Part of the plan to save the Texas coast is for the birds.
In March, the Texas General Land Office released its Coastal Resiliency Master Plan, a document that outlines projects the agency argues should be completed to protect and preserve the Texas Coast.
The plan names many different strategies for ensuring the coast and the people who live on it aren’t completely lost when the next major hurricane strikes — including restoring beaches, stabilizing the Texas Gulf Intracoastal Waterway and rebuilding oyster reefs destroyed by Hurricane Ike.
One of the top priorities named in the plan is the creation and restoration of rookery islands in Galveston Bay, where migratory birds may nest, breed, forage and rear their young safely. The land office said one project to restore five islands in the bay could cost as much as $80 million.
The islands are vital because they are isolated from the mainland, where the predators and other harmful effects exist, according to the land office.
“A fully functioning, contiguous rookery island system along the whole Gulf Coast is necessary to support migratory birds during the critical migration seasons,” the plan states.
The plan proposes spending to build or restore rookery islands in Galveston Bay and specifically names five islands — Jigsaw Island, the Vingt-Et-Un Island, Chocolate Point Island, West Bay Bird Island and Smith Point Island — as targets for funding.
Another part of the plan proposes spending up to $2 million to restore a rookery island in Dickinson Bay.
Richard Gibbons, the conservation director for the Houston Audubon Society, said more rookery islands in the bay are important so that birds have places to move if one nesting ground is threatened or destroyed.
“What the birds have always done for eons is take advantage of the relative security of the isolated islands,” Gibbons said. “They got out there and they all get together, they can all help each other. There’s an advantage to nesting together.”
About 20 species of colonial nesting birds are in need of coastal habitat, Gibbons said.
Islands appear and disappear in the bay naturally and are under constant assault by currents and erosion. Subsidence in the bay and surrounding areas can accelerate the erosion of the islands, by sinking wave-breaking oyster beds and allowing water to crash onto the islands’ shores.
The idea of restoring rookery islands is hardly a new one. In the early 2000s, a coalition of groups, including the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the Harris and Eliza Kempner Fund and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, partnered to restore and “armor” North Deer Island in Galveston Bay.
The project was a major success and earned special recognition from the U.S. Department of the Interior in 2009.
It remains to be seen whether, and how, the rookery projects would be funded. The land office’s master plan does not guarantee funding for any project.
However, the state is slated to receive millions of dollars related to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in coming years, said Bob Stokes, the executive director of the Galveston Bay Foundation.
The foundation has built and restored rookery islands in Galveston Bay, and is already involved in restoring the Dickinson Bay rookery mentioned in the master plan. Stokes said people should be cautious about the master plan and not consider it to be a definitive project list, but also be relieved that it recognizes that preserving the coast takes a number of different strategies.
“Anybody can argue about Project X or Project Y,” Stokes said “I think it’s a great document that really shows Texas needs to invest in coastal restoration.”