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You are here: Home / Publications / Periodicals / Natural Outlook / Summer 2010 / Galveston Bay Estuary Program

Galveston Bay Estuary Program

The TCEQ’s Galveston Bay Estuary Program works to preserve one of the state’s most valuable recreational, economic, and environmental assets. (Natural Outlook, Summer 2010)

Willet walking over green rocks in the water.
The willet is one of several shorebirds found in the Galveston Bay system.
Photo courtesy of Stan A. Williams/TxDOT.

Galveston Bay is a coastal treasure—one of the state’s most valuable recreational, economic, and environmental assets.

Fed by the Trinity and San Jacinto rivers, local bayous, and incoming tides from the Gulf of Mexico, this 600-square-mile bay is the largest and most important estuary on the Texas coast.

A unique nutrient-rich environment that plays host to an abundance of plants and animals is created in the estuary by the mixing of fresh water with the salty sea water. Many marine organisms—such as shrimp, oysters, crabs, and fish—find food and shelter here during their juvenile phase.

Keeping Galveston Bay Healthy is Critical

In terms of seafood, Galveston Bay ranks as one of the most productive estuaries in the nation, second only to Chesapeake Bay. Its recreational and commercial fishing industries combined are valued at over $3 billion annually, and support over 40,000 jobs in the area. The bay and its associated habitats claim one of the most diverse bird populations on earth. And its unique variety of wildlife draws people from around the world, supporting the important and fast-growing nature-tourism segment of the area’s $7.5 billion tourism industry.

Keeping the bay healthy is critical to the region’s well-being and economy. Yet human activities can alter the ecosystem and affect its productivity. And with over five million people, or 75 percent of Texas’ coastal population, residing in the five counties surrounding Galveston Bay, managing bay resources to sustain its future productivity is not without challenges.

Greatest Challenge

Wetlands and other natural areas along the Texas coast provide many important services—from protecting water quality to mitigating erosion and lessening the intensity of storm surges and flood damage. Wetlands provide habitat for a diversity of fish and wildlife, including many commercially and recreationally important species.

“Habitat loss poses the greatest challenge to the health of the bay’s ecosystem,” says Helen Drummond, the director of the TCEQ’s Galveston Bay Estuary Program (GBEP), who holds a B.S. in marine and environmental science and an M.S. in environmental management.

Ericka McCauley, the GBEP’s public information officer, adds that from the early 1950s to 1989, Galveston Bay lost nearly 35,000 acres (20 percent) of its wetlands.

A flock of roseate spoonbills fly over the Bolivar Flats marsh, and a group of white ibis stand in the water. The Bolivar lighthouse can be seen in the background.
Bolivar Flats.
Photo courtesy of Jarrett (Woody) Olen Woodrow, Jr.

The TCEQ, through the GBEP, is working hand-in-hand with local partners to maintain and improve water quality, restore wetlands, protect unique habitats, ensure safety of the seafood from the bay, and support healthy, resilient communities.

Galveston Bay Estuary Program

The GBEP was established in 1989 as part of the National Estuary Program—created by the U.S. Congress to promote long-term planning and management of nationally significant estuaries. The GBEP is one of 28 programs in the country that work with local stakeholders to protect and restore estuaries.

In 1995, the U.S. EPA approved the Galveston Bay Plan, a comprehensive 20-year science-based plan designed to protect and restore the bay. The Galveston Bay Council, a 41-member advisory committee to the TCEQ, guides the implementation of the plan and GBEP staff coordinates implementation efforts.

The 41 members of the council represent a broad range of interests, including local governments, businesses, ports, commercial fisheries, recreational anglers, environmental organizations, and state and federal natural-resource agencies.

Drummond, who joined the GBEP in 1994 as leader of the water and sediment quality team, emphasizes the importance of partnerships and collaboration to the success of the program. “Diverse concerns for habitat and wildlife protection, competing resource uses, water quality, and human health require the involvement of multiple agencies and groups, and are in part the impetus for our partnership approach.”

Through collaborative efforts, public education, and hard work, the GBEP and its partners have made substantial progress in preserving Galveston Bay’s ecological and economic health. Their accomplishments not only demonstrate the value of partnerships, but the strength that these long-term relationships maintain through the toughest of challenges.

For more information and to find out what you can do to help preserve Galveston Bay for generations to come, visit

A group of white ibis standing in water.
Photo courtesy of Jarrett (Woody) Olen Woodrow, Jr.

Galveston Bay Estuary Program Accomplishments

Since its inception, the TCEQ’s Galveston Bay Estuary Program (GBEP) has partnered with citizens and organizations in the Galveston Bay area to protect the bay’s ecological and economic health. These partnerships, along with hard work and public education, have resulted in numerous successes, and many of the projects have received national awards. Following are just a few of the successful restoration and conservation projects completed by the GBEP and its partners:

  • Galveston Island State Park. Restored 130 acres of new intertidal marshes in Carancahua and Dana coves of West Galveston Bay, along the north shoreline of Galveston Island State Park. Over two miles of geotextile tubes were placed along the outer perimeter of the coves to protect over 700 acres of marshes, uplands, and shallow open water areas in which an estimated 300 acres of seagrass beds have been re-established.
  • Jumbile Cove. Protected and restored 100 acres of intertidal marshes and tidal flats from erosion. Created over 40 acres of marsh mounds and shallow open water suitable for seagrass reestablishment. In 2005, the Gulf of Mexico Program acknowledged the Jumbile Cove partners for their efforts.
  • Delehide Cove. Protected and restored nearly 300 acres of intertidal marsh, tidal flats, open water areas, freshwater wetlands, and upland habitats from erosion by employing 8,000 feet of geotextile tube breakwater structures. The project saved Hoeckers Point and wetlands along the western shore of the historic Eckert Bayou from complete destruction. In 2006, project partners received the prestigious National Wetland Conservation Partner Award from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
  • Brays Bayou. Created an urban wetland complex to treat storm water from a local neighborhood. The completed project increased capacity for flood waters, provided treatment for storm water runoff, and created a place for wildlife to feed and rest, for families to enjoy a day in the park, and for adults and children to learn more about wetlands and Galveston Bay. The site is now home to the annual cleanup and educational event Trash Bash, which provides a hands-on opportunity to educate and involve the local community in environmental stewardship of the watershed. The project has received numerous awards, including: a Partnership Award from the Parks People; the Gulf Guardian Award, Partnership, Second Place, from the Gulf of Mexico Program; and the Engineering Excellence Award, Gold Medal Winner in Environment, from the Texas Council of Engineering Companies. The project was also a finalist for a Texas Environmental Excellence Award.
  • East Bay, Chambers County. Restored an unprecedented 17,002 feet of the East Bay’s northern shoreline and protected 8,000 acres of coastal habitat at the Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge—an ecologically rich and diverse system of wetlands and prairies. Out of 41 entries, the GBEP placed first for the 2007 Gulf Guardian Partnership Award in environmental excellence, an award given by the EPA. The project also received the 2008 Cooperative Conservation Award from the Department of the Interior for its outstanding partnership effort.

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