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of Mexico. The mouth of the inlet was intentionally closed in 1979 to prevent contaminants from the Ixtoc oil spill from reaching Texas bays and the mainland. Despite several unsuccessful attempts to reopen the inlet, flow was never permanently restored, degrad- ing the Mesquite Bay ecosystem and angler success over the following decades. Thanks to a multi-year effort by Aransas County, the State of Texas, CCA Texas, and the generosity of private citizens, Cedar Bayou was reopened on September 25, 2014. The result of the dredging effort can only be compared to turning on a light switch. Life instantly returned to an area that we often jokingly referred to as the “marine Mars” — an area that should be teaming with marine recruiting marine life from the Gulf but was rela- tively void of these animals prior to reopening.


Once empty marsh grass and oys-


ters were revitalized along the inlet’s banks, and, most importantly, seagrass nurseries within Mesquite Bay began to abound with the juvenile offspring of many species as flow began. The iconic redfish provided the


most noteworthy response to Cedar Bayou’s rebirth. In the two-year period leading up to the inlet’s reopening, our samples did not yield a single juvenile redfish during the time period when they should be ingressing into nurs- eries. Within seven days of completing the dredging efforts, we began collecting juvenile redfish within Mesquite Bay on a regular basis. This trend has con- tinued through our most recent sam- pling trip in early November 2015, where we found unprecedented num- bers of juvenile redfish in the Cedar Bayou region. This pattern was repeated for many of our most economically important fishery species. Not only did restoring flow in Cedar Bayou transport juvenile redfish into the bays, it also provides the adults of many species, including redfish and southern flounder, with a migration route from the bays to their offshore spawning grounds. Using acoustic telemetry, we were able to track indi- vidual adult redfish for over a year. Results exceeded our expectations as nearly all of the adult tagged fish moved through Cedar Bayou during a three-week period during peak spawn- ing season to join the offshore spawn-


ing stock. These fish will spend the rest of their 50-plus mature adult years spawning millions of red drum in the Gulf, thus completing their life cycle. Within its first year of being reopened, we are thrilled to conclude from our studies that Cedar Bayou is fulfilling its role as a lifeline and conduit for redfish as well as other species with similar life strategies.


CASCADING EFFECTS


Other species also responded posi- tively to reconnecting Mesquite Bay to the Gulf of Mexico. Juvenile blue crab densities increased dramatically within Cedar Bayou and Mesquite Bay. These crabs are an integral part of the marine food chain. Increasing their numbers will not only provide food for these fisheries, but also the endangered whooping cranes that winter on the Bayou and rely heavily on blue crabs for most of their diet. Juvenile croaker and white/brown shrimp populations also skyrocketed in the post-opening samples. These species play a vital role in the local economy and marine food chain. It is safe to say that all the young redfish we


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