The Aransas National Wildlife Refuge is on the Gulf of Mexico, about 45 minutes from Rockport, TX. It is located on the Central Flyway which is a bird migration route that migratory birds use to fly to their nesting and wintering grounds. In fact, the Refuge is best known for wintering the last wild flock of endangered whooping cranes and as of 2019-2020, the number of whooping cranes is 506. The Refuge consists of 5 units, which are Aransas (Blackjack Peninsula), Tatton, Lamar, Matagorda, and Whitmire. These units are all unique in that each is managed differently but similar in that they all provide resources for wildlife.
The Refuge has seen a considerable amount of change due to the hurricane season which will occur from June to November this year. Hurricane Harvey (2017), a Category 4 hurricane, was one of the costliest storms to date. Due to that storm, the landscape at the Aransas NWR has changed and will continue to do so in years to come. This, along with sea-level rise, anthropogenic stressors, and black mangrove expansion may affect the refuge in different ways in the near future. These are some of the characteristics that I have learned about through various documents. It is through these documents that I am able to define the resource area and begin to make some assessments. It is important that the refuge as a whole is taken into consideration because each unit will face similar or different stressors.
Along with this, the first week that I started on the Refuge I was able to meet staff and I was extremely welcomed by everyone. It has been an amazing experience so far, a few weeks ago I was able to work with one of the refuge biologists to QC data that they collected from the whooping crane surveys. We worked together in order to ensure that the transcribed data was also correct on the attribute table of each transect on ArcGIS. This and I was also able to get onto a boat with some refuge staff and look around Matagorda Island (barrier island). I was able to hear from one of the staff members how much the habitat has changed on the island and it is devastating the number of sand dunes that have been lost. However, it is still a beautiful island that keeps extreme levels of storm surge from reaching the mainland. Lastly, I was able to get out with a USGS Field Research Biologist and hold a whooping crane! How exciting is that? It is not every day that someone is able to go out into the field and hold such a beautiful and wild bird. The species is still endangered, and I was honored when given the opportunity to do this. This first month was about trying to learn about staff, reading the literature that was obtained and reviewed, and going out and enjoying the refuge some more. I am excited to see what I will be learning and experiencing in the months to come.
Agency: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Program: Civilian Climate Corps Program (CCC)
Location: Aransas NWR