Sparkling for about 114 miles from Corpus Christi Bay to Port Isabel, the Laguna Madre is a large, shallow body of very salty water. It is precisely this salty water that makes the Laguna Madre an important sea grass habitat, and all that sea grass—and the wildlife it attracts—is the reason that the Laguna Madre remains one of the most undeveloped areas of coastline in the United States.
The Laguna Madre (Mother Lagoon) is subdivided into two lagoons referred to as the Upper Laguna Madre (approximately forty miles long) and the Lower Laguna Madre (approximately sixty miles long). The two parts are separated by the Saltillo Flats (Land Bridge), a group of tidal flats that starts approximately ten miles south of the mouth of Baffin Bay and extends south for almost twenty miles.
With an average depth of about three feet, the Upper Laguna Madre covers the 609 square miles that separate Padre Island, a barrier island, from the Texas mainland. Little fresh water flows into the Laguna Madre, and on average, salinity is 35 parts per 1,000 parts of water.
This unique water condition—salty, shallow, and calm—is ideal for growing sea grass, a dietary staple of several endangered species. Many Texans visit the Laguna Madre to catch a glimpse of the rare and endangered birds that call the lagoon home, including piping plovers and peregrine falcons. The Laguna Madre, however, is not only an important breeding-and-feeding ground for aquatic birds; as the endpoint on the Central Flyway, it is also an important winter habitat for many migratory birds. During the fall, thousands of Canada geese, snow geese, canvasbacks, pintails, mallards, blue-winged teals, and almost 80 percent of all North American redhead ducks take refuge in the lagoon, making it a premier spot for birding enthusiasts.
But nature lovers aren’t the only ones who enjoy all the Laguna Madre has to offer. Commercial activities, such as shrimping, thrive in this area. Also, the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GIWW) runs through the Laguna Madre, making it an important shipping watercourse for barges and other vessels carrying goods from Florida to Mexico. The GIWW, which is 14 feet deep and 125 feet wide, regularly undergoes dredging, most of which occurs in the channel section, north of Port Isabel.
Since it is part of the GIWW, the federal government owns portions of the Laguna Madre. The State of Texas also owns large sections: Both the Texas General Land Office and the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife manage subdivisions of the state-owned property. Private groups and families own other sections, including the large area that borders the King Ranch. Fortunately, some of the Laguna is protected for conservation. This is, after all, the place where many landlocked Texans get their first view of the ocean, where baby birds feed on the grass, and where brown shrimp are born in the warm salt water. No wonder it’s called the Laguna Madre, the mother of all lagoons.