Texas Coast Ecosystem Health Report Card

Principal Investigator
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A prototype Report Card on the health of the Gulf of Mexico in Texas.

Assessing the health of the Gulf of Mexico is a complex and extensive undertaking, requiring the development of an integrated assessment/management framework and a diversity of data sets. 

Coastal Texas and its watersheds provide an excellent model of the entire Gulf of Mexico for developing a Report Card because of the diversity and complexity of its ecosystems, human communities, and associated environmental pressures and stressors. The Texas Coast Ecosystem Health Report Card, completed in May 2019, will serve as a proof-of-concept evaluation or “prototype” of the framework and its implementation of the Gulf of Mexico Report Card. 

The Report Card used a variety of ecosystem health indicators, designated as Valued Ecosystem Components (VEC). For the Texas Gulf Report Card, seagrasses, oyster reefs, birds, water quality and fisheries were the chosen VEC’s based on the EcoHealth Metrics framework. The Report Card is an objective science-based process that citizens, managers, policymakers and scientists can easily access, yet dive into and examine the most basic data and information, if they wish. The goal is a transparent process that is credible and sustainable into the future.

The Report Card Team also divided the coast into four regions: the Upper Coast, Galveston Bay and Sabine Lake; the Mid Coast, Matagorda Bay to Corpus Christi Bay; the Upper Laguna Madre, including Baffin Bay; and Lower Laguna Madre from Landcut to Brownsville. The report card team then brought together the key indicator assessments on this regional scale to provide a more detailed report for each of the four coastal regions.

Eventually the institute hopes to create this kind of report for the Gulf of Mexico, but that will depend on HRI’s ability to attract the funding to take the prototype to Gulfwide scale and sustain it into the future. The institute is committed to sustaining such an effort but will need additional funding to complete the first assessment. Bringing together Gulf experts: to partition the Gulf into workable units; agree on ecosystem indicators (VECs) on that scale; and, initiate the process is a significant funding challenge.

The Texas Coast Ecosystem Health Report Card was based on collaborations begun under HRI's Gulf EcoHealth Metrics Initiative. HRI Executive Director Dr. Larry McKinney and HRI Chief Scientist Dr. Wes Tunnell led a world-renowned team of experts in a multi-year effort to develop a process to assess the health of the Gulf of Mexico on an ongoing basis. The HRI team have led the successful development of report cards around the world, from the Chesapeake Bay to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. That team included Health Kelsey and Bill Dennison (University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science); Texas Ecosystem Leaders Greg Stunz and Jeff Francis (fisheries), Christopher Onuf (seagrasses), Jennifer Pollack (oysters), Mike Wetz (water quality) and Kim Withers (birds); design and graphics were done by James Currie and Emily Nastase (University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science).