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The Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) awarded $200,000 to Ocean Trust for a community-based restoration project designed to restore 11,000 acres of once-productive fishery habitat in the Bahia Grande, between Brownsville and Port Isabel, Texas. The project is funded by the Community-based Restoration Program within the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries).
“Estuary restoration is a national priority,” said retired Navy Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Ph.D., under secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “This large-scale restoration project will benefit fisheries habitat as well as the local community. It took a strong federal, state and local partnership to move this project from a good idea to a reality.”
As a result of dredging activities in the 1930s, tidal influence to this once productive estuarine system was blocked and the area is now a dry, salty sand flat that has become a source of a variety of health and industrial problems in the Brownsville area. As early as 2000, Ocean Trust and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service began working with NOAA Fisheries to cut a system of channels to re-flood this estuary. By cutting dry channels to connect the Bahia Grande to Laguna Larga and Little Laguna Madre, the complex will be prepared for the re-introduction of tidal water from San Martine Lake to the southwest, and the Brownsville Ship Channel to the south.
"The restoration of Bahia Grande will reestablish a major nursery for several shrimp, fish and crustacean species important to the South Texas marine ecosystem and coastal fishery," said Thor Lassen, president of Ocean Trust, a conservation foundation co-coordinating the restoration project with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. "NOAA's funding commitment will allow us to begin the actual channel construction and establish opportunities for community involvement in the restoration process."
With previous funding from the NOAA Restoration Center, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and the Gulf of Mexico Foundation, Ocean Trust and its partners from the Port Isabel and Brownsville shrimp industry recently finished construction of a mangrove and native plant nursery needed for restoration of Bahia Grande. Local students took part in the nursery dedication by planting mangroves on the edge of Bahia Grande.
The Community-based Restoration Program (CRP), a financial and technical assistance program within the NOAA Fisheries Office of Habitat Conservation, promotes strong partnerships at the national, regional and local level to fund grassroots, community-based activities. The NOAA-funded projects provide strong on-the-ground habitat restoration components that offer educational and social benefits for people and their communities in addition to long-term ecological benefits for fishery resources. More information about the CRP can be found at http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/habitat/restoration.
In fiscal year 2003, NOAA has awarded more than 618 grants totalling $303 million to members of the academic, scientific and business communities to assist the agency in fulfilling its mission to study the Earth’s natural systems in order to predict environmental change, manage ocean resources, protect life and property and provide decision makers with reliable scientific information. NOAA goals and programs reflect a commitment to these basic responsibilities of science and service to the nation for 33 years.
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