A Comprehensive, Stakeholder-led Ecosystem Health Assessment for the Texas Coast to Prioritize Restoration Efforts

Principal Investigator

Texas is home to diverse, productive coastal ecosystems that support important fish and shellfish species, recreation and tourism, and income generation for coastal counties. The health of the Texas coast is affected by a complex suite of environmental stressors. To date, resource managers have lacked a standardized assessment protocol to identify issues of concern and prioritize management intervention.

The Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies (HRI) has developed a framework for assessing coastal ecosystem health utilizing a stakeholder engagement process coupled with rigorous analysis of long-term datasets to identify and quantify trends in key indicators of ecosystem health. One important output from this process is the Texas Coast Ecosystem Health Report Card, which takes findings and makes them widely accessible to stakeholders, including policymakers and the public. Findings from the first iteration of the Report Card are already informing strategic management efforts, such as those focused on nutrient pollution reduction in Baffin Bay.

Since publication of the first Report Card in 2019, HRI has received requests to include additional ecosystem health indicators and to develop economic health indicators in future assessments. There is also a desire by regional stakeholders to develop a series of complementary bay-specific Report Cards.

With Project of Special Merit (PSM) funding provided by the Texas General Land Office, HRI will complete the following tasks:

  1. Conduct regional stakeholder engagement and training workshops for ecosystem and economic health assessments.
  2. Compile data and assess trends for indicators of ecosystem and economic health.
  3. Produce an updated Texas Coast Report Card.
  4. Support production of bay-specific Report Cards.

 

The new bay-specific and coastwide Report Cards represent vital prioritization and planning tools for coastal restoration in Texas, with particular utility for projects in the Texas Coastal Resiliency Master Plan (CRMP). The CRMP includes 23 projects devoted to wetland restoration, 11 to rookery islands (bird habitat), 9 to oysters, 8 to watershed restoration (water quality), and 5 to freshwater inflows. Birds, oysters, water quality, seagrass and fish were indicators in the first iteration of the Texas Coast Report Card. To these, we will add wetlands, freshwater inflows and economics as new indicators, and fecal bacteria as an additional water quality metric.

HRI aims to produce the coastwide Report Card on a regular two-year cycle so that trends can be identified and quantified over time. This framework is modeled after highly successful efforts in the Chesapeake Bay. With funding from the Texas OneGulf Center of Excellence, HRI will have the resources to continue this work for at least the next decade. The PSM funding received for this project leverages that future support to provide tools and capacity to regional partners to support development of bay-specific Report Cards and an updated coastwide Report Card. By facilitating development of bay-specific Report Cards, this project will support local management plans in addition to providing a framework to prioritize proposed CRMP projects.

 

This project runs April 2021 through March 2023.