CCA Texas Wraps up a Year of Habitat Achievements

John Blaha
CCA Texas Wraps up a Year of Habitat Achievements
Oyster Lake shoreline vegetation planting project. Photo by Lisa Laskowski.
2014 marked a year of significant habitat creation and restoration projects up and down the Texas coast. Several of these projects have been in the works for many years and through the hard work of partners they have become reality and a positive affect on Texas's coastal resources. These projects include the restoration of Cedar Bayou and Vinson Slough; the East Galveston Bay Oyster Restoration; the Nueces Bay Delta Water Management Systems; Oyster Lake Shoreline Protection (West Galveston Bay); Shoreline and Marsh Protection (Cow Trap Lakes); Bird Island Cove (West Galveston Bay) Marsh Restoration; Matagorda Island Marsh Restoration; and Port O'Connor Nearshore Reefing Site.

The East Galveston Bay Oyster Restoration
project is an effort that has been on going since the arrival of Hurricane Ike on September 13, 2008. Hurricane Ike damaged roughly 50% of the oyster reefs in the Galveston Bay System and upwards of 80% in East Galveston Bay alone. In September of 2010, CCA Texas began the process of trying to secure restoration dollars through the Coastal Impact Assistance Program (CIAP) that would be used to help in the restoration effort. After making it through the first round, CCA Texas partnered up with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) to move forward through the final rounds eventually securing $3.2 million for the effort. CCA Texas kicked in an additional $500,000 to the project. After many delays in the process, the project was finally bid and construction began in May of 2014. 180 acres of oyster reef have been restored in East Galveston Bay using 2" 3" river rock as cultch, and the set of oyster spat followed almost immediately. Areas of restoration include 85 acres at Hannah's, 70 acres at Pepper Grove, 15 acres at Middle Reef and 10 acres at CCA Middle Reef. This project will continue through monitoring by TPWD, volunteer fishing surveys on the reef sites, and outreach by both TPWD and CCA Texas.

The Nueces Bay Delta Water Management System
project was a joint effort with the Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries Program (CBBEP), Texas General Land Office and others. The salinity profile in the Nueces Delta had become the reverse of what is normal for a delta region over a period of years due to a lack of fresh water inflow. Through agreements, "x" amount of fresh water is pumped into the delta from the Nueces River channel through Rincon Bayou, but over time this water would often back up, going back into the river. This project installed a series of water control gates into Rincon Bayou in order to keep the water in the bayou and allow it to naturally work its way downstream into the delta. The delta has seen immediate benefit from this project and recent visits to the site have shown an increase in estuarine life and the return of grasses normally present are coming in line and the reversal of these salinity profiles. Fresh water is a lifeline to coastal estuary systems and CCA Texas and others will continue in the effort to secure this fresh water inflow into these systems and to make sure they have the opportunity for maximum benefit.

Cedar Bayou
is perhaps the most significant habitat project to date that CCA Texas has been a part of. Much has been written in the past about this historical effort, and on September 25, 2014, the effort finally became reality. Through the efforts of many dating back to the early 80's, this iconic fish pass is once again flowing to and from the Gulf of Mexico. Since the last issue of TSF Magazine, the bayou has changed tremendously. It has widened at the mouth, is no longer a straight channel, continues to provide flows to and from the Gulf, and has shown the general public how much Mother Nature can do in very short period of time. The project is expected to remain as a functional pass for 7 years, +/- 2 years, before maintenance dredging is necessary. A maintenance plan was key in securing CCA Texas's support early on, and to date Aransas County is moving forward in securing the necessary funds needed to make this reality. On October 15, 2014, this effort received a significant boost when the Sid Richardson Foundation committed $1,000,000 to the Cedar Bayou Maintenance Fund. Aransas County had previously committed at least $50,000 a year minimum in hotel occupancy taxes, and with the Richardson foundation commitment and that of the county, the project should be in good hands. On October 7, 2014, Dr. Greg Stunz and a group of students visited the bayou for demonstrations in the use of various sampling gear. During this trip, redfish larvae were found in an area where never once in the prior two years of monitoring had any been noted. The official monitoring began on October 23, 2014 and there has been an abundance of redfish larval and other species found, driving home the fact that natural coastal passes are important to the eco-systems of our Texas coast. CCA Texas is excited to continue following the results of this effort and look towards a long-lasting flow bringing fresh life into the surrounding bay and estuaries daily.

The Oyster Lake Shoreline Protection Project
continues to do well. Sediments continue to fill in behind the breakwaters installed, rebuilding the lost shoreline. In June of 2014 a grass planting effort was held with partner, Galveston Bay Foundation (GBF), volunteers from the Houston Zoo and others, and the vegetation is doing well. GBF continues to move forward with Phase II of the project that will install approximately 5,000 feet of additional breakwater and hopes to begin construction of this phase in the spring of 2015.

These projects and others such as Bird Island Cover Marsh Restoration, Matagorda Island Marsh Restoration and the Port O'Connor Nearshore Reefing site that are still ongoing are important to the health of our coast. CCA Texas is committed to ensuring that the Texas Coastal Habitat is healthy and looks forward to continuing its work with partners such as Texas Parks and Wildlife, Galveston Bay Foundation, Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries, Aransas County, Harte Research Institute, Ducks Unlimited and others. With the continued support of CCA Texas members, volunteers and supporters, habitat projects will continue to become reality.