Warmer winters trigger changes in Texas bays

A couple of degrees of temperature and a few inches of water might seem hardly worth noticing. But those slight changes are having and stand to have effects — subtle and significant, understood and still uncertain — on the state’s coastal bays and the estuaries, the marine life tied to them and the people who enjoy those resources.

Almost 20,000 acres — 31 square miles — of salt marsh, the oyster grass-dominated matrix of wetlands that is the super-charged engine driving inshore coastal fisheries and providing recreation for more than a million anglers and livelihood for tens of thousands, disappeared from estuaries along Texas’ coast between 1990 and 2010.

Over the same 20 years, the amount of black mangrove in the shallows rimming the state’s coastal estuaries grew by approximately 4,000 acres, much of that growth in areas along the upper coast, where the tropical shrub had not been previously documented. In many cases, the expansion of the tropical mangroves has come at the expense of the more productive temperate salt marsh.

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