Mission-Aransas NERR Ecosystem Based Management Tool Demonstration Project: An Integrated Approach to Land Use Planning in Aransas County

University of Texas Marine Science Institute

Aransas County, Texas was an ideal study location for the development of an integrated land-sea planning toolkit. The county’s watershed promotes a healthy estuary with highly diverse habitats that support the area’s growing recreation and tourism industry, as well as estuarine-dependent commercial and recreational fisheries. However, Aransas County has recently experienced rapid population growth and there is a strong community interest and involvement in maintaining the resource-dependent quality of life in this region as the population increases. The goal of the toolkit was to provide Aransas County with the ability to make land use planning decisions that maintain the desired, eco-driven quality of life.

Ecosystem based management considers the whole ecosystem, including humans and the environment, rather than managing one issue/resource in isolation. The partnership collaborated with the local community to apply three decision support tools: CommunityViz, NatureServe Vista, and N-SPECT. Each tool has a particular role in the toolkit:

  • CommunityViz® (provided by Placeways) supported development and analysis of land use scenarios and socio-economic indicators.
  • NatureServe Vista® (provided by NatureServe) provided the ability to depict ecological values, evaluate impacts from land use scenarios, and develop alternative land use scenarios.
  • N-SPECT (provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Coastal Services Center) was used to predict sedimentation and pollution changes from different land use scenarios and identify areas that are key contributors of these inputs.

The three tools were integrated to: (1) evaluate the current condition and sustainability of the ecosystem 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.

Ecological and socio-economic indicators were used to quantify impacts of land use/land cover conditions and compare the relative merits of potential alternative future growth scenarios. While most socio-economic goals were met for the Future Trend Scenario, there was an overall decrease in conservation and water quality goal achievement when compared to the current land use/land cover. The Mitigation Scenario, however, was much more responsive to conservation and water quality goals, while still showing high results for many socio-economic indicators.

The results of this project clearly showed that the integrated land-sea planning toolkit supports ecosystem based management and can be used to mitigate many of the potential problems associated with increased human activity in coastal communities. This type of land use planning approach ensures that ecological goals are achieved, while still accomplishing socio-economic objectives. Although this type of planning approach requires a significant commitment from planners, resource managers, local officials, scientists, and stakeholders, its benefits are tremendous and can assist growing coastal communities with land use planning and resource management decisions.


  • Madden K, Morehead S. 2011. Mission-Aransas NERR Ecosystem Based Management Tool Demonstration Project: An Integrated Approach to Land Use Planning in Aransas County. University of Texas Marine Science Institute Technical Report No. TR/11-001. University of Texas Marine Science Institute, Port Aransas, Texas, 37 pp