Swimming with the Salamanders: Building Immersive Experiences to Promote Conservation of the San Marcos River


In the heat of a Texas summer, the San Marcos River is a welcome haven for numerous people to float, swim, and paddle in refreshing 72-degree water. Many are unaware of their spring fed surroundings, or that it is home to protected and endangered species. People often do not understand how they can help protect this river habitat by avoiding Texas Wild Rice (found only in San Marcos) and not littering. This communication design thesis sought to expand efforts of the Edwards Aquifer Habitat Conservation Plan (EAHCP), through the application of design for social change and human-centered design. Research focused on finding ways of applying design methodologies to support and strengthen ongoing endeavors to protect Texas Wild Rice and litter reduction. The project result took form as a river installation of buoys and signs, strong enough to withstand a powerful current, changing water levels, accumulations of debris, and human interactions. Content included simple messages and images to quickly convey information to river-goers, using a tone of inclusion and humor. Documented evidence shows paddlers and tubers understanding intended the messages: avoiding protected areas. The installation was designed to be re-usable and scalable to increase the reach of protective efforts.



San Marcos River, Communication design, Design for social impact, Texas wild rice, Human-centered design, Habitat conservation plan, San Marcos salamander, Sally salamander, Edwards Aquifer, Endangered species, Protected species


Weissenbuehler, A. (2017). <i>Swimming with the salamanders: Building immersive experiences to promote conservation of the San Marcos River</i> (Unpublished thesis). Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas.


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