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From the Houston Chronicle Copyright 2003

Estuary project brings new life to wetlands

Carrie Robertson photo
Students from a Brownsville school bring plants they raised in their classroom to the new Bahia Grande mangrove nursery funded by the Gulf of Mexico Foundation.

PORT ISABEL, TX, Nov 4, 2021 (AP) - Engineers weren't thinking about shrimp larvae or wading egrets in the 1930s when they scooped out the ship channel that would allow boats from around the world to reach the inland docks at the Port of Brownsville.

But piles of relocated sand created a barrier that staunched the tides that supplied the Bahia Grande, which translates roughly to "vast bay." Building the narrow highway to Brownsville dammed things further. Save for the occasional torrential downpour, the Bahia Grande was left a crust of its former self, on windy days spewing blinding clouds of dust.

In the largest estuary restoration project in the United States, the federal government and Port of Brownsville will be digging a series of channels to recreate an 11,000-acre preserve for Gulf of Mexico fish and wildlife.

As mapping for the actual channels goes through its final machinations, environmentalists, businessmen and local schoolchildren planned to gather today for the project's ceremonial launch. The children have hatched seeds for the mangroves that will line the restored wetlands, and a local shrimping company has built the greenhouse to nurture more young plants. The greenhouse project was funded by the Gulf of Mexico Foundation.

Re-flooding was being suggested by 1939, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service biologist David Blankinship said, and he began advocating the idea in the 1970s. "It's sort of been the dream ... of everyone," he said.

John Wallace, manager for the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, which now includes the Bahia, said estuaries are finally being recognized as among the most productive habitats in the world.

Like the Laguna Madre separating mainland Texas from the long, narrow Padre Island National Seashore, the Bahia will be a warm, shallow and hyper-saline nursery for Gulf Coast marine life, including shrimp, crabs, redfish and trout, as well as a haven for birds and waterfowl to feed and breed.