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Can the Coastal Bend's ecology be balanced with the area's upcoming development?

Special report: How will development affect the fragile ecology in Corpus Christi Bay?
Posted at 1:54 PM, Feb 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-21 19:37:52-05

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — As the Port of Corpus Christi grows, new projects are being proposed including a tanker terminal on Harbor Island, multiple desalination plants and the dredging of the Corpus Christi ship channel to allow for the passage of very large crude carriers.

But some coastal residents warn: the areas where these projects are proposed is of great ecological importance. And industrial impacts could affect not only the ecology of our area but also the tourism industry of our coastal communities.

Our coastline isn't only beautiful, it has great ecological importance.

Our ship channel is the only pass for about 150 miles on the Texas Coast that allows for the flow of larval fish, shrimp and other marine creatures into our system of shallow bays and estuaries.

“We are blessed and cursed with the same thing,” recreational fishing guide Dean Thomas said.”We have this beautiful pass that brings life to our area, but it also brings traffic, it brings industry. That is what an opening to the Gulf of Mexico does.”

The presence of industry has been evident along our coast for decades. But with the expansion of the Port of Corpus Christi, more is coming. And in the crosshairs are some of the most delicate and ecologically important ecosystems in the world.

“Every animal that lives it's life in the bay ... and many species that lives their lives offshore, spawn and begin life here because of its safety,” Thomas said.

Tourism is the second-largest private employer in the Coastal Bend. And the creatures and seagrasses who live, breed and depend on these ecosystems are the lifeblood of that industry.

“We have been one of the number one destinations for fishing in Texas since sportfishing has been available in Texas,” Thomas said.

Those demands make it imperative to maintain the Coastal Bend’s natural habitats.

“We are really happy to have people come and visit and enjoy our natural setting and all the beautiful things that we have for them: birds and fish and clean water and we want to maintain that,” said Joan Holt, a Port Aransas councilwoman and retired marine biologist. “We need to maintain that.”

Coastal residents and marine researchers feel increasing industry along our coastline could have devastating impacts. And they feel their warnings are being ignored.

“There is just so much risk. why take all this risk?,” one resident said at a recent Port Aransas town hall meeting. "This is the impact zone for hurricanes. We won't be able to undo what is done. Can't we save one special place?”

But many others believe there is a way that the environment and industry can co-exist.

“What would be wonderful is to remove the traffic from high traffic levels we expect if we have a port right here and have an off-shore terminal. where ships can easily tie up,” Holt said. “Not have to dredge a channel for them because they're out in the water deep enough to handle the viccs. That would be an ideal solution because we do need to export our oil and gas for our economic advancement in this country.”

Those interests can be balanced and live together, according to Thomas.

“I think it can co-exist,” he said. “I hope that they are building cleaner facilities. I hope there are better safety practices and I hope all of those things do protect us while we co-exist with the industry that's coming.

“We have to find a way to get along."

KRIS 6 News contacted the Port of Corpus Christ regarding steps they have taken to mitigate environmental damages and habitat loss. It released this statement:

“For nearly 100 years, the Port of Corpus Christi has been steadfast in its commitment to environmental quality and sustainability as is evidenced by our excellent track record of stewardship. The Port's commitment is simple - it will not engage in any development unless or until all impacts to air quality, water quality, soils and sediments, and wildlife habitat are fully considered and mitigated. The State of Texas has recognized the Port of Corpus Christi with its Environmental Excellence Award in Pollution Prevention. This recognition is a result of the continued oversight of the Port to ensure industry is conducting their business in a responsible manner and the quality of life in the Coastal Bend is protected. Commerce and environmental stewardship are not mutually exclusive, and we invite any party to the table to learn more about the Port of Corpus Christi's continued efforts to improve the Coastal Bend economically, environmentally and socially.”