Why We Care
The Guadalupe River supplies freshwater to the coastal marshes of the Gulf of Mexico and the wintering area of the last naturally occurring Whooping Crane population. The Whooping Cranes migrate over 2,500 miles from their breeding grounds in western Canada to winter on the coastal wetlands near and within the boundaries of Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Texas. The freshwater from the Guadalupe River is essential for the cranes and their main winter food source, blue crabs, but the river and coastal wetlands are threatened by excessive upstream water use.
What We Do
The survival of Whooping Cranes in Texas depends on securing freshwater from the Guadalupe River basin and conserving wetland habitats along the Gulf Coast (click on the map to view our project areas). These same waters also sustain a wealth of economic activity along the Texas coast, including commercial and sport fisheries, shellfisheries and recreation.
ICF works with diverse partners in Texas, including coastal municipalities, businesses, and community groups, to protect the fragile gulf ecosystem, its precious wildlife, and the vital coastal economy. Our research includes new studies of Whooping Cranes and the ecology of blue crabs to improve our management of cranes and their habitats during crisis periods, while outreach focuses on water users throughout the Guadalupe basin, and their options for water management that can meet their needs while sustaining downstream businesses and communities and healthier coastal ecosystems.
We are also involved in a new health study focusing on the western migratory Whooping Crane population. The ICF Veterinary Services Department is providing health assessments of Whooping Cranes captured in Texas, as well as chicks captured and banded on the population’s breeding grounds in western Canada.
Through outreach activities, such as this boat tour on the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge (left), ICF is engaging local residents in Whooping Crane conservation in the Guadalupe River basin.
On their wintering grounds along the Gulf Coast of Texas, Whooping Cranes feed almost exclusively on blue crabs (below). The coastal marshes provide excellent habitat for the crabs if salinity levels remain moderate, which is determined primarily by the amount of freshwater flowing into the coastal waters from the Guadalupe River basin.
When freshwater is reduced, due to drought or use of the river's water upstream, fewer crabs are available for Whooping Cranes. In such cases, the cranes weaken, resulting in higher mortality on their wintering grounds and fewer chicks on their breeding grounds in Canada the following spring. How will this affect the future of this endangered species?
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Photo by Dave & Liz Smith