Ecological Concerns in the Baffin Bay/Gulf of Mexico - American Farmland Trust

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Ecological Concerns in the Baffin Bay/Gulf of Mexico

Texas Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Project

Sustaining Agriculture, Preserving Water Quality, and Restoring Baffin Bay

American Farmland Trust (AFT), in direct collaboration with USDA – Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), is actively engaged in conducting outreach and education and administering financial and technical assistance for producers in Nueces County, TX, to encourage the adoption of agricultural conservation practices to enhance water quality and restore the beloved Gulf of Mexico.


In recent decades, the Gulf of Mexico has faced numerous challenges in ecosystem restoration, primarily stemming from significant pollution events. The most notable incident was the 2010 Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill, when an oil rig exploded, sank, and released 3.19 million barrels of oil over 87 days, resulting in the death of 11 workers and making history as the largest oil spill of marine drilling operations. Moreover, the prevalence of dead zones—areas where oxygen levels are so depleted that no life can thrive—has surged to an estimated 8,776 square miles. This alarming increase can be attributed to nitrogen and phosphorus pollution resulting from intense rainfall events and groundwater contamination originating from lawns, sewage plants, and agricultural lands.

Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Team (GCERT):

The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Team (GCERT), established because of the BP oil spill settlement, oversees programs addressing the Gulf of Mexico’s current and future ecosystem health issues, with state-specific Trustee Implementation Groups (TIG) determining project funding based on impact rather than size, such as the Texas TIG, which hold annual public meetings for project updates.

Petronila Creek Nutrient Reduction Initiative (PCNRI):

Texas’ first nutrient reduction project aimed at addressing water quality challenges is the Petronila Creek Nutrient Reduction Initiative (PCNRI). This project will enroll eligible producers in the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) program to secure financial and technical support to successfully implement nutrient reduction practices.

Texas TIG (Trustee Implementation Group)

Nutrient runoff from agriculture lands in the Petronila Creek Watershed directly impacts Baffin Bay, which is a unique estuarine ecosystem situated along the Texas central coastline south of Corpus Christi and feeds into the Padre Island National Seashore. Baffin Bay provides robust commercial fishing and recreation opportunities as well as a critical habitat for numerous birds and wildlife but unfortunately, it has endured a decline in productivity over the last 30 years. The goal of the PCNRI is to engage 100 producers, covering an area spanning 72,000 acres, with a projected participation rate of 75% by 2028.

PCNRI will concentrate on monitoring key parameters such as total nitrogen, total phosphorus, total suspended solids, and turbidity year-round to assess the efficacy of the implemented conservation practices. Previous research has highlighted nonpoint source nutrient pollution is predominantly associated with sewage plants; however, during the rainiest months (March, April, and May), fertilizer and livestock waste runoff emerge as significant. This underscores the necessity for management techniques specifically tailored to prevent runoff from agricultural lands during these crucial periods of heavy rainfall.

Partnerships and Collaborators:

Encouragingly, the Petronila Creek Watershed has been subject to more than a decade of consistent water quality monitoring efforts thanks to the work of groups like Harte Research Institute (HRI) and Coastal Bend and Bays Estuaries Program (CBBEP), who have been spearheading initiatives such as Bring Baffin Back (BBB) for the past decade and are actively creating public awareness for the need to protect the bay through restoration, land management, and infrastructure projects. Drawing on the expertise of these local scientists and experts, we are optimistic about the significant positive impact we can achieve given the substantial amount of cropland within the watershed.

A Great Grey Heron stalks its dinner. USDA photo by Scott Bauer.

Nueces River Authority is also a key partner in this project, collecting data on the ground and contributing significantly to BBB success. Additionally, the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation District has played a pivotal role by developing a comprehensive Watershed Protection Plan that lists over 400 water quality and conservation management plans recommended across the state of Texas. Finally, the TAMUCC Center for Coastal Studies is making strides with their “Farming Out Pollutants” project, indicating a collective commitment from the community to addressing water quality challenges. Our collaborative efforts aim to create a sustainable and long-lasting impact on the ecosystem and the local community.

Petronila Creek stands as a significant tributary that enriches Baffin Bay, a true gem along the Texas coast. The bay not only offers vital habitats for a myriad of birds and wildlife but also supports the most densely populated commercial and recreational fishing activities in the region. AFT takes pride in its involvement with programs like PCNRI, contributing to the restoration of the Gulf of Mexico and assisting farmers in conserving natural resources.

For more information about the Petronila Nutrient Reduction Initiative or to learn if you are eligible to participate in the program, please contact

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About the Author
Lindsey Richards

Texas Gulf Coast Outreach and Education Coordinator

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