Dredging to improve Gulf Intracoastal Waterway and Whooping Crane Habitat

by Friends of the Wild Whoopers Admin

A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project designed to maintain the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GIWW) along the Texas coast also has features planned to help Whooping Cranes according to Friends of the Wild Whoopers (FOTWW). Chester McConnell, president of FOTWW advised that the group plans to closely monitor the project to evaluate its effects. “We have been involved with dredging projects where the dredge material has been used to benefit wetland wildlife species and we know this can be done” according to McConnell.

Whooping Cranes along the Gulf Intracostal Waterway
Whooping Cranes along the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway adjacent to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plays a significant role in keeping America’s waterways open and commerce flowing,” said Seth Jones, an operations manager with the USACE Galveston District’s Navigation Branch. “The Texas portion of the GIWW alone carries 73 million tons of cargo a year valued at $40 billion.”The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Galveston District awarded a maintenance dredging contract in the amount of $2,967,500 to Orion Marine Construction Inc., to dredge the GIWW across Aransas Bay in Aransas and Calhoun counties, Texas.  The contractor will use a pipeline dredge to remove approximately 1,323,000 cubic yards of material from the GIWW across Aransas Bay and the Lydia Ann Channel.

Work is expected to begin in mid-June 2015 with an estimated completion date of October 2015. According to Jones, a portion of the dredged material will be used beneficially as part of ongoing marsh creation within the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.

Dawn Gardiner, Assistant Field Supervisor of the Corpus Christi Office of Texas Coastal Ecological Services, USFWS believes that creating more marsh with the dredge material will be a good use. Gardiner told Friends of the Wild Whoopers that “the dredge material would be spread over existing marsh in a manner to allow continued growth of wetland vegetation. The marsh is intended to benefit Whooping Cranes as well as other wildlife species.”

Barges on Gulf Intracoastal Waterway
Barges on Gulf Intracoastal Waterway

Gardiner further explained that “…the current marsh is eroding away and is anticipated to continue to do so with sea level rise and increasing barge traffic. Beneficially using dredge material can slow losses.”

“Approximately 208,000 cubic yards of material will be placed at Beneficial Use Site J, which will eventually become a 56-acre marsh site,” said Jones. “The goal is to increase the amount of marsh habitat in the refuge which is especially important in the Aransas Bay area considering the endangered Whooping Crane travels from Canada each year to winter there.”

The Corps dredges this particular area of the GIWW between June and October as to not disturb the endangered Whooping Crane, according to Jones.

McConnell rationalized that the wild population of Whooping Cranes continues to increase while more Whooper habitat is being destroyed or degraded along the Texas coast. So, projects such as dredging the GIWW can serve more than one purpose. Friends of the Wild Whoopers is hopeful that the USACE dredging project will increase habitat as planned.

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***** FOTWW’s mission is to help preserve and protect the Aransas/Wood Buffalo
population of wild whooping cranes and their habitat. *****
Friends of the Wild Whoopers is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization.