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Book of Texas Bays

By Jim Blackburn; Photography by Jim Olive

Publication Year: 2004

In a dazzling tribute to the Texas coast, conservationist and lawyer Jim Blackburn has teamed with photographer Jim Olive to give us the most intimate and important portrait yet of Texas bays and of those who work for their wise use and preservation. While giving life and sustenance to plants, animals, and people, the bays and estuaries of Texas have other stories to tell—about freshwater inflows, deep port construction, disappearing oyster beds, beach resorts, industrial pollution, and more. At a certain point, each story brings opposing forces into the courtroom for vigorous debates on the future of some of our most valuable and irreplaceable resources. The Book of Texas Bays is a personal account of legal battles won and lost, but it is also a fine work of natural history by someone who has a deep spiritual connection to the Texas coast and all it has to offer. Jim Olive’s stunning photographs present us with a dramatic perspective of our relationship with the Gulf and remind us of both the grandness and the fragility of our coastal treasures.

Published by: Texas A&M University Press

Series: Gulf Coast Books Series


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xii

This celebration of Texas bays reflects the help of many people. It was conceived out of discussions I had with Ann Hamilton of the Houston Endowment, whose support was essential. Without Ann’s conviction, this book would not have come to be. ...

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1. Spirit of the Mud

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pp. 3-5

Over the years, I have developed a spiritual connection with the coast and I act to protect it. Place is where you are, your anthropological, ecological, and geological center. If we understand place, we are more likely to care for it. Place may be the most important concept in environmental protection today. ...

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2. Water and Sabine Lake

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pp. 6-16

The project was simple enough. The Sabine River Authority and Texas Water Development Board wanted to know if the citizens of the Sabine Lake watershed would object to selling water stored in Toledo Bend Reservoir to the City of Houston. Toledo Bend had been built on the Sabine River in the 1960s. ...

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3. Wetlands of the Upper Texas Coast

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pp. 17-26

I prefer to experience the wetlands of the Texas coast in my kayak. That way I can glide quietly along the marsh edge, almost touching the Spartina grass as it rises from the lifegiving mud of the bay bottom, passing the wading birds as they probe the mud with their varied beaks, searching for food. ...

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4. Smith Point

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pp. 27-37

As one of the world’s leaders in ecotourism, Victor Emanuel can go wherever he wants to watch birds: to Africa for the southern carmine bee-eater; to Antarctica for albatrosses, petrels, and shearwaters; to Brazil, where his tour leaders regularly spot more than a thousand species on an eight-day trip. ...

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5. Wallisville

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pp. 38-47

For a little town that saw its heyday a century ago, Wallisville is a place with a lot of resonance among Houston environmentalists. The fight over the Wallisville Reservoir was one of the longest, most serious environmental disputes on the Texas coast. The original proposal was to construct a dam where the Trinity River runs into Trinity Bay, ...

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6. The Houston Ship Channel

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pp. 48-58

The Reverend Carla Valentine Pryne (then Carla V. Berkedal) gaped silently as we slowed to a crawl above the Houston Ship Channel late one night, inching over the Beltway 8 Bridge connecting Channelview to the north with Deer Park to the south, east of downtown Houston. ...

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7. Galveston Bay and Bayport

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pp. 59-70

Walter Duson taught several of us about sailing. He grew up in El Campo and spent much of his youth on Matagorda Bay and its tributary Carancua Bay, where his family had a house at El Campo Beach. Like many others, he moved to Houston for work, in his case as an architect. And like many others in Houston, he looked to Galveston Bay for recreation, ...

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8. Galveston Island

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pp. 71-83

Houston is a town filled with geologists. The main reason, of course, is the oil business. Many of them expend their professional attention on using modern technology to find hydrocarbon deposits. Others of a more academic turn of mind, like my friend H. C. Clark concern themselves with geologic processes ...

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9. Christmas Bay

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pp. 84-95

West Bay meets the Gulf of Mexico at San Luis Pass, a resort for birds at low tide. The flocks of birds blanket the flats in a patterned fabric of black, white, brown, and gray—avocets and stilts, willets and dowitchers. The tides work the silt into a textured surface, rippled and sparkling in the sun. ...

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10. Lake Jackson and the Columbia Bottomlands

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pp. 96-107

We were present for a status conference. I explained that I had filed suit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on behalf of Sharron Stewart of Lake Jackson, the Houston Audubon Society, and the Sierra Club to protect the Columbia Bottomlands along the Brazos and San Bernard rivers where they reach the coast. ...

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11. Sargent

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pp. 108-117

The people who called me were Muriel and Roy Tipps, commercial fishermen who own a bait camp and shrimping business in Sargent on the north end of East Matagorda Bay. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was dumping fill into East Matagorda Bay, and the shrimpers couldn’t shrimp and the recreational fishermen couldn’t fish. ...

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12. Matagorda Bay

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pp. 118-131

Al Garrison oriented the boat carefully as we approached the locks on the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. We were on the east side of the Colorado River near the community of Matagorda. A barge loaded with benzene was approaching from the other direction, requiring careful maneuvering at close quarters. ...

