Harte Research Institute ‘Bringing Baffin Back’ Initiative Selected as Texan by Nature Conservation Wrangler Project

Press Release
Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi
Date
Baffin Bay shoreline

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – A conservation project led by researchers at HRI, in conjunction with Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program (CBBEP), has been selected as a 2022 Conservation Wrangler. Conservation Wrangler is an accelerator program of Texan by Nature (TxN), a conservation nonprofit founded by former First Lady Laura Bush. The program catalyzes the very best Texan-led conservation projects occurring in the state. Selected projects are science-based and demonstrate a positive Return on Conservation for people, prosperity, and natural resources.

The project, Bringing Baffin Back: Restoring and Protecting a Texas Treasure (BBB), represents a sustained commitment to dramatically improve the health of Baffin Bay and the economy of local communities that it supports through partnerships between scientists, citizen groups, landowners, philanthropies, policy makers, local municipalities, state officials, non-governmental organizations, and private businesses. A primary cause of the decline in Baffin Bay’s health is excessive nutrient pollution from the bay’s watershed, most of it stemming from human activities, the team assessed in its Conservation Wrangler application.

BBB is one of only four selected Conservation Wranglers this year that will receive 18 months of tailored support from TxN. Support includes strategic planning, program management, marketing messaging, metrics capture and analysis, professional content production, and partnership development.

Led by Dr. Michael Wetz, HRI Chair for Coastal Ecosystem Processes, and Dr. Kiersten Stanzel, CBBEP Director of Partnerships, major goals of BBB are to find solutions to the water quality problems that are contributing to the decline in the health of Baffin Bay, restore key watershed and bay habitat that has been lost, foster stewardship, especially among younger generations of residents, and advance efforts to educate the public on the relationship between watershed and bay health.

“It’s considered the ‘jewel’ of the Texas Coast. Baffin Bay’s salty waters have traditionally supported world-class fishing for spotted seatrout, redfish, and black drum,” Wetz said. “However, there has been a significant decline in water quality that has led to deterioration in ecosystem health over the last two decades.”

In recent years, CBBEP has provided over $1 million in funding for Baffin Bay research/monitoring projects, education/outreach efforts, restoration planning projects and facilitation support for the efforts of the Baffin Bay Stakeholder Group (BBSG), a group of more than 130 members who seek to address the decline of water quality in Baffin Bay through restoration and management initiatives in a watershed that encompasses more than 1.5 million acres in six South Texas counties.

“Our goal with the BBB Initiative is to build on all of the important previous work that has been accomplished by CBBEP, HRI, and the numerous other partners working in the Baffin Bay region,” Stanzel said. “The Conservation Wrangler program will help bring increased visibility to the issues affecting Baffin Bay and will lead to new partnerships and increased resources available to address the water quality issues in Baffin Bay.”

Over the years, project partners have included Celanese Corporation, Coastal Conservation Association, Environmental Protection Agency, Kleberg County, Ed Rachal Foundation, Saltwater-fisheries Enhancement Association, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Texas General Land Office, Texas Sea Grant, and Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board. Support from partners has advanced research and monitoring, watershed restoration planning, and education and outreach efforts in Baffin Bay.

“Bringing Baffin Back is a prime example of HRI’s mission in action: providing science-driven solutions for the most pressing natural resource and community problems facing the Gulf of Mexico and its regional bodies of water,” said Dr. David Yoskowitz, HRI Senior Executive Director and Endowed Chair for Socio-Economics.

Joni Carswell, President and CEO of Texan by Nature, notes that the nonprofit received a diverse selection of Conservation Wrangler applications this year, representing an impressive range of focus areas and collaboration.

“The Bringing Baffin Back initiative utilizes an ecosystem approach model to collaboratively improve the overall health of the bay and the local economy,” said Carswell. “We are thrilled to work with their team through our Conservation Wrangler program over the next 18 months and look forward to sharing best practices, outcomes, and ways to participate in and scale these efforts and returns.” 

Texan by Nature will recognize the 2022 Conservation Wranglers at the annual Conservation Summit on Nov. 2, 2022, in Dallas.