Gulf coast. Purchase the Texas Seashells: a field guide and pair it with a trip to the beach for a memorable beach-combing experience; or perhaps Marine Plants of the Texas Coast will submerge your gift-getter into a whole new world. This gift idea works no matter where you live; simply ask your local book store owner or librarian for advice on nature identification guide books specific to your region.

Photography & Birding Chartered Trip

While the folks at the Coastal Bend Bays Foundation love giving the “Gift that Keeps on Giving” — educating the Coastal Bend Community about environmental issues and opportunities through FREE monthly Coastal Issues Forums and Earth Day Bay Day festival — another excellent idea is gifting a one-of-kind photography and birding tour with Texas’s best birding tours: Aransas Bay Birding Charters. Our friend Tosha, Project Coordinator for the Foundation, shares that these charters are tailored to fit the needs of your group, and their boats are uniquely designed for photographers. Probably the best feature of their boats is the shallow draft capability, allowing you to get really close to the birds; you can get within 50 feet of the famous whooping cranes and even closer for most shorebirds.

Plants

What better way to give the gift of nature than giving your loved ones a living, breathing plant? You can gift them a plant meant to live outdoors in their yard, balcony, patio, or stoop; or you can give them a nice houseplant that thrives indoors. If you do decide to give a plant, opt for one that is native to your area, especially if the plant is going to be living outside. Not only will a native plant have much better odds of surviving in your local climate, but it will also support local birds and insects that need native species to survive! You also want to avoid the spread of invasive species, which nobody wants as a gift. To browse plants native to Texas visit the AgriLife Extension site, or Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. The Texas Master Naturalist Program also contains a wealth of native plant information and expertise, and you can find your local chapter here. Here in the Coastal Bend, our friends at Native Dave, Gil’s Nursey, Turner’s Gardenland, and Bloomers Nursery & Landscape are all excellent sources for native plants and information. And if you aren’t based in Texas, simply reach out to your local nursery and gardening store to ask about the best local native plants to give as gifts.

Smartphone Magnifiers and Microscopes

Texas Children in Nature Network‘s Executive Director Sarah Coles shared this fun gift idea for the curious-minded people in your life: a microscope that attaches directly to your phone, allowing you to view and take up-close photos or video of nature’s tiniest wonders! She added that when she purchased one, she spent hours in her flower garden looking at pollen. You can find a variety of smartphone adapters and attachments online, ranging from clip-on magnifiers to more advanced microscope set ups, so depending on your gift-getter’s type of phone and interest levels, you can find one that works best for them.

Surf Lessons

Surfing is a thrilling way to connect with the ocean, and the positive gains from whole body physical activity, immersion in the salty sea, breathing of the salty air, and soaking in Vitamin D will leave smiles on your face all day long. The mental and emotional benefits of building a new skill, as well as the social benefits from interacting with others in the surfing community can last a lifetime. Luckily, the Surfrider Foundation has chapters and clubs throughout the U.S., with an extensive network of surfing enthusiasts, novices, and experts who organize learn-to-surf events – often for free – and offer equipment to borrow or rent. There are also local surf camps offered seasonally, such as this one, or simply reach out to your nearest surf shop for advice. Be safe out there!

New for 2022!

Star Party

Is there anyone on your list that might enjoy a star-themed gift? If so, consider giving the gift of a star party! Essentially, people gather in a place with low-level light pollution in order to observe the night sky. These can range from casual gatherings to highly coordinated events with professional equipment and expert speakers. Many state and national parks offer versions of this, with guided talks given by park rangers or invited experts. Local star-gazing organizations, astronomy clubs, and night sky preservationists also coordinate opportunities locally; you can usually find them on social media platforms. The star party I experienced with my family took place at the University of Texas’s McDonald Observatory, and it did not disappoint! We arrived after sunset with our blankets and hot cocoa, and found a seat in the outdoor amphitheater. As the sky grew darker and darker, an astronomer guided us with his laser pointer beaming at different stars, constellations, and planets, all the while telling stories and sharing his knowledge about each. We then wandered around the facility at our leisure, peering through the many extraordinary and powerful telescopes that we were free to enjoy. It was an awesome experience that my family and I will remember forever! But you don’t have to go all the way to West Texas to for this experience; you can check out a star gazing guide from your local library, or purchase one from your local bookstore, and plan to go outside on a clear dark night, and look up! Perhaps even better, you can download a star-identification app on your smartphone (I like to use SkyMap); you simply point your phone in the direction of the night sky and you will learn the names of hundreds of new stars, planets, and constellations. Pair this experience with any number of astronomy books, telescopes, or other star-themed items, for a galactic gift package.

