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From the Brownsville Herald Copyright 2004

Greenhouse to help with restoring Bahia
Dedication held for the 4,000-square-foot fiberglass structure

BROWNSVILLE, TX, Dec 12, 2020 - Behind its modest exterior, the greenhouse hides its true and environmental purpose.

The Bahia Grande Greenhouse, which until recently was used as a storage room at the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College, will not be used solely to be a birthing home for plants; it will be used to help return the Bahia Grande Wetlands to its original splendor.

The Wetlands Restoration project is under the coordination of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

UTB-TSC officials held a dedication for the 4,000-square-foot fiberglass greenhouse on Tuesday, with representatives from most of the businesses and organizations in partnership with the restoration project. According to university officials, the restoration of the greenhouse was completed in partnership with Ocean Trust, the Gulf of Mexico Foundation, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration Community-based Restoration Program and Marco Sales, a Brownsville-based seafood company.

The restoration was funded through the Ocean Trust, who paid for the materials, and UTB-TSC, who paid for the labor. Employees from Marco Sales also helped in the physical restoration. Editor's Note: Due to incomplete information provided by a source, this story inadvertently left out funding information from Gulf of Mexico Foundation and the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration. According to a source, the two groups issued a grant to OceanTrust who then helped fund the Bahia Grande Greenhouse. The Herald apologizes for the error.

The restoration of the greenhouse, located next to Scorpion Field, includes the addition of four rain gutters that each holds 1,000 gallons of water for use in the greenhouse, according to Elizabeth Heise, a professor of environmental sciences at UTB-TSC.

The greenhouse also has a solar panel that runs electricity to pumps that pump the water back into the building. The greenhouse holds four rooms with 2,000 native plants, including mangrove, grasses, spartina (a smooth shore grass), and native grasses from the Bahia Grande, Heise said. Students in the JASON project, Gorgas Science Society and ENLACE/BASE projects on campus completed the planting.

The greenhouse and the plants will be maintained through coordinated effort between Heise and Mary Jane Shands, the JASON project director. Student volunteers will maintain the plants in the greenhouse.

"As soon as the pilot channel is cut (in the Bahia Grande), we will start taking the plants out," Heise said. "And we will keep refilling the greenhouse until the project is complete ... in 15 to 20 years."

There is no definitive date for the project to begin, although John Wallace, the manager at the Laguna Atascosa, joked during the dedication that the digging on the channel will begin in three months.

He said that two years ago, when he began working on the restoration project, digging on the channel would begin in three months. "It's still the same answer," he told the gathered group at UTB-TSC. "Even now."

The 6,500-acre Bahia Grande is part of the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge and in the 1930s, along with the Laguna Larga and the Little Laguna Madre, was an important area to the lower Rio Grande Valley.

According to Stephen Labuda, the U.S. coordinator for the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo Ecosystem for the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, records indicate that in the 1920s, sailboats sailed through the Bahia Grande. Not only was the water body home to gulls and terns who nested there, the Bahia Grande was home to shrimp, crabs and other shell life.

During the 1930s, when the ship channel was dug out, the dirt and sand blocked the seawater from continuing into the tidal bay area. So for the last 75 years, the Bahia Grande has been mostly dried up, he said, flooded only by rainwater.

Labuda said this is the largest restoration project anyone has ever attempted. The largest known restoration project covered some 25 to 50 acres. This project includes the 6,500 acres of the Bahia Grande as well as the more than 3,000 combined acres of the Laguna Larga and Little Laguna Madre.

Read this article online at The Brownsville Herald.