Bahia Grande Ecosystem Recovery

Full Title: Is the Bahia Grande currently functioning as a fishes nursery, and what are the associated resource management implications?

Managers need to know if the Bahia Grande ecosystem is functioning as a nursery and/or foraging grounds for fish to make informed decisions regarding whether to open Bahia Grande to public use.

An aerial photo of the Bahia Grande
Photo by Richard Stockton

 

Lead Investigator: Carlos E. Cintra Buenrostro, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, carlos.cintra@utrgv.edu

Natural Resource Manager: Sergio J. Vazquez, Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge

Project Team: Alejandro Fierro Cabo, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

Federal Program Officer/Point of Contact: Frank Parker (frank.parker@noaa.gov)

Award Amount: $126,663

Award Period: This project began in September 2021 and will end in August 2022.

Why it matters: The Bahia Grande complex is a recovering estuarine system within the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, which is currently one of the largest restoration projects in the country. Tidal exchange between this system and the Lower Laguna Madre was interrupted in the 1930’s, effectively converting the basin into a dust bowl. This condition remained until a channel was dredged in 2005, connecting the system to the Lower Laguna Madre, allowing flooding and limited tidal exchange. The goal of this intervention was to restore the Bahia Grande to a functional estuarine ecosystem. Following the restoration, recovery is occurring, but progress has slowed. A new restoration effort (widening of the channel) is currently underway with expectations of further system recovery. 

What the team is doing:  Widening of the main connecting channel to the Bahia Grande is now considered the most relevant future intervention and is expected to be completed in 2021. This rehabilitation of tidal hydrological patterns is expected to reduce salinities and improve habitat for estuarine species. New restoration intervention will lead to an increase in abundance of economically important fish species in the Bahia Grande. Growing interest from recreational anglers and other stakeholders is likely to increase pressure in the near future for its further opening to fishing and general public use. Managers need to know if the estuary is already functioning as nursery and/or foraging grounds for fish to make informed decisions about public use. 

Expected outcome: The team will design a research and monitoring project that will generate key information on integrating habitat characterization with analyses of fish recruitment and dispersal, as well as the trophic dynamics of the Bahia Grande unit of the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge.