Texas marshes are valuable ecosystems that are at risk; Here’s why, and what can be done to save them.
In the summer of 2009, myself and a swarm of Sea Scouts descended upon Texas marshes.
Our goal: to plant as many water-grasses as possible to help filter the water and prevent future erosion. We spent all day sliding and slithering through the thick, gray mud, laughing and singing and smearing our filthy hands over one another’s faces as we planted sprig after sprig of grass. At the end of the day, tired but happy, we all received a shock: the marsh we’d spent all day working in was drying up, and was at risk to disappear forever.
Why do these places need saving?
It’s all too easy to see the environment as a constant thing. Nature takes over when left alone, after all. We see weeds shooting up in abandoned parking lots and wild animals adapting to life in the city. But it’s important to remember that, more often than not, the harm humanity causes is irreparable.
Right now, one of the key dangers to our marshes is our own water demand. Many of Texas’s marshes are fed by the Guadalupe and San Antonio rivers, which happen to also be two key rivers from which we draw our water for both municipal and industrial use. Quite simply, the more water we draw upstream, the less water reaches the marshes in South Texas.
What do we stand to lose?
If these marshes go, we lose a diverse ecosystem. From popular water fowl, such as ducks, widgeon, gadwall, geese and snipe, to the endangered whooping crane, to the tiny blue crabs that feed them all. It’s not just bird hunters that stand to lose. It’s everyone!
How can you help?
The best thing we can do to improve this situation is to address the key problem: We’re using up water that should go to these marshes. Here are just a few ways that we, as Texans, can try to minimize our water consumption:
- Irrigation: Farmers can implement drip irrigation instead of overhead sprinklers, which can cut down on water loss.
- Managing our agriculture differently: Clearing brush that competes with crops for water and tilling fields less often will reduce the amount of water that goes to waste.
- Implementing water efficiency programs: a recent report by the Environment Texas Research & Policy Center found that we can save billions of gallons of water annually by implementing water efficiency technologies and programs, such as electronic leak detection! This means it’s time to start writing to your local representative!
- Pay attention to your lawns: As pretty as your roses are, are they water-guzzlers? Think about how much water you feed your lawn. If you’re just starting out, consider drought resistant grasses like Bahia, Buffalo, Bermuda, or St. Augustine. If your roses are struggling, consider zinnias or blackfoot daisies instead.
- Wind and solar energy: Consider wind farms or, better yet, solar energy (which you can install in your own home). This will lessen the demand for water-hungry power plants.
It’s not just bird hunters that stand to lose – it’s everyone.
What’s already being done?
Waterfowl conservation organization Ducks Unlimited is doing its part, too, by building breakwaters on the San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge and J.D. Murphree Wildlife Management Area. These breakwaters will help to prevent shoreline erosion and keep saltwater out. In the long term, they will also help to preserve freshwater in the marshes, promote vegetation, and serve as a substrate for the oysters and crustaceans that make up a large part of water fowl diets.
The money from the project came from a grant from the Meadows Foundation, a philanthropic institution established to improve the quality of life in Texas.
You can contact either of these organizations, as well as the Texas Conservation Alliance, to offer your support. And if Sea Scout Ship 777 is any indicator, you’ll have a lot of fun doing it!