SOUTH PADRE ISLAND — Just keep swimming, is a difficult motto to live by for fish without reefs.
When they find even the smallest rock, they use it to their advantage.
Fish can protect themselves behind it and stay out of the sea’s swift current.
Or they can dodge faster, straight-line predators by swimming around the rocks.
However, this all proves difficult to do when areas at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico are just as flat as the top of a table and bare of hiding places.
The lack of habitat has led to the death of many fish in the Gulf of Mexico, according to Friends of Rio Grande Valley Reef.
For this reason, the nonprofit decided it was time for a change.
For the past five years, Friends of RGV Reef has been working to restore reef habitat located 13-miles northeast of the Island jetties and say it’s working like “gangbusters.”
Friends of RGV Reef is one of six nonprofits named as a 2019 Conservation Wrangler by the Texan by Nature (TxN) conservation for their work in creating “valuable” habitat for fish in the Gulf of Mexico.
According to Texan by Nature, Friends of RGV Reef is the largest artificial reef off the Texas coast.
TxN will recognize the 2019 Conservation Wranglers Nov. 13 in Dallas at the George W. Bush Presidential Center.
Friends of RGV Reef president and director Gary Glick said receiving the recognition is a very “nice surprise” for their “unique” nursery reef concept.
Since 2014, Friends of RGV Reef personnel have been creating habitat for juvenile red snapper and other reef fish by deploying artificial reef materials such as sunken vessels, concrete rail ties and cinder blocks.
“We know we grew 240,000 baby snapper because one gulf consortium counted them for us, but you don’t know if anybody is paying any attention,” Glick explained. “You just keep working away and when you get evidence that people are paying attention and do care, something special like winning this award is really validating.”
According to Glick, the fish have grown to catchable sizes and make up 80 percent of the snappers caught on the RGV reef.
The remaining 20 percent of fish in the reef were grown elsewhere.
“Probably 90 percent of these fish would have died without this habitat,” Glick explained. “When you replace habitat, you put fish back into the Gulf and that’s what RGV Reef is all about.”
According to Glick, the number of fish in the Gulf of Mexico is a small percentage of what it once used to be during the 1960s when he went offshore fishing with his family when he was a child.
His goal is to make it possible again for an average family to get their children offshore and be able to catch a fish like he and his brother did when they were children.
He says that is becoming more and more difficult as time goes by.
“My brother and I spent decades of some of the best parts of our lives going offshore in the Gulf of Mexico fishing, being charter boat captains, working on shrimp boats and scuba diving,” he explained. “We see this as our opportunity to give back to the Gulf of Mexico, which had been really great to us.”
In an effort to unite business and conservation leaders who believe Texas’ prosperity is dependent on the conservation of natural resources, Laura Bush founded TxN in 2011.
“Texan by Nature brings innovation in conservation to the forefront for the benefit of generations of Texans to come,” the former first lady stated in a press release. “We are honored to showcase the brilliant minds within the conservation field and support their incredible work as official TxN Conservation Wranglers.”
The Conservation Wrangler program recognizes “innovative and transformative” conservation projects across Texas that “positively impact people, prosperity and natural resources.”
TxN personnel will work with the projects for 12 to 18 months providing tailored aid, resources and visibility.