FAQ: Seagrass Protection Expansion
As of 11/17/2011
As a result of the success of seagrass protection efforts within the Redfish Bay State Scientific Area (RBSSA), Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) is currently pursuing expansion of seagrass protection efforts. The current proposal is to designate a new area in the northern portion of the upper Laguna Madre extending from the southernmost end of Corpus Christi Bay south to New Humble Channel (15,500 acres) as a State Scientific Area (SSA). This area (referred to as the “JFK Causeway area”) would include the Dead Man’s Hole area, Sulphur Roads area, and Pita Island, but would not include Night Hawk Bay (see map below). Within this area it would be illegal to uproot seagrass with the propeller of a boat (exclusive of electric trolling motors).
Public scoping of this proposal will be conducted through December 2011 along with the other statewide hunting and fishing regulation proposals. Results will be presented to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission (TPWC) at the January (25th-26th) 2012 meeting. Based on public scoping, the TPWC may decide to pursue, modify or reject the proposed scoping discussion item. Pending approval by the TPWC, a regulation proposal will be published in the Texas Register and official public hearings will be completed prior to the March TPWC meeting. Public comments will be presented to the TPWC at the March (28th-29th) 2012 meeting, and a decision to approve or reject the proposed regulation would happen at that meeting.
Why is TPWD doing this?
The RBSSA was originally designated an SSA in 2000. This designation allows the TPWC to make and publish rules and regulations necessary for the management and protection of an SSA. In 2006, after voluntary no-prop zones proved to be ineffective, a regulation went into effect prohibiting the uprooting of seagrass with the propeller of a boat. TPWD conducted several studies to assess the effects of the regulation over the course of five years. During the same period of time, an extensive education and outreach campaign was undertaken. Over 10 million impressions were made through presentations, magazine and newspaper articles, radio and TV programs, brochure dispersal at boat ramps and in boater education classes. Results from the studies showed a significant decrease in propeller scarring as well as changes in boater behavior. No significant change in the number of boaters using the area was observed. Based on the success of these efforts, TPWD Coastal Fisheries (CF) staff was directed by the TPWC to investigate the possibility of expanding seagrass protection efforts.
How was this location chosen?
TPWD staff generated a list of 10 selection criteria to help identify potential sites. Initially, 15 sites were suggested by TPWD staff. Using the selection criteria, five priority sites were identified. Following site visits and further discussions among TPWD staff, the “JFK Causeway area” was identified as the highest priority site.
Why did TPWD staff choose the “JFK Causeway area”?
The area was chosen because it contains large expanses of seagrass beds in water with an average depth of 2 feet. The area is highly populated with numerous boat access points including canal subdivisions and several popular boat ramps. The high amount of boat traffic combined with the shallow water makes seagrasses in the area particularly vulnerable to propeller scarring. In addition, the area’s vast seagrass beds located adjacent to a Gulf pass provide critical nursery habitat for larvae entering the bay through the pass. From a logistical standpoint, the area has well defined boundaries which will simplify enforcement and minimize confusion amongst boaters.
Why is protecting seagrass so important?
Seagrasses are rooted, flowering plants that convert sunlight into energy through photosynthesis. In doing so, they produce food for a wide variety of organisms and oxygenate the water column. They have extensive root structures that stabilize and oxygenate sediments thus improving water clarity and preventing erosion. Seagrasses also improve water quality by absorbing nutrients in the water. Dense seagrass beds serve as vital nursery areas for juvenile fish and invertebrates including important sport fish such as spotted seatrout and red drum.
What is a “prop scar”?
A propeller scar, or “prop scar”, is a trench cut into the bay bottom by the propeller of a boat that damages roots and rhizomes of seagrass plants.
How long does it take for a prop scar to recover?
The amount of time it takes for seagrass plants to recover is variable but may take up to several years. In the RBSSA the majority of scars observed recovered within one year, but some scars persisted for two or more years. Recovery may depend upon several factors including the species of seagrass impacted, bottom type, direction of the scar relative to currents, and water clarity. In some cases, once the roots and sediments have initially been disturbed, the damaged area can actually grow larger over time due to erosion. TPWD continues to study this process in Redfish Bay.
Why doesn’t TPWD focus on education instead of designating a new SSA?
TPWD CF division has conducted extensive outreach over the last several years and will continue to inform the public about the regulation, as well as the ecological importance of seagrasses and reasons for protecting this vital habitat. However, it was the combination of outreach and legal protection for seagrass that proved to be successful in the RBSSA. Using SSAs as focal points for education will eventually result in increased protection for seagrasses along the entire coast as boaters in these areas take what they have learned and apply it beyond the boundaries of the SSA’s
Will the area be marked?
Boundary signs will be installed along the perimeter of the SSA. In addition, informational signs and maps will be installed at key access areas.
Will channels be marked?
Several deep channels in the area are currently marked by navigational signs installed by The Nature Conservancy.
What will the penalty be for uprooting seagrass in the area?
TPWD game wardens will patrol the area and issue citations with a fine up to $500 (Class C misdemeanor).
How will you know if this regulation works to protect seagrasses?
Studies over a five year period in the RBSSA demonstrated a significant reduction in prop scarring following implementation of a no-uprooting law. TPWD CF staff will continue to assess the effects of the regulation in the JFK Causeway area.
Won’t this regulation deter fishermen from coming to the area and hurt local businesses?
As a measure of boating activity, TPWD performs regular counts of boat trailers at boat ramps along the Texas coast. Trailer counts at boat ramps in the vicinity of the RBSSA did not change significantly following enactment of the no-uprooting law. TPWD does not expect that creation of a new SSA along with a no-uprooting law in the JFK causeway area will negatively impact boating activity in the area.
Will I be unable to access my favorite fishing spots?
No areas will be off-limits to boaters. In fact, this approach is specifically intended to preserve access to all areas while protecting valuable seagrass habitat. Boaters may access any part of the SSA, but will need to be aware of water depth and the capabilities of their boat to avoid damaging seagrasses.
How will I avoid up-rooting seagrasses with my boat?
Plan your route to avoid extremely shallow areas. Make use of marked channels. Pay attention to the tidal stage. If you find yourself in an area too shallow to run without damaging seagrass, lift the motor and drift with the wind, use a trolling motor, or a push pole, to move into a deeper area.
More information about propeller scarring, seagrasses and RBSSA can be found at: http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/landwater/water/habitats/seagrass/
Map of Proposed State Scientic Area