Gulf Coast
Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge
Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge Information:
This national wildlife refuge consists of three units. The 21,762 acre Bahia Grande Unit is located between Port Isabel and Brownsville and is not connected to the main Laguna Atascosa Unit. The 24,808 acre South Padre Island Unit consists of many small tracts of land with private lands located in between. This unit is located on South Padre Island beginning at the end of paved Park Road 100. The 45,000 acre Laguna Atascosa Unit is the main unit of the NWR, and is the unit containing visitor amenities. The remainder of these pages refers to this unit unless otherwise noted in the paragraph title. This unit is located near the Gulf of Mexico on the Laguna Madre near the town of Los Fresnos, and is the largest protected natural wildlife habitat in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. It attracts 369 species of birds, many of them not found north of the refuge, and is home to the endangered ocelot. The Laguna Madre consists of 609 square miles of shallow water separating Padre Island from the South Texas mainland. It is located in parts of Cameron, Willacy, Kenedy, Kleberg and Nueces Counties. The refuge habitat consists of thorn forest, freshwater wetlands, coastal prairies, mudflats and beaches. The refuge features an abundance of Mexican plants, wildlife and birds. In order to protect the habitat, irrigation and drainage are used to reduce the amount of water flowing into the refuge. Fresh water is trapped in ponds, resacas (old river channels of the Rio Grande), and Lake Laguna Atascosa. Because many ducks and wading birds are particular about the depths of water they feed in, the water level is adjusted throughout the year. Approximately 400 acres of pesticide and herbicide free milo, wheat, and peas are grown annually. The crop is left for wintering geese and Sandhill Cranes. Between plantings, grasses grow and provide habitat and shelter for small animals and birds, which are food for larger mammals and hawks. Several old farm fields were planted in native brush for ocelot and other brushland wildlife. It will probably take 20 to 40 years for this to be like untouched stands. The occasional planned burns increase the nutritional content of the grass, and reduce invading brush. This refuge, the Santa Ana NWR, and the Lower Rio Grande Valley NWR form the South Texas NWR Complex which offices at the Santa Ana NWR. Laguna Atascosa NWR is open daily, sunrise to sunset. Admission is free the first Saturday of each month. National Park passes are available.
Bahia Grande Unit, Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge Unit:
The 21,763 acre Bahia Grande was formerly a productive bay with teaming with wildlife and waterfowl, shrimp, and large populations of crabs, flounder and oysters. In the 1930s it was cut off from tidal water and became a barren dust bowl. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acquired the property between 1999 and 2000 and added it to the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge lands. Cameron County, USFWS, NOAA, the Brownsville Navigation District, Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, UTB/TSC, and Ocean Trust Texas formed a public/private partnership to restore the Bahia Grande to its former state. This estuary restoration project was the largest of its kind in North America. In 2005, a 2,250 foot long pilot channel connecting Bahia Grande and the Brownsville Ship Channel was completed which allowed the Bahia Grande to be flooded with tidal water. The flooding created approximately 10,000 acres of wetlands in the Bahia Grande, Laguna Larga, and Laguna Madre Chica. Other projects included fish stocking, planting Mangrove habitat and other native plants, building a 200 foot long main channel bridge, and creating a 2,900 foot long and 1,000 foot wide wildlife crossing easement under SH 48. The restoration project is completed and the wetland habitat attracts resident and migratory wildlife and waterfowl, and supports boating, kayaking and fishing, (703) 434-1444. From the intersection of Park Road 100 and SH 48 in Port Isabel, go south on SH 48 approximately six miles to the parking lot on your right. Email  Bahia Grande Map; Click to Enlarge
San Martin Lake & Boat Rampat Bahia Grande Unit of Laguna Atascosa NWR:
A unit of the LRGVNWR is open for public use at San Martin Lake. A 2 lane public boat ramp on Texas 48 is used by shallow draft boats to gain access to the estuaries and bays between Brownsville and Port Isabel. Wade and bank fishing is available along the perimeter of the lake; fishing season is open year round. Salt water species include spotted sea trout and red drum. Activities include canoeing, kayaking, boating, and fishing. Amenities include a boat ramp, picnic tables, and memorial to Special Agent Jaime J. Zapata. The lake is located on SH 48, approximately 7 miles northeast of Brownsville.  Map
South Padre Island Unit, Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge:
Padre Island stretches from Corpus Christ at the north end of the island to the town of South Padre Island on the southern tip of the island. The island is bordered on the east by the Gulf of Mexico, and bordered on the west by the Laguna Madre. The town of South Padre Island (SPI) is noted for its sandy beaches. As you drive north from SPI you encounter sand dunes and on the Laguna Madre side of the dunes you find broad tidal mud flats. The brackish marshes and freshwater ponds are replenished by rain, and are important to many species. South Padre Island is important as a nesting ground for Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles, one of five Gulf sea turtle species, and the most endangered of them. This portion of the island is also crucial to migrating peregrine falcons as they stop to rest and eat. The Nature Conservancy acquired and transferred 25,532 acres on the north end of South Padre Island and transferred the land to the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. This land includes more than eight miles of beachfront.
Report an Ocelot Sighting:
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is requesting the public's assistance in the recovery of the ocelot, a highly endangered wild cat found in deep South Texas. FWS is the lead agency responsible for the recovery of this species and works with many public and private partners to ensure this beautiful cat will grace the Texas landscape for generations to come. If you see a dead or alive ocelot, call the numbers listed below. Provide your name and phone number, the location, directions, time and type of sighting, and the identifying marks on the animal so it may be determined that the sighting involved an ocelot and not a bobcat.
Law Enforcement Dispatch:(956) 784-7608.
After-Hours Law Enforcement Dispatch: (956) 330-5007.
Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge: (956)748-3607.
Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge Main Unit Directions:
From South Padre Island, take Park Road 100 West out of Port Isabel. Turn right on FM 510 at Laguna Vista. Drive 5.4 miles to the Cameron County Airport Road; turn right, and proceed approximately 7 miles to the Visitors Center which will be located in the trees to your left; watch for signs.