With fishermen, seabirds, and marshland, Lavaca Bay looks like any other peaceful coastal area… but things weren’t always this serene.
This site was home to the largest cleanup of hazardous waste in Texas history. 64 square miles of marine habitat and fishing waters had been contaminated.
In the late 1960’s, Alcoa’s aluminum manufacturing plant was dumping as much as 67 pounds of poisonous mercury per day into Lavaca Bay. The practice eventually stopped, but the damage had already been done. The mercury accumulated, entered the food chain, and built up to unsafe levels throughout the ecosystem.
Government officials had to eventually ban fishing activities in part of the bay due to health risks. This hurt local fisherman and the local economy. And with nothing being done to clean up the bay, it looked like the pollution might leave a permanent scar on the environment.
Fortunately, NOAA, and its government partners, were eventually able to negotiate an agreement with Alcoa that set up a restoration plan for the bay.
Contaminated soil and sediments were moved to a sealed off disposal site. A 70-acre marsh was constructed and over 700 acres of coastal habitat is going to a wildlife refuge that borders the bay area. This will benefit numerous species, like the endangered Whooping Crane. The restoration project also created an 11-acre oyster reef that is available for harvest. Locals and tourists also welcomed the construction of three new fishing piers and two docks.
To date, Alcoa has spent about $110 million dollars to fix the damage done to the bay area. By working closely with NOAA and other resource protection agencies, this marine habitat was rescued from ecological annihilation.
Saving Lavaca Bay was an intensive and time-consuming process. But the effort has given the plants, animals, and people of the region a new shot at life.