People love fresh seafood. But where does
this delicious food come from? Most is grown and caught right here in Texas, in the bays
and estuaries along our coast. If you travelled along Texas’ almost 400 miles
of coastline, you would find over 2.6 million acres of estuary habitat and 7 major bays.
Estuaries form along the coast where streams or rivers empty into the gulf and mix with
seawater. A bay is partially enclosed by land and opens to the ocean. Bays are like big mixing bowls where freshwater
inflows create salinity gradients that expand and contract with seasons, droughts, tides,
and floods. Along with freshwater, the inflows also bring nutrients and sediments that feed
fish, wildlife, invertebrates, phytoplankton and zooplankton, as well as seagrass plants.
Together, all of this activity allows our bays and estuaries to become giant nurseries
for young aquatic life. And this productivity shows. Our bays and estuaries grow more seafood
than anywhere else in the country- over 100 million pounds annually, which makes a big
impact on the Texas economy. But over the last century, about 50% of Texas’
coastal wetlands have been filled in, eroded away, or otherwise destroyed. Up to 60% of
the seagrass beds are gone, and over 50% of the oyster reefs no longer exist. And each
year new demands for water upstream have altered freshwater inflow from rivers meeting the
coast. We need to keep an eye on the human impact
in our bays and estuaries. Not just for maintaining a place to catch seafood, but for all the
birds, animals and all aquatic life that depend on these vital ecosystems.