There’s another way to realize health benefits during your beach vacation: making a difference by volunteering your time to worthwhile causes while you’re here. And fall is a perfect time to enjoy the beach and help others at the same time.
According to an article in Forbes, there are several surprising benefits of volunteering. Volunteering makes you feel like you have been granted more time; helps you develop new skills; helps you have a healthier body, greater functional ability and lower rates of depression; helps you build your experience; and builds empathy, strengthens social bonds and makes you smile, thus increasing the feeling of love.
Since a beach vacation benefits your health and volunteering give your mood and body a boost, how about combining a beach trip with volunteering to increase your sense of well being and help others at the same time?
Here are 3 ways your trip to the coast can improve and enhance the beach and surrounding communities.
1. Clean Up The Coast During Alabama Coastal CleanupEach year Alabama Coastal Cleanup holds a beach cleanup on a Saturday morning in September during which time volunteers pick up trash in a designated zone.
An opportunity to meet new people, get a free T-shirt and do good for the environment, Alabama Coastal Cleanup invites residents and visitors to walk along the coast or board boats and “get the trash out of the splash” in areas stretching from Perdido Key, Fla., along the coastline and up into locations around Dauphin Island and Mobile Bay.
Other activities supported by Alabama Coastal Cleanup are also great ways to explore and appreciate the environment: Alabama Coastal Bird Fest, a birding and nature festival, always held in early October; monthly meetings of the Mobile Bay Canoe and Kayak Club, which holds meetings at the beautiful Five Rivers Delta Resource Center in nearby Spanish Fort; National Estuaries Week, held in September and highlighting the importance of local estuaries; Wolf Bay Watershed Watch meetings, which are held monthly; and monthly meetings of the Alabama Hiking Trails Society, also held at Five Rivers Delta Resource Center.
For more information, call (251) 928-9792 or log onto alabamacoastalcleanup.com.
2. Help End HungerThrough its program "Feeding The Gulf Coast," the Bay Area Food Bank aims to end hunger in Alabama, Florida and Mississippi, and always needs the assistance of volunteers.
Specified shifts are available Monday through Friday and bi-weekly on Saturday mornings. Volunteer opportunities include food sorting; clerical work; special event staffing (Chef Challenge fundraiser, “Stuff the Truck” food drives, etc.); filling backpacks for chronically hungry children to take home on weekends and school vacations when other resources are unavailable; on-site gardening and cleaning; produce sorting; SNAP outreach; and emergency response.
Call (251) 653-1617 or log onto feedingthegulfcoast.org/volunteer for more information on registering for a shift.
3. Protect Endangered Sea TurtlesAccording to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, on warm summer nights, sea turtles emerge from the Gulf of Mexico and crawl onto the sugar-white sand beaches of the Alabama coast to lay their eggs.
They rely on the availability of dark, unobstructed beaches to successfully nest and continue the cycle of life.
Three species of sea turtles are confirmed as nesting in Alabama: the loggerhead sea turtle, which accounts for nearly all nests in the state each year; the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle; and the green sea turtle.
Although the Kemp’s ridley and green sea turtles nest in significantly lower numbers than the loggerhead sea turtle in Alabama, there have been confirmed and suspected nests identified in recent years.
According to a Roots Rated blog, odds of an egg surviving its incubation period and its eventual walk to the sea are daunting. The eggs themselves can fall prey to animals such as fox, raccoons, and even dogs. Once they hatch they have to make a mad dash to the water to avoid other predators like crabs and sea birds.
Human threats, such as inquisitive behavior around nests, hazards on the beach, and fishermen catching sea turtles in their nests, also have significantly reduced sea turtle populations worldwide, including on the Alabama Gulf Coast.
To help ensure hatchlings face no obstacles on their path to the water, hundreds of volunteers train and take turns patrolling an assigned stretch of beach, being available for nighttime nest-sitting when hatching time is near or just helping keep supplies and equipment ready.
In 2001, volunteers and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service led an effort to establish a sea turtle nest-monitoring program on private and public lands in the state. This effort was a response to widespread reports of sea turtle hatchlings becoming disoriented due to artificial state lighting along the beach road in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach.
The cities quickly installed sea turtle-friendly lighting to keep the hatchlings on the beach and turned toward the water as directed by the moonlight.
At the same time, a partnership of state, federal and local agencies, private citizens and environmental organizations created Share the Beach, a program with more than 300 volunteers.
Now, Share the Beach is a program administered by the Friends of Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, a nonprofit support group responsible for all sea turtle nest monitoring on private lands.
The program objectives are to monitor sea turtle nests on the Alabama Gulf Coast, minimize human-related sea turtle mortality on the nesting beach, and promote the conservation of sea turtles in Alabama through public outreach and education.
Volunteers report to the team leader for their graphic area and are responsible for understanding and following all federal protocol and requirements of the recovery permit.
All Gulf Coast vacationers are now playing a small role in clearing the path for nesting sea turtles through the area’s Leave Only Footprints program, regulated by local, state or federal laws or ordinances enforced on the beaches.
The program calls for the removal and disposition by beach patrol of any structures or equipment left on the beach one hour after sunset; items being banned from the beaches such as glass containers, tents or structures larger than 12 feet by 12 feet, litter, metal shovels or excessive digging; overnight camping; fireworks; loud music; fires; pets and vehicles. The program also calls for sand dunes to remain untouched; observation and compliance with the Beach Warning Flag System; and being respectful of private property beyond the bounds of your lodging property.
Sea turtle nesting season on the Alabama Gulf Coast runs from May through October.
For more information on how you can volunteer for Share The Beach, call (251) 965-NEST or log onto alabamaseaturtles.com/volunteer.
For more information on the Leave Only Footprints Program, click HERE.
Fall abounds with opportunities not only to enjoy relaxing and fun beach adventures but also to helping others and improving the beautiful beach ecosystem.
Bring the whole family for a stay in a Gulf Shores or Fort Morgan beach house this fall to enjoy a beach adventure combined with a healthy dose of doing good. Or, a two-bedroom Orange Beach condo would fill the bill for up to about 6 to 8 people.