Journalist Kayaks Texas Coast to Highlight Environmental Volatility


The fragile Texas Coast is a primary feeding ground for migratory birds, and is home to several bird species year round.
Photo credit: Carole Smith/Flickr.com

If you've ever wanted to explore a volatile ecosystem, to discover the ways humans are reshaping the landscape, then NaturallySavvy has unearthed a blog you're sure to follow faithfully. Journalist Colin McDonald of the San Antonia Express-News has set out to kayak the Texas Coast, from the Sabine River to the Rio Grande, and he's sharing his story with readers via his blog.It's called The Uncharted Coast.

And McDonald's reason behind it is simple, and he sums it up like this: "On the mud and sand that make up the Texas Coast nothing is permanent. Federal charts mark parts of the shore with a dashed line. It's left unsurveyed with no defined division between the land and sea. At this edge, hurricanes render cities into ghost towns. Industries boom and bust. Species pushed to the brink of extinction recover while others vanish. People invent new ways to survive."

His plan is ambitious, but so far so good.

McDonald has paddled through the waters of several communities, talking to environmental experts and regular townspeople to get a feel for the human and environmental impact on the ecosystems.

His "Pretty Mud" post looks at the migratory birds that flock to the Christmas Bay area, one of the few areas along the coast that has an abundance of clean, fresh water most likely due to the absence of industry along this shore. But as a mark of the broad spectrum of ecosystem health, a later post highlights the environmental and human health impact of heavy industry.

"Surfside" touches on the economics of oil refining—that it's cheaper to burn off a mistake in the oil refining process than shut down the plant and start over again (never mind the pollution created by a three-day burn of petroleum products). It also reveals the Coast Guard lets people fish in restricted areas so long as they steer clear of the benzene barges. (Benzene is highly flammable chemical and a known carcinogen.)

Sometimes past policy is to blame: "The Wolves of Wolf Island" considers extinction of a species (brought on by over-hunting), and the move by other species to fill the void (welcome, coyotes). Other times, the issues are complicated by mother nature herself. "The Pits" considers the potential threat of a former waste sludge disposal pit that "used to be at least a hundred feet from the edge of the Intracoastal Waterway" but now butts up to the beach. It's contained by walls, but, like a lot of structures, the pit took a beating from Hurricane Ike, leaving residents worried about contamination.

The posts are informative and unencumbered by scientific terminology, but what I like best about this blog is that it simply tells it like it is. Rarely does McDonald judge the people and places he encounters—and in doing so, he lets readers see places for themselves, through his words and pictures. He doesn't offer suggestions on how to work with the environment and he has no solutions to the varied and unique environmental problems spanning the shoreline. But that's not the point.

The Uncharted Coast is more than anything an observation of many different ways of life, of the ecosystems that are constantly changing in response to human and environmental impacts. It's about action and reaction.

Case in point: McDonald's Jan. 15 post about Port Bolivar, an area hit hard by Ike. It turns out the bugs haven't returned yet, which boded well for camping that night. But it's not such good news for the migratory birds set to return in the spring. No insects to feed on and a bevy of dead oak trees where birds once built nests is a double blow.

Be sure to check out The Uncharted Coast for the latest from Colin McDonald's kayaking journey along the Texas Coast.

Tags: Birds | Conservation | Ecology | Evolution | Extinction | Insects | Nasa | Natural Disasters | Oceans | Oil | Preservation | Texas | Water Conservation