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13. Mad Island

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pp. 132-144

Clive Runnells sat across from me at the conference table in his Houston office as he talked about Mad Island, a tract of coastal marsh that he inherited from Shanghai Pierce and eventually conveyed to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Nature Conservancy. Runnells was not raised on the Texas coast but moved here in the early 1950s, ...

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14. Palacios

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pp. 145-155

Joe Nguyen called our office in June of 2000, asking for help concerning the new shrimping regulations proposed by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. He and the other shrimpers along the coast were concerned that these regulations would put them out of business, and their fears seemed well placed. ...

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15. Lavaca Bay and Formosa Plastics

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pp. 156-166

Diane Wilson is a shrimper from Seadrift, and she is larger than life. I imagine her as a kind of colossus, standing with one foot in San Antonio Bay and the other in Matagorda Bay, rising over the Calhoun County peninsula, arms lifted, fighting off those who would harm these bays. ...

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16. Port O’Connor

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pp. 167-174

Early June: Port O’Connor was abuzz with noise and energy. Boats on trailers were lined up at the boat ramps, thirty or more strung out along the road before dawn, trucks and SUVs with their engines thrumming, waiting to deliver their two-hundred-horsepower tunnel-hulled flat-water fishing boats into the intracoastal canal, where Matagorda Bay meets Espiritu Santo. ...

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17. San Antonio Bay and Sustainability

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pp. 175-186

You could feel the tension in the large conference room at One O’Connor Plaza in Victoria. The owners of the D. M. O’Connor Ranches had called a meeting to discuss the diversion of water from the Guadalupe River to the city of San Antonio. The Guadalupe–Blanco River Authority (GBRA), San Antonio River Authority (SARA), and San Antonio Water System (SAWS) ...

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18. Rockport

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pp. 187-194

Aransas and Copano bays are blue-green jewels set in the bend of the Texas coast, where the coastline completes its transition to a north-south alignment. This is where the bays become much clearer, where seagrasses begin to be found in quantity, where the redhead ducks winter. ...

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19. Port Aransas and Lighthouse Lakes

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pp. 195-204

Off the isthmus between the mainland town of Aransas Pass and the island community of Port Aransas is a place called Harbor Island, site of one of the biggest environmental fights ever to take place on the Texas coast. The people defending the coast won this one, which is why the Lighthouse Lights Paddle Trail now offers access to one side of Harbor Island. ...

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20. Nueces Bay

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pp. 205-212

The lower coast of Texas is much drier than the upper coast. The lower coast receives much less rainfall, and the large rivers—the Sabine, Trinity, Brazos, Colorado, and Guadalupe— all flow into the upper and midcoastal bays. South of San Antonio Bay, freshwater inflow is greatly reduced compared to what flows into the bays farther north. ...

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21. Corpus Christi and Development

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pp. 213-224

“Good morning, it’s Moseley,” came from the other end of the phone line, and I knew the call was going to be interesting. The caller was Joe Moseley, the brightest coastal engineer I know. Moseley usually has several interesting tidbits of information and often tries to get me involved in schemes that I need to consider carefully before saying yes. ...

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22. The King Ranch

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pp. 225-235

We met our tour guide, Tom Langschied, in the parking lot of our motel in Kingsville at 6:00 A.M. in late March. Seven friends scurried to get gear together—John and Princie, Jack and Sue, Dale Cordray, Garland and I—none of us wanting to be the one keeping the others waiting. ...

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23. Port Mansfield

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pp. 236-246

Dick Morrison and I worked together when the Galveston Bay Foundation was formed in late 1986 and have been friends ever since. His son Richard was an associate in my law firm, a young man who wanted to protect the environment as a lawyer. The three of us were headed down the coast from Houston to Port Mansfield to fish, talking all the way. ...

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24. Laguna Atascosa

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pp. 247-256

Gib Little cut the motor and coasted to the edge of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway and into a small side bay, shallow and full of seagrass. The shoalgrass glistened in the early morning sun, the underwater meadow revealed in the clear water of the lower Laguna Madre. The key to fly fishing for reds is to be quiet and observant. ...

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25. South Padre Island and South Bay

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pp. 257-266

The spring morning had dawned windy and cloudy with intermittent light rain moving across the island. Merriwood Ferguson, an environmental activist and excellent birdwatcher, was taking Garland and me birding on South Padre, and she thought we might have a fall-out in progress; spring migrants often piled into the island on days like this. ...

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26. The Rio Grande

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pp. 267-274

At the start of the twenty-first century, the Rio Grande quit flowing into the Gulf of Mexico. A sandbar formed, separating the river from the Gulf, and its flow stopped. No one meant for it to dry up. It just happened. Water officials in the Rio Grande Valley tried to fix it by dredging the mouth open, but the river silted in again. ...


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pp. 275-284


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pp. 285-290

E-ISBN-13: 9781603442756
E-ISBN-10: 1603442758
Print-ISBN-13: 9781585443390
Print-ISBN-10: 1585443395

Page Count: 304
Illustrations: 116 color photos. 26 maps. 32 figs.
Publication Year: 2004

Series Title: Gulf Coast Books Series

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Subject Headings

  • Coastal ecology -- Texas.
  • Natural history -- Texas.
  • Bays -- Texas.
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