Breathing New Life into a Dying Estuary – Restoration project seeks to restore hundreds of acres of marsh habitat along the mid-Texas Coast.

A healthy marine estuary is one of the most biologically diverse and active ecosystems on the planet, and also one of the most fragile. Blocking the natural tidal exchange of water is a sure-fire way to turn a lush marsh into a relatively barren open pond, and that is exactly what was happening to an area known as Egery Flats in upper Copano Bay in the mid-Texas coast. In a project that stands to impact hundreds of acres of marsh, CCA Texas and the Building Conservation Trust, CCA’s national marine habitat program, are helping to breathe new life into a dying estuary.

“The flats were dying and while the cause was simple to identify, the cure was complicated and more extensive than you might initially think,” said John Blaha, CCA Texas Director of Habitat. “To bring this area back to life and make it productive again meant restoring large-scale water flow, which is a fairly significant construction project. But the value of revitalizing this area is incalculable – almost every marine creature utilizes a healthy estuary at some point in its life cycle.”

Egery Flats sits on the western edge of Copano Bay near the mouth of the Aransas River and has been slowly due to road construction since 1945. Two 30-inch, round culverts were installed at the time to allow water flow but were woefully inadequate to the task from the start. Over time, the culverts became almost completely blocked.

Revitalization plans called for the replacement of the two 30-inch culverts with three 36-inch by 72-inch box culverts in two locations. Phase one of the project started in August 2018, with phase two kicking off in December 2018. Once the replacement of these culverts is completed, additional efforts such as marsh grass plantings will help jump start the long-term goal of a restored and healthy marsh. CCA Texas and BCT contributed $70,000 to be used primarily to plant approximately eight acres of emergent marsh to help enhance the re-vegetation of the flats.

“This hydrological restoration project will lead to reduced salinities in Egery Flats and will improve conditions for more than 600 acres of marsh, submerged aquatic vegetation, and tidal flats,” commented Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries Program Project (CBBEP) Manager, Rae Mooney. “It will lead to overall increased ecological productivity in this area as these habitats serve as a critical nursery for finfish and shellfish and important feeding grounds for waterfowl, wading birds and shorebirds.”

Prior to the start of construction, CBBEP worked with Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve (MANEER) at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute and the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) to collect pre-construction data, including salinity and vegetation monitoring. When the project is fully completed, monitoring will continue to determine the success of the restoration effort.

“Partnerships are a key and critical component in completing projects such as Egery Flats,” commented CCA Texas Habitat Today for Fish Tomorrow Committee Chairman Jay Gardner. “We are excited to see the outcome of this important project, and we look forward to continuing to work with Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries Program and other partners in the future.”

Photos by Lisa Laksowski