Rhonda Cummins’ activities in Calhoun County encompass a broad range of issues, including marine science education, eco-tourism, fisheries, invasive species, community resource development and marine debris.
Her marine life educational programs at K-12 schools often use frozen specimens, giving youngsters the opportunity to touch the animals. “Touching a shark is a big deal for kids,” she says. Her educational programs cover a variety of other topics, including general science and boat building. For several years, she has taught seventh graders at the local Catholic school how to build their own boats, most recently folding ones made of corrugated plastic and plywood. “It’s all about getting kids out on the bay. If they use it and love it, they’ll take care of it.”
As a former scuba diving instructor and guide and tour-boat operator, one of her passions is eco-tourism. On occasion she offers kayak lessons, leads paddling trips, teaches recreational fishing to youngsters, and connects people with other recreational opportunities such as birding.
Cummins serves as a resource for the commercial fishing industry, and she promotes locally available seafood through cooking demonstrations around the community and by coordinating a regular series called “Cooking with Seafood” that includes seafood safety and marine science. One recent program featured experts who provided information about the health regulation of oysters as participants sampled the shellfish.
As Adopt-a-Beach coordinator for the county, Cummins organizes beach clean-ups twice a year. She also coordinates the Monofilament Recovery and Recycling Program (MRRP) for Calhoun County and reports collection of significant amounts of the fishing line.
She offers educational programs on marine debris and pollution; rainwater harvesting, gardening and wetlands; and the problem of invasive species such as water hyacinth, tiger prawns and lionfish. She also manages a low-power radio station, K-YAK 1610 AM, that broadcasts information about points of interest, natural history and recreational opportunities in the Lavaca Bay/Matagorda Bay estuarine and marine environment. She considers all of these to be part of Texas Sea Grant’s broader effort to improve environmental literacy.
Cummins has a B.A. in English from Texas A&M University-Commerce and a Master of Marine Resource Management from Texas A&M University at Galveston.
She was a member of a team of Texas Sea Grant agents and specialists who provided training and helped commercial shrimp fishermen qualify for Trade Adjustment Assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The group won the 2012 Superior Service Award in the team category from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension for their efforts. In 2010, she was a member of another team of Texas Sea Grant staff whose Hurricane Ike response outreach earned them the Assembly of Sea Grant Extension Program Leaders Superior Outreach Programming Award. In early 2015, Cummins was named “Woman of the Year” by the Port Lavaca Chamber of Commerce for her professional and personal dedication to the community, especially her activities that focus on education and marine issues.