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Monday, July 27, 2009

The Laguna Madre - Mother to Nature on Texas-Mexico coast

The Laguna Madre is a coastal lagoon that runs 277 miles along the coast from Corpus Christi, Texas southward past the mouth of the Rio Grande River to Rio Soto la Marina in Tamaulipas, Mexico.

In a July 18 article in the Island Breeze (), entitled Texas by Nature: The Treasure of the Laguna Madre, Clay Carrington from The Nature Conservancy states:

"One of only five hypersaline lagoons in the world, the Laguna Madre, or 'Mother Lagoon,' serves as the spawning grounds for 60 percent of the Gulf of Mexico's fish species. With fields of high-saline, underwater seagrass meadows sheltering fragile juvenile shrimp, finfish and shellfish, the shallows sandwiched between barrier islands and tidal flats turn out thousands of tons of important commercial and sportfish species worth millions to the economies of Mexico, Texas and other states along the Gulf of Mexico. The hypersaline lagoon also provides some of the most important wintering waterfowl habitat on the entire east coast of Mexico - its estuaries, bays and marshes are critical to the survival of migratory shorebirds and neotropical songbirds."

In my last post I talked about the fishing tournaments scheduled in the next couple of weeks in the Laguna Madre Bay. This bay is the part of the lagoon that separates Port Isabel on the Texas mainland and the island of South Padre.

It is a shallow bay excellent for fishing, dolpin watching and all kinds of water sports. It is also beautiful from the early morning ocean mists to its fabuolous sunsets. If you've never visited the area, put it on your list of "must-see" places.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Laguna Madre Bay Fish Beware of Tournament Anglers

Two major fishing tournaments bring flocks of tourists to South Padre Island every summer.

The 70th Annual Texas International Fishing Tournament starts Wednesday, July 29 and ends Sunday, Aug. 2. It is open to anglers of all ages and is the largest saltwater fishing tournament in Texas. Fishing divisions include bay, offshore and tarpon. Approximately 1,500 competitors and 500 boats are anticipated this year.

The Ladies Kingfish Tournament starts Friday, Aug. 7 and ends Sunday, Aug. 9. It offers two divisions: offshore (kingfish, dolphin, bonito and blackfin tuna) and bay (red drum, speckled trout, flounder and snook).

Although I'm not an angler, I'm looking forward to seeing all the boats and joining in the excitement. I'll be cheering everyone to record-breaking catches.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Saving Sea Turtles, One Nest at a Time

Around 5:30 am on July 22, 2009, 153 Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle eggs hatched at Sea Turtle Inc. on South Padre Island, Texas. At 7:00am, the center released the hatchlings on the beach. The babies seemed to exhibit personalities as some of them flapped their flippers in the air and aggressively headed toward the Gulf waters. Others squirmed and crawled on top of each other, like puppies at feeding time. A few made no effort to move.

Gentle waves helped the hatchlings head to the sea. When stronger tidal waves washed in, the water flipped them in the air, then washed them back to shore.

It’s not an easy world. For sea turtles dangers exist from the moment the mother lays her eggs. In the wild only 50% will hatch. The Kemp’s Ridley turtle lays 75-100 eggs at each nesting. The mother may nest several times a year. The Kemp’s Ridley, the smallest of the eight sea turtle species, is the only one to routinely lay eggs in the daytime.

The Sea Turtle Center relocated 42 nests this year, a total of 3,086 eggs. These eggs incubate for 46-54 days. Chances for hatching live babies improve dramatically when the eggs are protected from their natural environment. The center boasts a 90% hatch rate. This release, from two nests, makes a total of 35 that have hatched and returned to their natural habitat.

Approximately 150 people circled the release area and encouraged the little turtles to begin their lives in the sea. Parents focused their children on the babies’ attempts to reach the water. They interspersed facts about the turtles and discussed our responsibility to endangered wildlife. Children laughed and clapped when each turtle reached the sea. Cameras clicked everywhere. The Sea Life staff took ‘up close and personal’ photos for anyone who offered their cameras.

Odds for survival are not in a turtle’s favor. In the wild, hatchlings have a 1 in 1,000 chance of reaching adulthood. The nest relocation and hatching release program increases the survival rate to 1 in 333. It’s a little sad to think that none of the babies released today may survive.

If they do, they will return to the sands of Padre Island eleven or twelve years from now when they reach maturity. It is thought that they return within 50-100 miles of their natal beach. In the 1990s, the Sea Turtle Center, implanted a piece of wire in a flipper of each hatchling and released them on a beach in northern Mexico, within the 50-mile range. None of these turtles have been sighted on South Texas beaches. No one knows if some of them are here but never seen, or if none survived.

Sea Turtle Inc. is one of many organizations through the world trying to save endangered species. For the Kemp Ridley, their efforts are reaping rewards. In the 1940s, more than 40,000 turtles laid eggs; by the 1990s that number had dropped to little more than 600. Through the work of many people, these numbers are slowly turning around.

For more information on `sea turtle rescue and release programs, check out

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Quiet Side of the Bay

The Laguna Madre Bay area in south Texas is beautiful in the summer. The beaches on South Padre Island are filled with families, and people young and old. Today my husband and I drove to a secluded area on the bay. But first a short bit of geography.

South Padre Island (SPI) is accessible by the Queen Isabella Causeway. SPI is where the road ends. Before you cross the causeway you drive through the town of Port Isabel. The Laguna Madre Bay lies between the two cities and extends several miles to the west of the causeway and is bordered by Hwy 510.

A few miles to the north lies the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge.

Today we found a dirt road just past the SPI Golf Club on Hwy 510. The road winds its way through prickly pear cacti and sand flats to an unoccupied part of the bay. Though it's a hazy day, the bay was beautiful. We couldn't see the island but we watched a lone boat heading back to shore.

Birds perched on old pilings and waited along the water's edge. I didn't have my camera but I'll go back.

Old cabins on stilts tell their own story. This place had visitors at one time. Now the cabins look too fragile to hold the weight of a person today. The stilts are leaning. Although they withstood a good breeze today, it looks like a strong wind would take them down.

Some trash littered the side of the road, but it too looked old. A bicycle was propped against a fence in the only yard around. An old overturned boat rested between the house and the bay.

I suspect people use the area for fishing and watersports, but today we had it all to ourselves.