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The Latest from Texas: Hurricane Harvey’s Impact on Coastal Habitat

Reports from on the ground in Texas indicate some damage to bird sanctuaries, barrier islands, and nature centers.

[Ed. Note: We will be updating this story as we get more information from staff and volunteers in Texas.]

September 7, 2017, 12:46 EDT

The people of Texas are now in full recovery mode after Hurricane Harvey swept through the southern part of the state, leaving destruction in its wake. The National Audubon Society and local chapters own, manage, or restore a number of sites that were affected by the storm. Over the past week staff from Houston Audubon and Audubon Texas have visited a number of those sites and have started reporting back as to what they found after the winds and flood waters had receded.

From Houston Audubon

Of all of the sites in Texas, those managed by Houston Audubon fared the worst. All of Houston Audubon’s urban sites were flooded or otherwise suffered heavy damage during Harvey, while their coastal and barrier island sanctuaries in comparison fared better, suffering from some beach erosion and downed trees. Here is what Houston Audubon reported on their own site:

Coastal Sanctuaries:
  • Dos Vacas Muertas Bird Sanctuary
  • Horseshoe Marsh Bird Sanctuary
  • Mundy Marsh
  • McFarlane Marsh

“Dos Vacas Muertas Bird Sanctuary in Galveston weathered the storm well. 

Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary […] had very minor shoreline erosion and this will likely fill back in soon, if not already. […] Horseshoe Marsh Bird Sanctuary too was without damage. Given that Mundy Marsh and McFarlane Marsh sanctuaries are almost entirely brackish marsh, we expect these received a good slug of nutrients from the storm surge and beat back any exotic invasive woody vegetation hoping for a toehold.”

Forest Sanctuaries:
  • Damuth Woods
  • Winters Bayou Bird Sanctuaries

“Damuth Woods and Winters Bayou bird sanctuaries in the northern reaches of our service area have several trees and branches down across trails and standing water in some areas. Erosion does not appear to be a problem in these areas for now. That could change if surrounding areas are developed as the greater Houston area continues to expand northward.” More here

Urban Sanctuaries and Centers:
  • Edith L. Moore Nature Sanctuary

“Edith L. Moore Nature Sanctuary is slowly drying out post Harvey. We are still very thankful the cabin and offices remained dry during our record-breaking floods. The Fondren Bridge is now almost 2 feet above the creek waters, and rebuild will resume Wednesday, Sept 6th. [Some] trails are still under water. Rummel Creek has no flow due to backup waters from Buffalo Bayou releases. We expect these conditions to last into next week. Mosquito populations are quickly exploding and trails remain closed until further notice. Many boardwalks are unsafe and are upended or floating.” More here.

  • Sims Bayou Urban Nature Center

“There are trees, limbs, and trash scattered across the wooded area due to the water rise that will need to be cleaned up, and thick mud caking the boardwalks and trails. The erosion on the upper trails from sheet flow across the upper portion of the property is even more intensified now. Benches have been moved and tipped over into the forest pond and will need to be hauled back to original locations and cleaned. Sections of an older boardwalk have separated and will need to be fixed. […]

All in all, the sanctuary fared very well in extreme conditions and with some elbow grease and a little time it will fully recover.” More here. 

From Audubon Texas

A number of Audubon Texas staff have been able to visit the rookery islands that they’ve restored and managed in Matagorda Bay and Galveston Bay. Reports from Iliana Peña, director of conservation, and Dr. Victoria Vazquez, coastal conservation project manager, indicate that many of the islands suffered erosion as Harvey passed over while it first came ashore, and most were littered with plastics and other garbage. Cleanup and restoration of these islands will take time and funding, but at least the islands are still mostly intact.

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