Ducks Unlimited is overseeing a 1,300-acre marsh restoration project on the J.D. Murphree Wildlife Management Area (WMA)
near Port Arthur, Texas. In one of the largest beneficial-use projects of its kind, approximately 2 million cubic yards of dredge material will be transported from the Golden Pass Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) terminal dock along the Sabine Neches Waterway to designated areas within the Salt Bayou Unit of the WMA.
Owned and managed by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), J.D. Murphree WMA consists of 24,250 acres of fresh, intermediate, and brackish marsh within the prairie-marsh zone along the upper coast of Texas. These wetlands are part of the Chenier Plain, the westernmost delta of the Mississippi River, which extends from Vermillion Bay, Louisiana, to Galveston Bay, Texas. The Salt Bayou Marsh watershed, which is entirely west of Sabine Lake, provides important stopover and staging habitat for many Central Flyway waterfowl that migrate and winter on the Texas Gulf coast.
Why the move?
The Salt Bayou Unit has degraded over the years, primarily due to saltwater intrusion. This has significantly reduced the amount of emergent vegetation important to wintering waterfowl. Scouring storm surges and other impacts from recent hurricanes have further degraded this marsh complex. Once coastal wetlands lose their vegetation, their value to waterfowl and other wetland-associated wildlife is also degraded.
"We need more beneficial-use projects along the Gulf Coast," DU regional biologist Greg Green said. "Large-scale restoration is the only option if we are going to maintain the value of this region as a waterfowl wintering area."
This project was funded through the TPWD by a NOAA Fisheries Recovery Grant to restore 40 acres of emergent marsh damaged by Hurricane Ike. The $1.5 million grant enabled TPWD to hire DU to plan, engineer, survey, and monitor the project. The grant also covers part of the cost of replanting marsh vegetation on the restoration site.
As much as 24 inches of dredge material will be placed on top of subsided marsh to raise elevations in the 1,300-acre restoration area. Increasing the elevation of the Salt Bayou Marsh will allow native wetland vegetation to become reestablished. The dredge material—silty, fine sediment from the Sabine Neches Waterway--will be removed from a ship berthing area using a hydraulic dredge, which will pump it through a temporary pipeline and deposit throughout the project area.
Making it possible
"We've worked with DU for many years, and we know their expertise in wetlands restoration," said Jim Sutherlin, area manager on J.D. Murphree WMA. "This area has long been important for waterfowl and other wildlife, and we want to ensure that it continues to provide quality habitat. We appreciate our relationship with Golden Pass LNG and the special efforts they are making to provide the fill material needed for restoring the marsh."
"We value the opportunity to work with Texas Parks and Wildlife, Ducks Unlimited, and Jefferson County in bringing this important restoration project to fruition," said Raymond Jones, president of Golden Pass LNG. "By revitalizing our existing coastal marshes, we are providing wintering waterfowl and other wildlife with the types of natural habitats that promote their long-term viability. We look forward to pursuing additional opportunities like this in the future."