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Picture of the cover to the November 2006 magazine

Living Lab

Huge new reserve established on the Coastal Bend.

By Rusty Middleton

In May, the Mission-Aransas Estuarine Research Reserve on the Texas Coastal Bend became the third-largest estuarine research reserve in the nation. University of Texas marine science professor Paul Montagna led the seven-year process to establish the 185,000-acre living laboratory.

“This is a place where we’re going to create a lot of long-term coastal research,” says Montagna. “That research will be important because it will help coastal decision-makers better understand what changes in the estuaries are related to natural conditions or human activities.”

Major areas of estuary-related research will be water quality, fresh water inflow and climate change. Information from these studies will help local communities and government agencies solve thorny problems such as non-point pollution, development controversies and habitat restoration.

Teachers and students will benefit also because a key function of the reserve will be education and outreach. New educational programs and facilities will be created, including the Wetland Education Center in Port Aransas (on the UT Marine Science Institute campus), nature trails, an environmental education center, teacher training and graduate research.

The reserve will establish a monitoring system that will thoroughly and systematically record conditions like currents, nutrient levels, bacteria, tides, temperatures and salinity. Such basic measurements are critical to understanding and protecting the coastal environment and the local economy. For example, blue crab, the primary food of endangered whooping cranes, cannot live in water that is too salty. And oysters, part of the economic lifeblood of the Texas coast, will get a disease known as dermo in highly saline water. Accurate monitoring of conditions will help the public and policy makers manage and protect the coast both now and in the future as population grows and pressure on the environment increases.

For more information, visit <www.utmsi.utexas.edu/nerr/>.

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