The Laguna Madre on the Texas coast is one of the most remote, picturesque and forgotten cruising grounds on the Gulf Coast. Situated between Padre Island and the Texas mainland, this narrow 130-mile-long lagoon stretches from near the Mexican border to Corpus Christi. It then extends further north along the coast where it transforms into a series of bays and tidal lagoons that lead to Galveston and the Houston Ship Channel. Evaporation coupled with a near-record inland drought that’s drying up freshwater runoff has led to unusual and damaging salinity levels in this area—as it’s already known to be naturally hyper-saline due to the few breaks in the barrier islands that open into the Gulf of Mexico. With ecosystems, seafood industries and the recreational fishing harvest suffering, a dredging project is now underway to restore a natural bayou that will transfer water between the Gulf and these inner bays.

This $9.4 million project will reopen and restore Cedar Bayou, which was originally closed 35 years ago to shield against the offshore Ixtoc I oil spill in Mexican waters that threatened the Texas coast’s waters of Aransas and Mesquite Bays. Cedar Bayou—once a major “breathing” point for these nearly landlocked waters—was home to an incredible fishing ground for redfish, speckled trout and flounder, and provided a water exchange and breeding ground for fish, shrimp and crabs. Most of these marine creatures breed at the entrances to these inlets where tidal forces carry the fertilized eggs deep into the estuaries, creating a natural cycle as the young return to the Gulf.

Over a decade ago, a group of concerned citizens formed the organization Save the Cedar Bayou. A growing body of data from coastal scientists who documented the diminished seafood production eventually led to county and state involvement. This pressure and visibility led to several unsuccessful attempts in the past to reopen Cedar Bayou, but coastal scientists are hopeful that a better understanding of how these inlets work—paired with more funding—will succeed this time. Scheduled for completion in mid-October, the entrance to the bayou will eventually extend 100 feet at the mouth with a depth of 6 feet. 

The work is also specifically timed for the redfish spawning season and the return of wild whooping cranes that winter on these islands. Based on past dredging efforts, scientists expect a rapid recovery for the ecosystem in that area. Nurturing this ecosystem back to health will add to an already stunning cruising ground and productive fishery, and help grow the recreational and charter boating economy along the Texas coast.

By Harlen Leslie, Southern Boating September 2014