Published: September 2014 – Southern Boating
© 2014 Troy Gilbert
Coastal Texas’ Laguna Madre is one of the most remote, picturesque and forgotten cruising grounds throughout the Gulf Coast. Situated between Padre Island and the mainland of Texas, this narrow 130 mile long lagoon stretches from near the Mexican border to Corpus Christi. It then extends further north along the coast where it transforms into a series of bays and tidal lagoons that lead to Galveston and the Houston Ship Channel. Already known to have natural hyper salinity levels due to the few breaks in the barrier islands that open into the Gulf of Mexico, evaporation coupled with a near record inland drought drying up fresh water runoff have led to unusual and damaging salinity levels. With ecosystems, the seafood industries and the recreational fishing harvest suffering, a dredging project is now underway that seeks to restore a natural bayou that in the past allowed the transfer of water between the Gulf and these inner bays.
This $9.4M project will reopen and restore Cedar Bayou which was originally closed 35 years ago to protect against the offshore Ixtoc I oilspill in Mexican waters that threatened the Texas coast and the waters of Aransas and Mesquite Bays. Cedar Bayou was once a major “breathing” point for these nearly landlocked waters and home to an incredible fishing ground for redfish, speckled trout and flounder as well as a water exchange and breeding ground for fish, shrimp and crabs. Most of these marine creatures breed at the entrances to these inlets where tidal forces can then carry the fertilized eggs deep into the estuaries and creates a natural cycle as the young then return to the Gulf.
Over a decade ago, a group of concerned citizens formed the organization Restore Cedar Bayou and coupled with a growing body of data from coastal scientists documenting the lower seafood production, the county and eventually the state became involved. This pressure and visibility led to several unsuccessful attempts in the past to reopen Cedar Bayou, but coastal scientists are hopeful that a better understanding of how these inlets work coupled with more funding will succeed this time. Scheduled to be complete in mid-October, the entrance to the bayou will eventually extend 100 feet at the mouth and have a depth of 6 feet.
The work is also specifically timed for the redfish spawning season and the return of a wild flock of whooping cranes that winters on these islands and based on past dredging efforts, scientists expect a rapid recovery for the ecosystem in that area. Nurturing this ecosystem back to health will only add to an already stunning cruising ground and productive fishery and help grow the recreational and charter boating economy along the Texas coast.