Funding for restoration of rookery islands announced

Port Aransas scientists will help in a $4 million effort to protect and restore an Aransas Bay island that’s important habitat where colonial waterbirds raise their young.

The University of Texas Marine Science Institute (UTMSI) and Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve will partner with the Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries Program to make it happen.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced the funding on Friday, April 22.

Islands where colonial birds raise their young are known as rookeries. Rookery islands in the Coastal Bend area are rapidly shrinking due to erosion from storms, increased boat traffic and rise in sea levels, according to a news release issued by UTMSI.

Deadman Island, in Aransas Bay, is the most viable candidate for the restoration, the release said.

“The support is essential,” said Katie Swanson, stewardship coordinator with the Mission-Aransas Reserve and lead investigator. “Many colonial waterbird populations in our bay system have declined 60 to 70 percent, and restoring Deadman Island will go a long way to ensure the populations have a chance to recover.”

People involved with the project expect to build breakwaters and add fill to increase the footprint and elevation of the island.

Significant project support will be provided by the Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries Program, which will oversee the construction and monitor bird populations to help determine and track the success.

“We’re very pleased to be a part of the project and protect one of the last remaining nesting sites in Aransas Bay,” said Dr. Kiersten Stanzel, director of the bays and estuaries program.

“Islands like Deadman aren’t just important for the birds,” Stanzel said. “They also support our local economy. Communities on the coast of Texas heavily rely on nature tourism, and in the cities of Rockport, Fulton, Aransas Pass and Port Aransas, that often means birding. Restoration of Deadman Island will help ensure that birds like terns and black skimmers have a place to nest and are here to stay.”

Lying in the center of Aransas Bay, Deadman Island is situated between San Jose Island and Rockport.

Deadman Island is a part of the historical Long Reef, which was an actively fished reef for oysters until it became degraded due to overfishing, erosion and other factors.

Construction is anticipated to begin in 2024 and be complete in 2027. The work will take into account nesting seasons to reduce detrimental impacts, the release said.

The project also will include monitoring of bird populations throughout the project and beyond to better its success rate.

An added bonus of the restoration: The breakwater likely will support the formation of oyster reefs.

“The protection and restoration of this essential rookery island will go a long way in keeping the Coastal Bend a region known for healthy natural habitats that support our nature tourism,” Swanson said.

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