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Years of Research Culminate in Baffin Bay Research Symposium

July 01, 2016

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CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Members of the public were invited to learn about years of research conducted on Baffin Bay by various scientists from around the Coastal Bend during the Baffin Bay Research Symposium held June 28 at the Del Mar Center for Economic Development.

Reports of fish kills, emaciated black drum and prolonged brown tide algal blooms in the area in 2012 and 2013 raised concerns for fishermen and scientists. Several scientists came together to review existing data and assess trends in fisheries and water quality over time. Dr. Michael Wetz, Associate Professor of Marine Biology at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, provided an update on an ongoing water quality study. Wetz launched a monitoring program with volunteers to better understand the causes behind the water quality changes in the bay south of Kingsville. That study continues to provide valuable data about the bay and has led researchers to other areas of study. 

“The volunteer-led study has yielded important clues as to the cause of brown tide in the system, and also drivers of water quality change in the system,” Wetz said. “For example, we have found that organic nitrogen is two-to-three fold higher in Baffin Bay than other bays along the Texas coast. This form of nitrogen has been shown to favor brown tide in other systems, and overall, the system has become enriched over many decades with nutrients that support brown tide and other algal growth. These conditions of excessive algal growth, especially brown tide, can have negative consequences for the ecosystem.”

The researchers also say that Baffin Bay, an inlet of the Laguna Madre, has difficulty flushing because of a limited amount of fresh water entering the system and lack of tidal exchange.

Dr. Jennifer Pollack, Assistant Professor of Marine Biology at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, presented on her research, which focuses on black drum populations and their benthic prey that live in the sediments.  Pollack’s research was in response to the 2013 Texas Park and Wildlife Department “Emaciated Black Drum Event” report.

Pollack says that certain disturbances in the estuary, such as changes in water quality, can affect benthic prey abundance and distribution, which may in turn have cascading negative effects on black drum populations.

“My lab has been conducting a study to determine links between water quality, benthic prey and black drum,” said Pollack. “Our conclusions thus far indicate that black drum are feeding on a number of benthic prey items in Baffin Bay, roughly in proportion to their availability. It’s important that we continue this research because we have moved from a severe drought, and more recently, through very wet El Niño conditions, all of which are shaking things up in Baffin Bay, and give us the opportunity to more explicitly link water quality dynamics to estuarine resources.”

Other speakers at the symposium included:

  • Jace Tunnell, Director of the Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute, gave the welcoming address.
  • Dr. Larry McKinney, Executive Director of the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies, gave a talk on the history of Baffin Bay’s environmental issues.
  • Mark McKay, graduate student in the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Coastal and Marine System Science Program, gave a talk on the long-term environmental changes of Baffin Bay.
  • Zach Olsen, graduate student at TAMU-CC, gave an overview of 2013 Black Drum emaciation event.
  • Holly Greening, from the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, spoke about the Tampa Bay case study for water quality improvements.
  • Rae Mooney, Project Manager at the Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries Program, gave a summary of all key research findings and the next direction for Baffin Bay.