Ask a anyone to draw a picture of nature an they will likely conjure images of majestic mountains and forests. It is unlikely that their notion of nature includes Gulf Coastal prairie, and that discrepancy is to our detriment. The damage to these areas is costing us millions of dollars in ecosystem services.
How do we better appreciate these ecosystems?
What is causing our alienation from our natural surroundings?
When Wayne and Martha McAlister moved to Matagorda Island, a wildlife refuge off the central Texas coast, they anticipated staying perhaps five years. But sent to take up duties with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Wayne McAlister fell under the island’s spell the moment he stepped out of his aging house trailer and met his first Matagorda rattlesnake. Seven years later, the McAlisters were still observing the flora and fauna of Matagorda. Except for the road and some occasional fence posts, the island appears untouched by humans. In Life on Matagorda Island, Wayne McAlister shows what life was like amid such isolation. TXPWD
The attwater prairie chicken is one of the most endangered bird species in North America, with an estimated population of about 42 individuals. According to historical accounts, they once numbers in the millions. The primary driver of extinction is habitat loss due to Houstons urban sprawl. Attwater’s prairie-chickens were once found on six million acres of prairie along the Gulf Coast from Corpus Christi, Texas, north to the Bayou Teche area in Louisiana and inland some 75 miles. Grasses and flowering plants of many species waved in the winds including little bluestem, Indiangrass, and switchgrass.
Acre by acre, coastal prairies diminished as cities and towns sprouted up, industries grew and expanded, and farmers plowed up native grasslands for croplands or tame pasture. Suppressing prairie fires allowed brush species to invade the prairies.
Many grasslands species slowly found they had nowhere to go, including the Attwater’s prairie chicken. Concern over the rapidly disappearing habitat prompted the World Wildlife Fund and The Nature Conservancy to purchase about 3,500 acres of prairie in the 1960s. This land was purchased by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1972 and today is the Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge. To ensure this species continues to grace the Texas landscape, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge staff manages the refuge for the benefit of this species and have made protecting it and its habitat a top priority.NDRC TXPWD.
During that period in time, ships were less frequent and much smaller, but they still created small waves which also caused erosion. That erosion eventually destroyed Redfish Island and the other breaking areas by the late 70’s. Interest in surfing ship waves, and the waves themselves, disappeared for the most part, as breaking waves had not yet materialized in open waters. That changed when dredging operations ultimately allowed for deeper draft vessels to travel in the channel and the dredge material being strategically placed created the shoals and spoil banks we surf over today. Redfish Island has been recently refurbished as well, thanks to another Army Corp of Engineers’ dredging project. Today, container and tanker ships are much larger and more frequent, our channel is deeper and wider to accommodate even larger vessels and the dredge material taken from widening and deepening our channel is being used to create more submerged shoals, and recently is even being used to make new islands where shoals once were. Tanker waves now break both in open waters over submerged shoals that border the ship channel and along shorelines of these newly formed islands.James, along with his two friends John Benson and Peter Davis had been secretly researching and surfing the ship waves in the Houston Ship Channel for some years prior to the “infamous fax” and had shared their experiences with only a couple of people. As the story goes, one of those confidants evidently mentioned Fulbright’s antics to a guy he was sitting next to while on a flight from LA to Singapore in ‘99. That guy turned out to be surfer/filmmaker Chris Malloy. Chris was in the middle of filming Thicker Than Water and, after hearing of 2-3 mile rides in Texas of all places, considered highlighting Fulbright and his friends and called James.
Texas has enacted positive change on all levels of coastal marine conservation and management, including a state net ban, gamefish status for speckled trout and redfish, bycatch reduction for Gulf and bay shrimp trawls, flounder conservation measures, limited entry into commercial fisheries, and Gulf fisheries management initiatives. CCA, Yeti