Protection of Fragile Coastal Ecosystems: Texas Coastal Preserves

Written by Ed Hegen, Coastal Region 2 Director

The Texas coastal boundary, which exceeds over 2 million acres of open water, marshlands and tidal flats, contains a multitude of natural landscapes, fragile ecological communities and a diversity of unique plants and animals. The Texas Legislature has addressed and delegated the authority to protect and manage coastal resources to a number of state agencies including Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) and the General Land Office (GLO). Each of these agencies has specific responsibilities and authorities through which they achieve their respective missions, however, a memorandum of agreement in 1987 provided a basis and guidelines for cooperation for preservation and protection of the state’s natural coastal resources, through the creation of the Texas Coastal preserve program.

The management goals of the Texas Coastal Preserve program are to: 1) protect unique coastal areas and fragile biological communities; 2) explore methods of preservation of the states’ natural resources; and 3) involve all concerned parties.

The specific mechanism of the Coastal Preserve system is leasing of state owned submerged lands to TPWD for management. The lease documents contain other stipulations emphasizing protection, management, recreational use and education. TPWD has simultaneously adopted all preserves as scientific areas, thus further enhancing its ability to research and preserve the rich flora and fauna of these areas.

seagrass protection area sign

Since 1988 five areas have been designated Texas Coastal Preserves. The first and most southerly, is South Bay, a 3,420-acre estuary in Cameron County at the end of the Texas Laguna Madre. It borders the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services’ Loma Ecological Preserve. It contains mangroves, seagrasses, alga flats and oyster reefs. The oysters of South Bay are genetically distinct from those of other Texas bays, most likely in response to the almost continuous hypersaline conditions in the bay.

Welder Flats Coastal Preserve, 1,480 acres of submerged land in San Antonio Bay, Calhoun County, lies across the bay from the Aransas Natural Wildlife Refuge, the important wintering habitat of the endangered whooping crane. Cranes have been observed on the preserve and its unique wetland nature provides ideal feeding habitat for the birds that are expanding their wintering grounds as their population numbers increase.

In 1991, two areas within the Galveston Bay complex were added to the Coastal Preserve system. The Armand Bayou Coastal Preserve comprises 290 acres of state owned submerged land in Armand Bayou, a tidal tributary of the western shore of Galveston Bay. The bayou is one of the last bayous in Texas that is not channelized. The preserve contains patches of salt marshes, bottomland hardwoods and diverse plant and animal species. Adjacent to the bayou is Armand Bayou Park, a 2,500-acre wilderness area and wildlife refuge. Although admired for its unspoiled beauty, Armand Bayou is in the direct vicinity of a multitude of human activities and is impacted by such things as wastewater discharge, industrialization subsidence and the threat of development.

The Christmas Bay Coastal Preserve is a 4,831-acre bay adjacent of West Bay below San Luis Pass. The preserve is bordered by Follet’s Island and the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge. The bay is fringed with marshes and contains numerous oyster reefs, over 250 acres of seagrass beds and a variety of fish and wildlife resources. The bay has had minimal man-made alterations and is a favorite area for anglers, duck hunters, and bird watchers.

kayaker in seagrass beds

In 2000, the TPWD Commission approved two scientific areas on the central coast for the protection of submerged aquatic plants. Several years of effort by the Seagrass Conservation Task Force, stakeholders interested in marine habitat conservation, paid off. The Redfish Bay State Scientific Area, near Aransas Pass, contains approximately 14,000 acres of seagrasses. “Voluntary No-prop Zones” were established in this area to protect the five unique species of seagrasses from being damaged by outboard motor propellers. The Nine Mile Hole State Scientific Area, in the upper Laguna Madre, has a combination of voluntary and mandatory no-prop zones.

The umbrella of protection of the preserve system is already working. For instance, a request for a large water discharge into Christmas Bay has been withdrawn as a result of the preserves status. As a result of grant monies and private donations, Welder Flats now has in place a series of protection booms in the event of a spill in the ICWW. Seismic operations in South Bay were modified to minimize damage. Grants monies have been obtained to produce information billboards at boat ramps near the seagrass preserves as well as produce literature by which to inform fisherman of proper boating etiquette and seagrass awareness.

The Texas Coastal Preservation System is but one of the many mechanisms by which the states’ fragile and unique ecosystems are protected and managed for the future.


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