Baffin Bay is the “jewel” of the Texas coast, with salty waters that have traditionally supported world-class fishing. Over the last 3-4 decades however, there has been a significant decline in its water quality and a deterioration in ecosystem health, with symptoms such as persistent harmful algal blooms, fish kills, declines in the population of some important fish species, and episodes of apparent starvation of a commercially important fish species (black drum). Anglers, fishing guides, landowners and bay-dependent businesses have commented that these symptoms were historically unprecedented for Baffin Bay but have been increasing in frequency and intensity in recent years, hurting their ability to make a living.
In 2013, HRI researchers enlisted 17 “citizen scientists” to study the water quality problems in Baffin Bay. They found that Baffin Bay is being subjected to excessive nutrient (nitrogen, phosphorus) pollution coming from its watershed. Much of the pollution comes from human activities: minimally treated wastewater, fertilizer runoff, even poorly maintained septic tanks. This nutrient pollution is a key promoter of the algal blooms and other symptoms of water quality degradation. Without good water quality, it is difficult for bays such as Baffin to support critical habitat and a healthy fishery.
Bringing Baffin Back is unique in that it applies a whole ecosystem approach to address the challenges facing Baffin Bay. Its success depends on the high-quality research that is being conducted by researchers at HRI and partner institutes to understand these challenges, on the strength of partnerships with stakeholders that are vital for identifying solutions and the resources needed to implement those solutions, and on the continued interest from the public in restoring and protecting this iconic bay system.
The main challenge affecting Baffin Bay arises from its 1.5-million-acre watershed, and specifically human-led activities that affect water quality. Since 2013, researchers at HRI and partner institutions have been working to understand the environmental and socioeconomic drivers of water quality change in the system, as well as to assess the health of critical habitat and fish species in the bay. With information in hand from the “citizen science” water quality study, HRI and its partner, the Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program (CBBEP), formed the Baffin Bay Stakeholder Group to engage potential partners and develop solutions to the challenges impacting the bay. Born out of the early successes of the stakeholder group and enthusiasm from the public, HRI and CBBEP are now proud to release the Bringing Baffin Back initiative. Bringing Baffin Back will bring together partners from interdisciplinary backgrounds to first address the watershed sources of pollutants, followed by a rigorous, long-term bay-wide habitat restoration and conservation initiative. The rationale for this approach is simple – the health of Baffin Bay is intricately tied to the health of surrounding lands. In order to achieve successful outcomes leading to improved health in Baffin Bay, a whole-ecosystem approach that recognizes and addresses the connection between the watershed and bay is needed.
Learn more about what Baffin means to the Texas coast and how our team works to make sure that continues for the future in this new video, and support our Baffin Bay initiatives by making a donation to HRI.