Colorado River Delta Ecosystem Assessment: Gathering Key Baseline Data to Guide Future Habitat Restoration in Matagorda Bay

Principal Investigator

The Colorado River Delta supports some of the most critical nursery habitats in the Matagorda Bay ecosystem and arguably along the Texas Gulf Coast, and it is one of only a handful of deltas along the entire Gulf of Mexico Coast that is presently expanding. This thriving delta currently supports a full spectrum of the estuarine food web — from tiny plankton, crabs and shrimp, forage fish, trout and redfish, to endangered species such as whooping cranes and Kemp's ridley sea turtles, and ultimately to humans for sustenance, economical and recreational value.

To generate the best available science to support long-term ecological sustainability of this important region of Matagorda Bay, Drs. Greg Stunz and Matthew Streich will complete a comprehensive ecosystem assessment of the Colorado River Delta. Three primary tasks and corresponding specific objectives comprise the effort:

Task 1: Perform a detailed benthic habitat characterization of the Colorado River Delta study area to provide an updated habitat baseline.

  • Develop a comprehensive benthic habitat map for the entire project area using a combination of aerial imagery interpretation and an acoustic remote sensing survey.

Task 2: Conduct a comprehensive ecological assessment linking the distribution of species and their habitats spatially within the Colorado River Delta study area.

  • Complete two years of seasonal ecological data collection for juvenile finfish and shellfish, marsh vegetation, and coastal birds.
  • Capture a full range of inflow conditions to characterize ecological conditions over time and under different stresses, in particular drought.

Task 3: Complete a hydrological assessment to better understand water availability, flow paths, and topography in the Colorado River Delta.

  • Complete a comprehensive literature review, desktop investigation, and on-site evaluation of potential freshwater inflow enhancement opportunities.
  • Use ecological and hydrological data collected in this study to establish and promote future water quality monitoring zones.
  • Use seasonal long-term ecological data and hydrological data coupled with existing information to best select, design, and assess future habitat restoration and freshwater inflow enhancement projects in the Colorado River Delta aimed at ecosystem sustainability during drought.


This project runs March 2021 through July 2023.