Local nature for free

Last year, our friends at Oso Bay Wetlands Preserve & Learning Center suggested a birding journal (scroll back up to “Birding Journal” section) as an excellent gift idea. However, did you know that the Oso Bay Wetlands Preserve & Learning Center boasts 162 acres filled with native natural wonders, and that it is free to enter? You can explore two miles of nature trails and also visit their Learning Center, to comprehend the importance of protecting wetlands for future generations to enjoy. The preserve is owned and operated by the City of Corpus Christi Parks & Recreation Department, and they also offer guided nature walks, book club discussions, diverse topical workshops, field trips, and birthday parties! There are many parks and trails all over the Coastal Bend of Texas, and across the country and world, that are free to enter and explore at no charge. Paired with a picnic, you’ve got yourself a wonderful, day-long outdoor gift to share with your friends and family, which builds memories that last a lifetime. Bonus: fur-family members are welcomed on the trails of Oso Preserve!

International ecotourism

If you have the opportunity and privilege to travel internationally, consider immersive experiences in nature, led by locally trusted experts, as a way to give a gift not only to yourself (and to whomever you may traveling with), but also as a way to give back to local communities working to preserve their environment and way of life.

Over here at Harte Research Institute, we often work within Mexico and Cuba, for example, via our SWIMM program. Harte Research Institute scientist and regular BlueValue blog contributor, Dr. Coral Lozada, offers suggestions for nature-based trips in in places she has spent a lot of time getting to know the environment, as well as communities, throughout her work in these countries. Likewise, PhD student and regular blog contributor Ulsia Urrea Marino offers travel ideas based on her own experience as a native Mexican and coastal scientist who loves to explore the natural world of her home country. She has also explored parts of Cuba through her research experiences. No matter where you travel, consider your carbon footprint, as well as your impact on the community you visit and on the environment you explore. If you have questions about any of the following locations, feel free to reach out to either Coral or Ulsia!

  1. Agua Fria Ecological Reserve is an ecological preserve and ecocamp in El Tuito, Jalisco, Mexico. Coral’s friend Linda, a South Texas native, and Linda’s partner Tane, met while they worked in Tane’s hometown of El Tuito. Linda and Tane are both biologists, and they welcome “Locals and tourists of all ages … to explore our 52-hectare ecological reserve, relax in our luxury camp, or join us on an off-the-beaten-path adventure to our favorite spots in the region.”
  2. Descubre Sisal Tours in Sisal, Mexico, is a community-owned and operated ecotour company started by a student from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and her partner, a local fisherman. They create personalized itineraries for their clients based on their interest in interacting with nature and the environment.
  3. Kuyima Tours is an ecotourism company in Baja California Sur in Mexico, specializing in whale watching and prehistorical paintings
  4. Copalita Trail is located in Oaxaca, Mexico. It is a walk from the top of the mountain to the Huatulco beaches over five days with an ecotourism company. During the walk, you will be able to get to know local people, see marvelous natural sceneries, camp, swim in rivers, and eat delicious local organic food.
  5. Community Tours Sian Ka’an is located south of Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico. This ecotourism company provides bird and manatee-watching tours. Also, you will be able to visit one of the most conserved mangrove areas in the whole Caribbean Sea. You could enjoy eating Mayan food.
  6. Co’ox Mayab is a network of local ecotourism companies in Yucatan, Campeche, and Quintana Roo, Mexico. They merge nature, Mayan culture, and travel experiences. This is the best option for you to get to know the Mayan culture (past and present).
  7. Tosepan Kali: This is an ecotourism company located in Puebla, Mexico. They have a whole experience over the mountains in different communities that compound the project. You will be able to get to know natural places, drink delicious organic coffee, take a shower in waterfalls, or relax in a spa.
  8. La Picadora” is an ecotourism project located in Sancti Spiritu Province of Cuba. They provide tours inside the Caguanes National Park, host you in their houses, and you can eat traditional Cuban dishes in a warm and family environment.

That’s it for now! We’ll be updating this list throughout the next year, so be sure to bookmark this page! In the meantime, our BlueValue team wishes you a happy holiday and a New Year filled with discovery and exploration in the natural world. Thank you for your readership!

Dalgis, Ulsia, and Coral exploring the Humbold Cave in Caguanes National Park in Cuba. Photo by Dalgis Nevot Leon.

Author: Chris Hale

If Chris's work was squeezed into a Venn diagram, it would fit in the segment where the marine science circle overlaps with the human dimensions circle. With spare time, she loves adventuring outdoors with family and friends, or creating things with clay and fire in her she-shed. Her two kids are her greatest joy.

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