Seagrass Conservation Plan - 1999

Submerged seagrass meadows are recognized as a dominant, unique subtropical habitat in many Texas bays and estuaries. They play critical roles in the coastal environment, including nursery habitat for estuarine fisheries, major source of organic biomass for coastal food webs, effective natural agents for stabilizing coastal erosion and sedimentation, and major biological agents in nutrient cycling and water quality processes. Since recent global studies show that seagrasses are sensitive to nutrient enrichment and water quality problems, as well as physical stress from human disturbances, many Texas scientists, resource managers, and environmentally-aware citizens have become concerned about the ecosystem health of these subtropical habitats. Recent declines in seagrasses of Galveston Bay and some Coastal Bend regions has led to a consensus that concerted planning and actions are needed to address seagrass problems and to promote effective conservation and management solutions.

A coastwide Seagrass Conservation Plan for Texas (SCPT) has been developed since 1996, when the Symposium on Texas Seagrasses was held in Corpus Christi. This symposium, attended by over 100 people, resulted in vigorous discussion, brainstorming, and exchange of ideas. Seagrass problems were identified and categorized according to three separate thematic areas: research issues, management/policy issues, and education/public outreach. A variety of strategies and actions dealing with theme issues were proposed for implementation. TPW, TGLO, and TNRCC staff worked closely together with research scientists and educators, as well as staff from the Program Offices of the Corpus Christi and Galveston Bays National Estuary Programs, to prioritize the many issues affecting seagrasses. The results of this planning process are summarized in this document.

The three symposium sponsors, TPW, TGLO, and TNRCC, have taken the lead in producing this document because each agency has certain legislative authority or statutory jurisdiction pertaining to seagrasses or the coastal waters where they occur. The TPW is authorized by Chapter 14 of its code to develop a State-owned Wetlands Conservation Plan in conjunction with TGLO. Special provisions extend to determination of seagrass impacts and protection of seagrasses from various processes (such as boat traffic, altered hydrology, dredging, and non-point source pollution). TGLO is authorized to manage state public submerged lands where seagrasses grow, and in addition is the chief coordinator in the Texas Coastal Management Program process. TNRCC is charged with regulatory authority to enforce water quality programs and develop water quality criteria. Additionally TPW and TNRCC are the state agencies charged with reviewing either Sec. 404 permit impacts or 401 water quality certification in coastal wetlands, respectively.

The three agencies have targeted for immediate action certain critical issues to protect the health and quality of Texas seagrass beds. Texas Parks and Wildlife will focus on coastwide efforts to determine status and trends of seagrass beds and species distribution on a regular basis. Distribution data will be maintained in a central seagrass library and database developed by the resource agencies and research institutes. The Department will support public education and outreach activities which help protect seagrasses from human disturbances (such as motorboat prop damage, water quality degradation) through its Conservation Education Program with help from local groups such as the National Estuary Programs. The Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission with its considerable responsibility for water quality protection of seagrass habitat, will consider the addition of seagrasses as a beneficial aquatic-life use in the Texas Surface Water Quality Standards. TNRCC will also develop more defined procedures for conducting 401 certifications of federal permits which could affect seagrasses and other coastal habitats.

Other proposed measures that cut across agency lines represent cooperative efforts. 1) Coordination procedures in the permit review process will be strengthened and integrated between TGLO, TNRCC, USFWS, NMFS, and USACOE. Procedures and guidelines dealing with restoration and mitigation projects should be reevaluated and redesigned where necessary to protect existing seagrass beds. 2) The Texas General Land Office will work with TPW to take formal action to establish other Coastal Preserve areas, possibly in the Coastal Bend area of Texas, to protect sensitive seagrass ecosystems from coastal development impacts. 3) TNRCC will coordinate with TPW and other resource agencies in order to promote consistency and effectiveness of regulatory, watershed management programs which protect coastal water quality and seagrass habitat.

These efforts are seen as part of a holistic approach to seagrass conservation and are expected to be effective if implementation of high priority actions is accomplished within two years. It is the sponsors’ intent that additional implementation of identified strategies and actions would be attempted voluntarily by other groups, when appropriate opportunities arise. However, overall accomplishment of seagrass plan objectives will be achieved, only with the cooperative efforts of all parties. Texas’ natural resource agencies (TPW, TNRCC, and the TGLO) have jointly agreed to lead this effort. All are optimistic about the prospect of conserving one of Texas’ most valuable coastal resources.

For a copy of the full 1999 Seagrass Conservation Plan, please see the downloadable publications section at