When an oil well in the Gulf of Mexico blew out in June 1979 authorities scrambled to protect the biologically rich Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Cedar Bayou from the spill by closing off its narrow connection to the sea. But the unforeseen consequences hit hard: the closure also kept the eggs and larvae of fish, shrimp, and crabs from entering the area. Its ecosystem crashed, and with it its once thriving fishing and tourist industry.
We investigated the hydraulics of Cedar Bayou with a view to restoring the passage: We found that by removing some 540,000 cubic yards (410cu m) of sand, the flow of water between sea and marsh could be restored - we then worked with the contracting team to carry out the work using a hydraulic dredge, excavators, and off-road trucks, reconnecting Cedar Bayou with Mesquite Bay for the first time in 35 years.
Mark Ray, board chairman of the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) called the reconnection “a dream come true - a $9M gift to the Texas coast.” Within months, fish and crustacean populations were soaring beyond hopes and expectations: “More fish, more crabs, and more birds mean more birders, more fishermen, more hunters and more visits by folks who love the coast,” Mr Ray said. The whole economy has gained, with more visitors bringing new business for local fuel stations, hotels, restaurants, outfitters, marinas, bait stands and sporting goods stores.