A Bay for All Seasons... For All the Right Reasons...
What has been described as one of the most productive ecosystems known?
What bay is worth over $400 million to Texas business yearly from jus a sport fishing and recreational use?
Where does 80% of the North American population of Redhead ducks spend the winter?
What bay produces over 50% of the fish catch in Texas?
Where does 1/3 of the Great Plains population of endangered Piping Plover spend 9 months of the year?
What bay system has been described as more productive than a coral reef for producing fish?
Where can 100's of threatened Peregrine Falcons find refuge in their migrations?
What is the only bay left in Texas that still has large areas of seagrass?
What bay contains the largest concentration of breeding Reddish Egrets in the world?
Where can you find one of the only three hypersaline bays in the world?
THE LAGUNA MADRE OF TEXAS
Yes, and that's not all! Amazing facts about the Laguna Madre are numerous because the area is so UNIQUE. For instance, did you knonw that despite being a relatively large bay, that the Laguna Madre averages less than 3 feet in depth? The rest of the bays of Texas tend to be much deeper. This extreme shallowness in combination with hypersaline environment account for the unique nature of the Laguna Madre.
That's right... hypersaline. That means very salty. In fact, the Laguna Madre is saltier than the Gulf of Mexico or any ocean for that matter. There are only a few such bays in the world. The warm, dry climate, and low annual rainfall account for a high rate of evaporation in the laguna that concentrates the salt. In addition, no major
rivers empty into the Laguna Madre. Even the Rio Grande empties directly into the Gulf of Mexico instead of the bay. The lack of major rivers, which would bring turbid and muddy waters, means that the Laguna Madre is the clearest bay in Texas.
A SEAGRASS DOMINATED SYSTEM
The combination of clear and shallow waters means that ample sunlight reaches the bay bottom to promote the luxurient seagrass growth. Seagrasses are the basis for the high natural productivity in the Laguna Madre. Seagrasses serve as both food and shelter for most of the life in the open bay. Commercially important fishes feed regularly in the seagrass beds. Up to 80% of the world population of Redhead ducks winters here. They feed on a seagrass, shoalgrass (Halodule wrightii), which grows especially well in the hypersaline conditions.
TIDAL FLATS - The Laguna Madre's Other Wetland
Tidal flats are areas of tidally influenced wetlands that are largely unvegetated. They can be either sand flats or mud flats. Hypersalinity is the major factor that influences their formation. The very salty water prevents the growth of marsh grasses that are so common in wetlands bordering other bays, both in North America and around the world. Tidal flats are the major reason why the Laguna Madre supports so many unique and often threatened bird species. Reddish Egrets, Piping Plovers, 100's of thousands of shorebirds, and Peregrine Falcons are uncommon in other bays but common to abundant here. These are all species that are attracted to large areas of tidal flat.
WHAT'S THE BOTTOM LINE?
ECONOMICALLY, the surrounding communitities benefit greatly from these conditions. Both commercial and sport fishing are important. Annual recreational catch of red drum and spotted seatrout for the Laguna Madre outnumbers even Galveston Bay, a nationally recognized estuary. The total economic impact of just this one industry has been placed at $238 million dollars.
The impact from other recreational activities (boating, hunting, swimming, sightseeing, etc.) has been estimated at $188 million. The largest shrimp fleet in Texas is stationed at the southern tip of the Laguna Madre. Although shrimping is actually only allowed in the Gulf of Mexico, the bay acts as a nursery ground for developing and growing shrimp. Harvested shrimp are valued at about $50 million each year.
Taxes from these activities amount to millions of dollars to both Texas and the surrounding communities.
HOW MUCH IS THAT HERON WORTH?
Of course, there are values other than just economic ones. What price can we place on a flock of Brown Pelicans doing what they have done for thousands of years? Must we justify in mere dollars the glory of a pink Roseate Spoonbill? Do joy and solitude, friendship and contemplation count for nothing?
Such sights and sounds may be difficult to value but they are surely not worthless. Indeed, the true value of a day's fishing on the bay with family or friends may be PRICELESS.