Texas GEMS — Christmas Bay Coastal Preserve
The Christmas Bay Coastal Preserve, in Brazoria County, is a shallow 4,173 acre embayment in the southwestern portion of the Galveston Bay system. The Bay is a unique high quality subsystem of estuary that has not yet been greatly altered by human activity. The waters of Christmas Bay to the mean high tide line constitutes the preserve. It is approximately 5,700 acres in area. The preserve is one of the most ecologically productive bays of the Galveston complex.
Area of Influence:
12040205- Christmas Bay/Bastrop Bay/Austin Bayou (USGS Hydrologic
Units, Texas Maps).
4b- Estuarine Zone of the Gulf Prairies and Marshes ecological region (Ecoregions and Sub-regions of Texas).
Nearly level prairies are contiguous to extensive fresh and saline marshes and are transected by meandering streams which flow southeast into the western Galveston Bay estuary. Christmas Bay benefits from Brazoria NWR, a 42,000 acre protected wetland which contributes to the preserves productivity and helps protect its water quality.
Ecological and Cultural Characteristics
It is within the Gulf Prairies and Marshes ecological region. The prairies have extensive fresh and saline marshes and are transected by meandering streams which flow southeast into the western Galveston Bay estuary.
Rare/endangered/threatened species and natural communities with occurrence record on the Preserve include:
- Arcadia Reef Bird Rookery
- Follets Island Bird Rookery
The preserve is home to migratory and resident waterfowl and shorebirds. Stands of cordgrass provide feeding and nesting habitat for waterbirds. The Bay supports a higher diversity of finfish than any other portion of the estuary and has been designated a nursery area by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD). On the preserve, the Texas quahog (Mercenaria texana), an edible species of hard clam, inhabits the shallow-water perimeters.
The preserve retains some 250 acres of seagrass beds, primarily shoalgrass, with lesser amounts of turtle grass.
The preserve is home for migratory and resident waterfowl and shorebirds. There is no list of the specific waterfowl that migrate to the preserve every year.
The preserve is part of the western extent of the Galveston Bay Estuarine Complex.
The preserve is important to the entire estuary both as a nursery area and as an unaltered habitat to which highly developed areas of the bay can be compared. Water bodies which have dominant influence on the preserve are Bastrop Bayou, West Bay, Bastrop Bay, San Luis Pass, Cold Pass, and the Gulf of Mexico. The preserve receives appropriate amounts of fresh water and saltwater with mixing to form salinity gradients suitable to a variety of estuarine organisms. Bastrop Bayou is the principal source of fresh water inflow to the preserve.
Uniqueness of Natural Community:
Christmas Bay has high water quality, extensive oyster reefs, and fringing salt marsh habitat consisting of Spartina alterniflora, Batis maritima, and other species.
Land Ownership: The preserve is owned by the General Land Office (GLO).
Existing Designations: It is leased to TPWD and designated by the TPW Commission as a State Scientific Area.
Existing Monitoring Activities: Seagrass beds monitoring
Threats to Ecological Integrity:
Polluted discharges from state leased cabins on and around the preserve and seepage and direct discharge of sewage from developments along Follets Island are among threats to the Preserve.
Management Potential: Maintain environmental conditions on the Preserve, which are safe to both human health and the Preserve's natural system.
Source of Information
Resource Protection, TPWD. 1992. Christmas Bay Coastal Preserve Management Plan.