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
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.
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
"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
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.