Monitoring efforts are underway at the state’s largest wetland restoration project in the Rio Grande Valley. Richard Moore takes us out with fisheries biologists who are sampling Bahia Grande’s expanding aquatic resources.

Bahia Grande, the sprawling 25,000-acre United States Fish and Wildlife tract just north of Highway 48 between Brownsville and Port Isabel, is the largest wetland restoration project in the state of Texas.

The 10,000 acres of wetlands being restored had been a vast dust bowl since being cut off from the Laguna Madre by the construction of the Brownsville ship Channel in the 1930’s.

After many years of cooperative effort with various groups, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service purchased the property in 2000 and in 2005 dug a pilot channel partially filling the wetland.

This abated the dust problem, but the channel needs to be widened to provide adequate tidal flow, which will keep the estuary from becoming hyper saline.

Boyd Blihovde, Manager at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge of which Bahia Grande is a part, says work on the permanent channel that would create a fully functioning estuary could begin as early as the end of this year. Even without the permanent channel, Bahia Grande is supporting remarkable aquatic life.

“We have shown that seagrass comes back, oyster beds come back, and not only that but the fish populations and even sea turtles are using Bahia Grande.”

Monitoring studies are underway at Bahia Grande using bag seines, gill netting and other means to determine baseline data on the estuary revealing populations of shrimp, black drum and many other marine species. This research will continue after construction of the permanent channel to ascertain just how successful the restoration will ultimately be with the hope of eventually opening Bahia Grande to the public for fishing and other recreation.

“I think it proves that sometimes it is very simple, the restoration process. In this case, you just really add water and the wildlife will come back.” Says Blihovde.