TAMU-CC Researchers Receive $494K EPA Grant to Improve Health of Baffin Bay, Educate Community

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Improving the water quality of Baffin Bay is the focus of a new study led by researchers at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. The project, funded by a recent grant of $494,349 from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Gulf of Mexico Program, will aid in identifying sources of fecal pollution within the Baffin Bay watershed. Multiple segments of the bay have been listed on the state’s list of impaired bodies of water due to high bacteria levels. The project is encouraging news to those who take part in recreational activities on the water and rely on the bay as a source of nutrition, as it is known for its abundance of drum and trout.

Dr. Jeffrey Turner, Associate Professor of Marine Biology at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi and the project’s principal investigator, said the results will benefit water quality as well as human health.

“It is important to identify where the fecal pollution is coming from so that mitigation efforts can address the problem at its source,” Turner said. “However, identifying the source of pollution does not automatically tell us the severity of the associated health risks. Therefore, the next step is determining the risk that the fecal pollution poses to public health.”  

Working with Turner is Dr. Mike Wetz, Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies Endowed Chair for Coastal Ecosystem Processes; Dr. Lucas Gregory, Associate Director for the Texas Water Resources Institute; Sam Sugarek, Director of Water Quality Programs at the Nueces River Authority; Erin Hill, TAMU-CC Center for Coastal Studies Research Specialist IV); Ana Garcia, Director of the Voices of the Colonias; Dr. Kristina Mena. University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston School of Public Health; and Dr. Richard Coffin, TAMU-CC Chair Department of Physical and Environmental Sciences.

During data collection, the team will record several water quality parameters, including temperature, salinity, transparency, dissolved oxygen levels, and nutrient and chlorophyll concentrations. Identification and quantitation of fecal pollution sources will be completed by Dr. Nicole Powers, a postdoctoral scientist in Turner’s lab. A risk assessment analysis will then be completed by Dr. Anna Gitter, a postdoctoral scientist in Mena’s lab. Results will be shared with regional agencies and decision makers to develop targeted, data-guided remediation and management strategies.

“Although Baffin Bay is the focus of this project, results will ultimately improve water quality and public health across coastal Texas by establishing a data collection, assessment, education, and dissemination framework that can and will be extended to other watersheds,” Turner said.

The results may prove especially valuable to residents of colonias who are disproportionately impacted by poor water quality. To reach those communities, Hill and Garcia are partnering to develop bilingual resources to educate residents regarding the fecal pollution and the associated health risks.

“Our first successful project, Connecting Communities in the Oso Bay/Oso Creek Watershed, gave us the opportunity to form special relationships with the residents of colonias,” Hill said. “With this project, our goals are to create an education and outreach program that promotes community engagement to protect and improve water quality that will in turn improve public health and revitalize watershed communities.”