"Matagorda Bay assessment aims to bridge knowledge gaps" by: Mike Reddell

   A presentation on the preliminary stages of the Matagorda Bay Ecosystem Assessment drew an interested audience of about 60 people in Palacios last week.
   The Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts (CPA) contracted with Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi in 2019 to conduct research on two main areas.
   One is “to inform the development of effective conservation strategies for endangered sea turtles.
   And, second, “to perform a multi-disciplinary assessment of West Matagorda Bay.” 
   That multi-disciplinary approach was evident at the informational meeting and discussion at the Matagorda County Navigation District Thursday, Sept. 26.
   In addition to the researchers and scientists from CPA and Texas A&M Corpus Christi, there are researchers from that University’s HARTE Research Institute, Texas A&M-Galveston and the research firm BIO-WEST. 
   The Comptroller’s office effort here is part of its role to administer state legislative funding to Texas public universities “to conduct scientific research on imperiled, threatened and endangered species.”
   The CPA has worked 25 such species-conservation projects statewide. So, tackling West Matagorda Bay isn’t the state agency’s first research rodeo.
   One thing was made clear at last week’s session: The researchers want to hear from those who know West Matagorda Bay best, such as fishermen, fishing and hunting guides, ranchers, farmers, landowners, hunters, marine agents in different agencies and government officials.
   At first, I was put off by the term “stakeholders” in discussions about the project, until I realized I was a stakeholder because of my interest in this bay.
   “We want to hear what you have to say about Matagorda Bay,” said Dr. Gregory Stunz, A&M-CC. He’s the principal investigator for the assessment.
   CPA’s Chelsea Jones role is environmental science.
   Jones was among the speakers last week and said West Matagorda Bay was chosen for an assessment because of its “plethora” of species.
   “Many times in the past,” Stunz said, research has focused on a particular species, while neglecting the ecosystem around it.
   As for West Matagorda Bay, he added, “we don’t have enough information.
   “How does the ecosystem support these species?” he asked.
   Little research has been done on the “distribution and health of the many important habitats in the bay and their value to the overall ecosystem,” according to CPA’s Matagorda Bay Ecosystem Assessment website at: https://comptroller.texas.gov/programs/natural-resources/research/ongoin...
   To carry out the assessment, researchers will use all kinds of equipment for:

  •     Habitat mapping to evaluate habitat change
  •     Studying sea turtle movement and ecosystem connectivity
  •     Biological sampling across bay habitats
  •     Marsh ecosystem sampling for flooding and sea rise assessments
  •     Study of trophic (feeding and nutrition) ecology and food webs.
  •     Study of historical and ongoing datasets 
  •     Water quality and plankton monitoring

   All of the information will be available once the assessment is done. Work on all of the above is due March 31, 2020.
   “This is a very large and complex study,” Stunz said.
   Work already has begun on the project, he said.   

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