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Laguna Madre

The Laguna Madre is a large body of shallow water separating Padre Island from the South Texas mainland. It covers 609 square miles of estuarine and coastal marine systems. The boundary of Padre Island National Seashore encompasses approximately 20,000 acres of the Laguna Madre. The Laguna Madre is located in parts of Cameron, Willacy, Kenedy, Kleberg, and Nueces counties.

South Padre Island TexasLaguna Madre, the only lagoon in the United States saltier than the ocean, is part of the South Texas Coastal Plain, which extends inland from the western Gulf of Mexico as a gently sloping prairie of short grasses, mesquite trees, thorny brush and prickly pear cactus. Much of the plain is used as rangeland, with some cropland and improved pasture. The Nueces and Rio Grande river systems encircle this semi-arid region, providing the only year-round sources of surface fresh water for the cities and estuarine systems of South Texas.

South Padre Island TexasThe Laguna Madre, formed between the mainland and Padre Island, is the longest barrier island in the United States. Tidal currents in the lagoon are weak, circulation is sluggish, and residence times of water masses are long. During exceptionally dry periods, high salinity may cause fish and other animals to leave or die. The lagoon also suffers natural, periodic large fish kills due to severe freezes.

The South Texas Coastal Plain supports unique ecosystems and wildlife, including barrier island dunes and beaches, Tamaulipan brushlands, Laguna Madre seagrasses, intertidal wind flats, and the Baffin Bay and Rio Grande delta. These habitat contain remarkable biological diversity:

  • South Padre Island TexasPadre Island's beaches serve as nesting grounds for endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtles and threatened green sea turtles.
  • Tamaulipan brushland is home to more than 600 vertebrate animal species and 1,100 plant species, including an oily oak tree found nowhere else.
  • The banks of the Arroyo Colorado and nearby uplands shelter unusual animals like ocelot, jaguarundi, indigo snakes, horned lizards, chachalaca, green jays, kiskadee flycatchers, and other unusual animals.
  • The Laguna Madre accounts for three quarters of Texas's seagrass habitat, which supports many rare and endangered species and provides vital nursery grounds for fish and shellfish.