HARLINGEN, Texas (ValleyCentral) — Far below through scudding clouds, a remote island emerges in the vastness of the Lower Laguna Madre.
The small, lightly vegetated island east of Laguna Vista is home to a thriving population of Brown pelicans, a bird that nearly vanished from the Texas coast.
By the late 1960s and early 1970s, there were few brown pelicans remaining along the entire Gulf coast, and less than 100 survived in Texas, as the harmful pesticide DDT led to eggshell thinning resulting in virtually no successful nesting.
With the banning of DDT use in the United States in 1972 and protection from disturbance on nesting islands, Brown pelicans began a slow recovery. In 2009 they were taken off the endangered species list, and their numbers have now increased to more than 12,000 breeding pairs along the Texas coast.
Historically, Brown pelicans nested on the upper, middle, and lower Texas coast, but it has only been in recent years that they have returned to nest in the Lower Laguna Madre in significant numbers. This spring a record 100 nests produced young on this island, an increase from the then-record-breaking count of some 80 nests last year.
However, Brown pelicans continue to face a multitude of threats from unchecked coastal development, unregulated wind turbine expansion, pollution, and vehicle strikes on poorly designed coastal highways.
Another ongoing peril is the deadly entanglement pelicans suffer from Gulf of Mexico longlines. More than 100 Brown pelicans washed up on Boca Chica and South Padre Island beaches in October of last year perishing in lines set by Mexican commercial fishermen.
While the remarkable recovery of the Brown pelican and return to historic nesting islands in the Lower Laguna Madre is one of the great wildlife success stories of recent decades, their survival depends on our willingness to address myriad continuing dangers.