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The coast of Louisiana, Texas and Mexico is bordered by the world's longest barrier island system. Part of this island system forms the enormous Laguna Madre (or "Mother Lagoon") whose mosaic of coastal wetlands, freshwater ponds and native grasslands provide critical habitat for migratory raptors, songbirds, waterfowl and shorebirds, and the Kemp's Ridley sea turtle. This region stretches more than 250 miles north and south along the gulf coast of Texas and Mexico's state of Tamaulipas, where the Rio Grande meets the ocean.
The lagoon is one of only five known hypersaline estuary systems in the world, and of the 44 species of fish identified in the Gulf of Mexico as commercial or recreational, 37 have been found in the Laguna Madre.
From shorebirds and waterfowl to rare wildcats to endangered sea turtles, a rich variety of wildlife depends on the Laguna Madre for survival—90 percent of all redhead ducks winter in the lagoon. Other species include reddish egrets, brown pelicans, peregrine falcons, piping plovers, jaguarundi and ocelots.
A combination of seagrass beds, cordgrass prairies, thornscrub thickets and almost 100 other species of shrub-like plants make up the vegetation of the Rio Grande delta.
A Coastal Treasure
Laguna Madre is the most important wintering waterfowl habitat on the entire east coast of Mexico—its estuaries, bays and marshes are critically important for migratory shorebirds and neotropical songbirds. The Laguna is also home to many commercial and sportfish species, including speckled sea trout, redfish and flounder.
The entire coastal region of southern Texas and northeast Mexico and its wetlands, marshes, bays, lagoons and barrier islands are coming under increasing pressure and fragmentation from resort development, sewage and agricultural run-off, increasing commercial boat traffic and dredging.
Due in large part to the efforts of The Nature Conservancy and local partner Pronatura Noreste, the Mexican government recently decreed 1.4 million acres of the Laguna Madre a protected area. The Conservancy is now working with the government and partners to develop a management plan for the area to ensure its long-term protection.
Long-term objectives to design bi-national conservation strategies for the Laguna Madre include developing private land conservation techniques in cooperation with local landowners and identifying long-term sources of local revenue to help protect the surrounding native grasslands and brushlands.
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Gulf Coast Prairies and Marshes Ecoregion (PDF)