Improving land-use planning in the Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve

Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR), southeastern Texas, United States

About This Project

Sunset over Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve.

Increasing human populations in coastal regions can contribute to habitat loss and degradation, pollution, further spread of invasive species, and other stresses to the coastal and marine environments. This project was designed to provide Aransas County with an integrated land-sea planning toolkit to support land use planning and decision-making that would support the region's desired quality of life. Three decision-support tools were applied for this purpose: Community Viz, NatureServe Vista, and N-SPECT. They were integrated to 1) evaluate the current condition and sustainability of the region's coastal and marine ecosystems and socio-economic indicators, 2) evaluate future development trends based on current policies and economic forces, and 3) develop alternative land use strategies to meet sustainability objectives for ecological and socio-economic values. The integrated use of these tools allowed the project team to identify a land use strategy that could address conservation and water quality goals, while also addressing socioeconomic needs.


This project had three main objectives:

  • Develop a toolkit that supports integrated land-sea planning and test it in a real-world situation
  • Create a documented methodology for the application of the toolkit
  • Support the pilot location (Aransas County, Texas, USA) in utilizing the tools to develop analyses supporting their request for greater planning authority from the state


Various decision support tools are available to address land use planning, biodiversity conservation, and the impact of land use changes on natural resources (e.g., water quality). However, these tools were developed independently without intentional planning for how they could be used interoperably in a project. Interoperability refers to the process of utilizing the outputs of one tool as an input to another tool to achieve more complete analyses. For example, a land use scenario developed in one tool can be used to predict run-off changes in another tool, which can be used to estimate ecological impacts in a third tool. This project illustrates how NatureServe's Vista software can be used interoperably with N-SPECT and CommunityViz.