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TPWD Extends Redfish Bay Seagrass Protection
AUSTIN — The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) extended indefinitely the protection of seagrass within the Redfish Bay State Scientific Area (RBSSA) by a vote taken during Thursday’s Commission meeting. This ruling removes the termination date of the state scientific area designation and thus extends the “no uprooting seagrass with a boat propeller” law in the area.
Shallow-water seagrass meadows are among the most productive marine habitat types on earth, next to coral reefs, salt marshes and mangroves. They provide many ecosystem services such as nutrient cycling which can prevent large-scale algal blooms, sediment stabilization promoting water clarity and preventing erosion, and oxygenation of the water column and sediment. Seagrasses form the foundation of the food web as well as protection and shelter for larvae, juvenile and adult finfish and shellfish, and thus, help sustain multi-million dollar fisheries in Texas.
Extensive field studies were conducted by Coastal Fisheries staff that demonstrated the current rule has been effective. The research biologists counted propeller scars along transects located in the north and south ends of Redfish Bay during the summers of 2005-2009. The number of scars counted in the transect study decreased 45 percent during that period. Coastal Fisheries also used aerial photography to monitor propeller scarring at the north end of Redfish Bay. High resolution imagery was acquired in 2007, 2008, and 2009 and the analysis confirmed a reduction in scarring of seagrass habitat in the area.
Redfish Bay was designated a state scientific area in 2000 for the purpose of education, scientific research, and preservation of flora and fauna of scientific or education value. When the state scientific area came up for its five-year renewal in 2005, TPWD changed the rule to prohibit the uprooting of seagrass in the area. At that time Coastal Fisheries launched a comprehensive outreach and education campaign regarding the change in regulation and the importance of seagrass. Efforts included presentations to constituency groups, local elected officials, media personnel and scientific organizations; publishing of magazine and newspaper articles; radio and television spots including “Lift, Drift, Pole, Troll” public service announcements; and installation of informational signs around the perimeter, within the local area, and at the nine boat ramp entry points of RBSSA. In addition, a curriculum about boating in seagrass meadows was inserted into Boater Education courses taught throughout the state. A webpage was developed for the TPWD website providing the public with information regarding seagrasses, the current regulation as well as downloadable files of signage and maps detailing RBSSA.
In order to assess the effectiveness of the combined education and outreach efforts to date in RBSSA a survey of the boaters using the area was conducted. One survey took place in 2006 before the regulation went into effect and the other occurred this past winter. Results of the 2010 survey showed that 86 percent of respondents were aware of the regulation, while 85 percent of those respondents reported that their boating behavior had changed in RBSSA due to the regulation. The most common way they changed their boating behavior was by avoiding known shallow areas.
Comments received at the two public hearings held in April were in favor of continuing these conservation efforts in Redfish Bay. In addition, constituents showed interest in possible expansion of seagrass protection to other areas of the Texas coast.
Coastal Fisheries Division Director Robin Riechers assured the commissioners that the regulation will be reviewed periodically like all regulations to determine how well it is working or to determine if any changes are needed.
For more information on seagrass and boating in the Redfish Bay State Scientific Area, see the Seagrasses pages on the TPWD Web site.
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