Habitat and Living Resources

Estuaries - where saltwater and freshwater mix - contain some of the most valuable, diverse, and productive natural resources in Texas. One-third of the population and economic resources in Texas are located along a narrow stretch of coastline comprising just 6% of the state’s total area. In the Coastal Bend, it has been estimated that more than 70% of the economy is dependent on the three major estuarine systems; Aransas-Copano, Corpus Christi-Nueces, and upper Laguna Madre-Baffin Bay.

The eight principal estuarine habitats in the Coastal Bend are open bays, hard substrates (e.g. jetties), oyster reefs, seagrass meadows, coastal marshes, tidal flats, barrier islands, and Gulf beaches. Associated terrestrial habitats include coastal prairies, chaparral forests, and farmlands. Together these habitats are home to more than 3,200 species of plants and animals.

Of particular importance in the Coastal Bend is the abundance of fish and shellfish that accounts for over 30% of all Texas seafood harvested each year. In addition, nearly 5 million people visit the region annually for outdoor activities such as fishing, hunting, bird watching, camping, and sailing. In 1995, tourism generated $470 million in output and $286 million in value-added to the region, and provided nearly 11,000 jobs.

Impacts to the estuaries from a variety of sources are of great concern because of the potential to disrupt the relatively delicate equilibrium that exists. Negative impacts result from oil spills, dredging, habitat loss from development, and other activities that may be avoided or reduced through awareness and cooperation between private, local, state, and federal entities.

Why it Matters 

Primary Productivity: Coastal wetlands and seagrass meadows in association with the other estuarine habitats are more than twice as productive as the most productive agricultural lands. This primary productivity is what helps drive Gulf and bay food chains and keeps fish and shellfish populations healthy.

Function: In addition to biological production, estuarine habitats are important for flood control, storm surge protection, and water filtration. Wetlands act like a giant sponge, absorbing flood waters and trapping contaminants from upland runoff. Barrier islands and wetlands also provide a natural buffer for dissipating wave energy during storms and hurricanes.

Wildlife: Estuarine habitats support thousands of plant and animal species. Close to 500 different species of birds alone occur in the Coastal Bend making it one of the premier bird watching locations in the country. Recovery of the endangered Whooping Crane from a low of about 15 individuals in 1941 would have failed without preserving the critical wintering habitats found in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.

Education: Estuarine habitats make excellent outdoor classrooms for students of any age. Grade school students get a firsthand introduction to natural sciences, while college students may participate in research and monitoring efforts to better understand estuarine functions.

What's Being Done?

The Corpus Christi Bay National Estuary Program (CCBNEP) was established in 1992 with the mission to develop a plan to protect and restore the health of the three estuarine systems in the Coastal Bend. Over 100 different user groups are participating in the development of the Coastal Bend Bays Plan, which aims to create a balance between environmental and economic goals in the region.

The Plan provides a framework for tracking changes to natural resources in the region and sets targets for habitat restoration and impact reduction. Actions in the Plan are aimed to protect and enhance endangered species habitat, reduce shrimp trawl bycatch, and control exotic species and harmful algal blooms.

The CCBNEP has also compiled a series of characterization reports focusing on habitats and living resources. The published reports identify habitat changes and suggest probable causes for these changes.

Partnerships with the cities of Refugio and Ingleside are leading to innovative solutions protecting natural habitats and living resources. Using local funds to match grants from the CCBNEP and other state agencies, these communities are incorporating habitat and stormwater management practices into public projects – at a reasonable cost. Both demonstration projects utilize enhanced habitat areas constructed in conjunction with park developments.

The Texas General Land Office in conjunction with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service initiated the Adopt-a-Habitat Program. The Program’s first nature preserve - the Mollie Beattie Coastal Habitat Community on Mustang Island - was dedicated in 1996. This 1,000 acre preserve encompasses coastal wetlands, seagrass meadows, and tidal flats which are important habitats for endangered and threatened species such as the Piping Plover, Reddish Egret, Snowy Plover, and Peregrine Falcon. The preserve will also be utilized for grade school education and scientific research.

What You Can Do

Enjoy the environment - Go bird watching, fishing, hiking, or camping and appreciate all that the Coastal Bend has to offer.

Be Informed - Visit one of many environmental educational facilities in the Coastal Bend. The Texas State Aquarium offers a fish-eye view of marine and estuarine ecosystems. The University of Texas Marine Science Institute at Port Aransas has an educational center and library specializing in estuarine and marine titles.

Practice Habitat Conservation - Participate in volunteer programs such as Texas Watch, Aquatic Wild, and Adopt-a-Wetland. These programs provide opportunities for all age levels to learn about the local environment while helping to protect our natural resources. If you are a land owner, the Texas General Land Office, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Department of Agriculture offer financial and technical assistance programs to preserve or restore habitat on private lands.

Visit Conservation Areas - Outdoor laboratories offer excellent educational experiences. Most provide guided or self-guided tours. Exceptional facilities can be found at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Welder Wildlife Refuge, and the Corpus Christi Botanical Gardens.