Places We Protect

Laguna Madre


Spralling scrubland and palms meet sandy beaches at the ocean's edge.
Laguna Madre The Mother Lagoon consists of coastal wetlands, native grasslands, marshes, shallow bays, wind tidal flats and barrier islands. © Dero Sanford

The "Mother Lagoon" is one of just six hypersaline coastal lagoons in the world.



The Laguna Madre, which spans Texas’ lower Gulf of Mexico coastline and Mexico’s Tamaulipan shore, is a paradox; although unassuming in appearance, the "Mother Lagoon" is one of just six hypersaline coastal lagoons in the world. Stretching for hundreds of miles along the coast of five different South Texas counties and one state in Mexico, this region is a rich and biologically diverse ecosystem.

Some of the most extensive colonial water bird rookeries in the state are located here. Its network of coastal wetlands, native grasslands, marshes, shallow bays, wind tidal flats and barrier islands also hosts an array of wildlife, including migratory and wintering shorebirds. In addition, the shallow waters of the Laguna Madre account for almost 80% of all Texas’ seagrass beds and support a variety of fish species, including spotted seatrout, redfish and flounder. Of the 44 species of fish identified in the Texas Gulf as commercial or recreational, 37 occur in the Laguna Madre.




Laguna Madre

Map with marker: Laguna Madre

Explore our work in Texas

A man walks through shrubland filled with palm trees.
Biodiversity Abounds The Laguna Madre region provides unique habitat for numerous rare, threatened and endangered species. © Dero Sanford

Why This Place Matters

The Laguna Madre provides critical habitat for many wading and shorebirds, including reddish egrets, western sandpipers, peregrine falcons, 20% of the world’s endangered piping plovers and 90% of all wintering redhead ducks, whose flocks can run into the tens of thousands here. Federally endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, jaguarundi and ocelots also call the area home.

Myriad challenges threaten this Texas coastal ecosystem, including the ongoing development of the barrier islands and coastal areas, sea level rise, stormwater and agricultural runoff and dredging, to name a few. Direct human activity has created issues too. A rising number of visitors to beaches and flats has reduced the area available for wildlife to successfully rest, nest and feed, free from human disturbances.

Increased recreational and commercial boat traffic has also taken a toll, particularly on colonial nesting islands and Texas’ dense, shallow stands of seagrass beds. When a boat with an outboard propeller repeatedly slices into the shallow bay floor (called “prop scarring”), it uproots seagrass and can permanently damage the beds. Seagrass is critical to the Gulf of Mexico, helping filter pollutants from waterways and providing vital nursery habitat for a variety of fish and shellfish.

Photos from the Laguna Madre

Discover the diverse plant life and wildlife at this hypersaline coastal lagoon.

Two palm-like trees stand at an angle in a field of tall grass and shrubs.
A group of small birds stand in shallow waves on the beach.
Thick grass and palm trees give way to sandy beach at the ocean's edge.
A large, full moon shines over a waving ochre prairie at Texas City Prairie Preserve.
A woman looks through binoculars in shrubland.
PROTECTING OUR COAST TNC is working to protect and restore the delicate Laguna Madre, by connecting land fragments and revitalizing critical habitat. © Dero Sanford

What TNC Is Doing

TNC is applying a three-pronged approach to protecting the Texas coast by revitalizing ecological function, reducing human impacts and supporting nature-based solutions to enhance coastal community resilience.

TNC has partnered with agencies at all levels to reconnect and protect the coastal wetlands of the Mother Lagoon. In 1998, we collaborated with Mexico-based Pronatura Noreste to establish the Flora and Fauna Protected Area involving the Laguna Madre and Rio Bravo Delta. This 1.4 million-acre expanse of the Laguna Madre has been identified in Tamaulipas, Mexico with the country's National Council of Natural Protected Areas governing the area.

Between 2000 and 2007, TNC protected another 25,000 stateside acres of the Laguna Madre that are on the upper end of South Padre Island. We conveyed this island parcel soon after to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to establish the South Padre Island Unit within the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge.

We've also worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to safeguard more than 2,100 acres within the region's Bahia Grande coastal corridor. This work is helping link the Laguna Madre to the Lower Rio Grande Valley and is the first land protection deal in Texas funded by the federal RESTORE Act of 2012—which was created to foster ecological and economic restoration throughout the Gulf of Mexico two years after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The acreage stretches across the upper end of the Bahia Grande and features a mosaic of coastal wetlands, native prairies and brush. Preserving these tracts is critical to restoring Bahia Grande's extensive tidal bay system and creating a 7,000-acre wildlife corridor into the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Such a passageway will benefit a range of wildlife, including the aplomado falcon and federally endangered ocelot. Like the South Padre acreage, the goal is to incorporate the newly protected parcels within the Bahia Grande into the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, providing another valuable link in a chain of protected lands on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.