Cedar Bayou – A Year Later

John Blaha
Cedar Bayou – A Year Later
Arial photo of Cedar Bayou made October 10, 2015—note the sediment plume being carried to the gulf. A sure sign that natural scour within the channel is occurring. Photo by Lisa Laskowski.

Dynamic, when used as an adjective, describes a process or system characterized by frequent change, activity, or progress. When a person thinks of Cedar Bayou and Vinson Slough, one of the first things that comes to mind is dynamic. Cedar Bayou and Vinson Slough have been open and flowing to the Gulf for thirteen months as this article is being written and this pass to the Gulf has been changing and reshaping itself since the flow of water started on September 25, 2014. In the first 75 days the pass changed its course almost 400 feet toward to the south. Since that time the opening to the Gulf continues to move southward and changes can be seen with the occurrence of every major weather and tide event.

Many questions have been raised by concerned anglers and the general public after every weather event or change in the bayou. The first reaction is generally "what is happening?" and then people realize once again that the system is forever changing. The original designs for dredging Cedar Bayou and Vinson Slough called for Cedar Bayou to be dredged to a bottom width of 300 feet and 9 feet deep. Through the permitting process, this design was modified to 100 feet wide and 6 feet deep for both Cedar Bayou and Vinson Slough due to requirements put forward by the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) in the permitting process. This process also includes input from Federal and State agencies. Though this was not the design originally sought, it was approved and the effort to open Cedar Bayou and Vinson Slough finally became reality. A key component to the CCA Texas's financial commitment to the project was to have a maintenance component to the project to ensure that the pass remained open and, when necessary, maintenance dredging could be performed, based on surveys and behavior of the pass in the time prior to maintenance needs.

"Cedar Bayou is like having another kid," commented Aransas County Judge Burt Mills. Mills continued, "Like a kid, you watch over them and you worry about them, but you know in the end it is all going to be OK. Sometimes you have to help them along and with Cedar Bayou we are developing a maintenance plan and will do everything we can to keep it flowing."

Since dredging was completed in September 2014, recreational fishermen from across the state have visited the bayou to fish within it and also in the surf. There have been days when as many as 25 to 30 boats have been in the bayou at any given time. Fishing has been consistent throughout this time, but because it's fishing (and not always catching), some days are good and some days are not as good. Then you have those days when you experience a trip like never before and you simply seem to throw your bait in a fish's mouth every cast. Not only is Cedar Bayou providing a great benefit to the ecosystem, it is providing anglers from across the state with a very productive fishing destination.

The biological impacts of opening of Cedar Bayou and Vinson Slough were felt immediately. Within just a few days, first-year marine biology students from Texas A&M Corpus Christi visited the site with Dr. Greg Stunz to see how sampling was done for research and to see the project. After pulling some sampling equipment, one of the students came forward to Dr. Stunz with a few small fish in their hand and ask Dr. Stunz what they were. Redfish! In the prior two years of sampling in the Cedar Bayou area, not a single larval or fry redfish had been found. The opening of Cedar Bayou coincided with the beginning of the redfish fall spawning run and already the pass was paying dividends for the surrounding fishery. Post-opening surveys show that since the opening, the densities of redfish larvae at Cedar Bayou are significant and in line with other inlets. Harte Research Institute (HRI) sampling has also shown good presence of blue crab and Atlantic croaker, and also southern flounder. These post-opening surveys provided great data and reinforced the importance of coastal passes tying Texas's bays to the Gulf of Mexico. The immediate area of Cedar Bayou is rich with seagrass, habitat that is critical to the survival of many marine species during early parts of their life cycle. These seagrass beds have shown a resurgence in growth since the opening was accomplished, aided in great part by abundant rainfall across the region this past spring and summer.

"The opening of Cedar Bayou has provided a great benefit to the surrounding ecosystem," commented Quentin Hall, Masters of Science Graduate at Texas A&M Corpus Christi. "The area is alive with larvae of many marine animals and the growth and expansion of seagrass beds in the area has been great to see. The immediate and surrounding areas should see the benefit of this pass opening for years to come."

As a side note, Quentin graduated recently from Texas A&M with his Masters of Science. Quentin's thesis title was; Determination of Seasonal Abundance, Density, and Distribution of Nekton Species Proximal to Cedar Bayou Pre- and Post-Opening. His research focus was the effects of reopening a tidal inlet on nekton species. To read his thesis defense abstract and to view his public defense on line, please visit http://harteresearchinstitute.org/component/content/article/11-frontpage-news/290-watch-online-hri-master-s-student-quentin-hall. CCA Texas graciously thanks Quentin, Dr. Greg Stunz and the rest of the staff at HRI for their support and willingness to provide educational outreach about the ecological effects of the opening of Cedar Bayou to CCA Texas volunteer chapters across the state.

In closing, Cedar Bayou is a project that the majority of CCA Texas membership, CCA Texas leadership and the general public have heartily endorsed and supported. The project has had its ups and downs, but it has been a full year and it continues to flow strongly between Mesquite Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. As I close this article, I must say it has been a very trying week–rumors and inaccurate reports circulating on social media of sudden and drastic changes in the main channel causing the pass to close as a seasonal "bull" tide receded.

I and others have visited the bayou twice in the last 5 days, and even within those 5 days we have seen changes. The area called "closed" was running 3 to 4 feet deep on the second visit and current was moving strongly to the Gulf. Some areas had as little as 12" to 18" flowing across sand flats and then some of the main guts had water over 8 foot deep and running like a swollen river. Remember, by the time you are reading this article it will likely have changed once again, for the worse in some cases and for the better in others. In the end, Mother Nature is in ultimate control and we are all here to try our best to help her along and make right what mankind may have disturbed in prior years.

Thank you to CCA Texas members, the general public and agencies that all supported not only this effort, but all of the other worthy conservation projects of CCA Texas throughout the year. Merry Christmas May your lines be tight throughout the holiday season!