With 367 miles of shoreline, the Texas coast serves as an economic powerhouse for the state. Coastal tourism supports more than 143,000 jobs and draws in nearly $18 billion in annual spending – more than a quarter of all travel dollars spent in Texas each year. Commercial fishing generates roughly 22,000 jobs and more than $1.3 billion in sales.
The Texas coast is also home to key wildlife species. The last wild flock of the endangered whooping crane winters in and around San Antonio Bay. Padre Island is the only place in the United States where the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle regularly nests. The Texas coast is also home to hundreds of species of birds, particularly during spring migration. However, the health of the Texas coast has declined over the past decades of industrialization. Facing increasingly difficult-to-predict periods of drought and flooding, the ever-present threat of devastating hurricanes, and a rising population with increased water demands, Texas urgently needs to make critical investments to restore, protect, and enhance the health of its Gulf coastal estuaries and communities.
The long-term health and productivity of the state’s coastal estuaries depend on the continued flow of fresh water to the bays from the rivers that feed them. Healthy marsh vegetation and oyster reefs provide habitat for many species and storm protection for coastal communities, but these systems require adequate freshwater inflows to survive, particularly during times of drought.
Strategic efforts to protect freshwater inflows and to restore habitats in Galveston, Matagorda and San Antonio Bays, outlined in this report, will create synergistic benefits for wildlife and communities. The National Wildlife Federation also supports the completion of two projects outside of these three watersheds that have already received some oil-spill funding: the restoration of the Salt Bayou watershed in the Chenier Plains and the efforts to restore the Bahia Grande section of the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge.
In total, Texas is certain to receive more than $900 million dollars that can be used for restoration as a result of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. With a competitive grants process in place, about a quarter of these funds have already been awarded or are in the process of being committed to projects that include purchasing key parcels of land, restoring nesting habitats for birds, monitoring sea turtle populations and rebuilding oyster reefs. The remaining money will become available over the next decade and a half.