North Deer is one of the few natural islands left in Galveston Bay, as most natural islands have been lost due to subsidence and erosion. The most productive bird nesting island on the Texas Gulf coast, North Deer Island has experienced up to 10 feet of erosion per year.
“This island has been extremely important to the recovery of the Brown pelican in Galveston Bay. Based on a strong and healthy population, our agency has proposed removal of the Brown pelican from the endangered species list,” said Benjamin Tuggle, regional director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The young produced here are likely the birds that everyone sees wading in marshes and bayous throughout the Houston-Galveston area, Tuggle said.
The erosion-protection project is part of the region’s habitat conservation goals established by the Galveston Bay Estuary Program partnership, whose mission is to preserve the bay’s economic and ecologic health. Partners worked for eight years to restore and protect North Deer Island’s eroding shoreline.
Erosion destroyed habitat for up to 30,000 nesting pairs of birds that were using the island as well as nursery areas for commercially and recreationally important finfish and shellfish.
Project partners barged in 24,100 tons of rock from a quarry in Missouri, using the Mississippi River and the Intracoastal Waterway as a route, to create 6,450 feet of stone breakwater and armored shoreline.
The planning, engineering, and construction costs for the eight year endeavor totaled more than $3.2 million dollars.
“These group efforts demonstrate that by working together we can turn good ideas into tangible results,” said Jamie Schubert, a biologist and project manager for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
“These habitats are important to our economy,” said Schubert. “Fish and wildlife resources in Texas contribute over $8 billion to the economy. These resources also are part of our natural heritage and deserve our consideration for their intrinsic value. By protecting the island, we ensure that these benefits will be there for our children.”
The 144 acre island is co-owned by Houston and Texas Audubon. The island is managed as a bird sanctuary. No trespassing signs are posted and predators are removed.
The salt marshes on the southeast side of North Deer Island are nurseries for fish and shellfish, and these salt marshes are important foraging sites for birds breeding on the island, according to the Houston Audubon Society.
All species nesting on North Deer Island are migratory to some degree, and in winter, island marshes are used by migrating waterfowl.
The partnership includes Audubon Texas, the Houston Audubon Society, EcoNRG, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Gulf of Mexico Program, the Kempner Foundation, Meadows Foundation, Reliant Energy, Shell Marine, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the Galveston Bay Estuary Program, the Texas General Land Office,