Investing in the hardest working body of water in the world
A unique partnership has created an incredible opportunity to help rehabilitate the Gulf region.
By Laura Huffman, director of urban strategies The Nature Conservancy and director of the Conservancy’s Texas chapter.
Virtually everyone living in the United States has a vested interest in the viability of our coastal communities—they are home to a growing number of Americans, support our vast and mounting food and energy needs, and contribute millions to our annual economy. Nowhere is that more evident than in the Gulf of Mexico.
Check out these quick facts about the Third Coast:
• If the five Gulf states—Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida—were a country, that nation would comprise the 29th largest economy in the world.
• The Gulf is responsible for roughly 90 percent of all our offshore oil and gas production and is home to seven of the 10 busiest shipping ports in the country. In fact, the Port of Houston and Port of New Orleans are two of the busiest in the entire world.
• It supports one of the country's largest recreation and tourism industries, to the tune of $20 billion a year and more than 600,000 jobs.
• The Gulf produces more than a third of the seafood Americans eat, including 60 percent of our oysters and more than 80 percent of our shrimp.
The Gulf is, without question, one of the hardest working bodies of water in the country—and a cultural touchstone for millions of Americans (who can forget their first time seeing the ocean or wriggling their toes in the sand?). But it desperately needs nourishment. The region has lost nearly 50 percent of its wetlands, 60 percent of its seagrass beds and 50 percent of its oyster reefs—and industrial incidents such as the Deepwater Horizon and Galveston Bay oil spills have only exacerbated the situation. We are steadily stripping away the Gulf’s natural defenses, endangering wildlife, nature and the millions of residents who live in coastal communities.
© A protected salt marsh on Powderhorn Ranch, along the Gulf of Mexico @ Jerod Foster
So what do we do?
A unique partnership between The Nature Conservancy, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, Conservation Fund and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has created an incredible opportunity to help rehabilitate the Gulf region. Using fine money resulting from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the group has stewarded one of the largest single conservation investments in the history of Texas: the acquisition of Powderhorn Ranch.
The 17,000+-acre Powderhorn Ranch is one of the largest remaining tracts of unspoiled coastal prairie in the Lone Star State. Situated near the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Powderhorn boasts several miles of Matagorda Bay frontage, which acts as an important nursery for a variety of ecologically and economically important fish and shellfish, including brown shrimp, redfish, spotted sea trout and blue crab.
Its wetlands and coastal live oak forests provide important habitat for migrating songbirds—they use the areas to rest and refuel after an exhausting flight across the Gulf of Mexico. And conservation experts are certain the ranch will, in coming years, become a natural home for the federally endangered whooping crane (a flock currently nests each winter just 15-30 miles south of the property).
Natural, healthy coastal landscapes like Powderhorn Ranch are vital to the resilience of the entire Gulf Coast. The Census Bureau projects that, by 2025, more than 61 million people will call the Gulf region home—and mounting evidence shows that rising sea levels and storm surges pose a real risk to our coastal populations.
Prairies and marshlands act as a natural buffer during storms and hurricanes, protecting both people and property. And they are critical in helping filter the millions of gallons of freshwater that flow daily into the Gulf of Mexico.
Protecting Powderhorn Ranch protects the best of the last coastal prairies left in Texas and stitches together a network of protected lands that are vital to the restoration and health of the Gulf Coast. This isn’t just good conservation—this is what right looks like.
Laura Huffman heads The Nature Conservancy’s Urban Strategies Initiative and is state director for the Texas chapter. Follow her on twitter at @laurajhuffman.