What we do

The Estuary Program is charged with coordinating and facilitating partnerships to implement The Plan, save tax dollars, leverage federal, state, and local resources and expertise, minimize duplication, and enhance product results while lowering cost to individual organizations.

The success of any estuary program, and subsequent preservation of the bay, hinges on the diversity and vitality of the partnerships that it forges. Although many of the Estuary Program’s partnerships stem from the workings of the Galveston Bay Council (Council) and its six standing subcommittees, there are many organizations who are not members of the Council or its subcommittees, whose work is critical to the preservation of Galveston Bay and other treasured resources associated with our bay ecosystem. These Estuary Program partners represent industry; the environmental community; local, state, and federal governments, commercial and recreational fisheries, and maritime interests. Their efforts have resulted in Galveston Bay Plan-implementing projects and Estuary Program partner resources that can be utilized to help protect the bay.

Creating, restoring, and protecting important coastal habitats

Texas coastal wetlands are highly productive biologically. They serve as nursery grounds for over 95 percent of the recreational and commercial fish species found in the Gulf of Mexico, and provide breeding, nesting, and feeding grounds for more than a third of all threatened and endangered animal species. Wetlands also provide permanent and seasonal habitat for a tremendous diversity of wildlife, including 75 percent of North America’s bird species.

Texas Coastal wetlands are also extremely important economically. According to EPA, the Galveston Bay area’s recreational and commercial fishing industries are valued at over $3 billion annually, and support over 40,000 jobs in the area. Its wildlife draws people from around the world, supporting the important and fast-growing nature tourism segment of the region’s $7.5 billion per year tourism industry.

Coastal wetlands perform chemical and physical functions, including temporarily retaining pollutants, such as suspended material, excess nutrients, toxic chemicals, and disease-causing microorganisms. Additionally, wetlands help greatly in reducing flood damage by storing significant quantities of runoff during heavy rainfall events.  Coastal wetlands also help reduce damages from tidal surges by acting as a buffer between shoreline and inland areas.  These important coastal hazard mitigation benefits have received significant attention after the devastating hurricanes that struck the western gulf coast in 2005.

The Galveston Bay system lost a net of nearly 35,000 acres of wetlands and 1,800 acres of seagrasses between the 1950s and 1989.  Much of the tidal wetland and nearly all of the seagrasses were concentrated in the West Bay area. Wetland losses in West Bay were largely the result of subsidence and subsequent erosion.

Erosion still poses a significant threat to the remaining marshes and adjacent habitats along much of Galveston’s north shore line at rates of up to 6 feet per year. Continued erosion of the shorelines and uplands separating more saline bay waters from palustrine and brackish marshes also threatens important fresh to brackish water habitats that occur in swales more to the interior area.

Although the Estuary Program partnership’s habitat conservation efforts are bay-wide, focus has been given to West Bay. These combined, collective efforts in West Bay were highlighted in the President’s 2011 Fifty-State America’s Great Outdoors Report as one of the country’s most promising projects. The report highlights initiatives in each state for conservation, recreation and reconnecting people to the outdoors.

The Estuary Programs and partners have:

    • Restored and protected an estimated 21,150 acres of wetlands and important coastal habitats since 1995, leveraging approximately $80 million in local, industry, state, and federal contributions.
    • Successfully used dredged material to restore more than 2,000 acres of wetlands, bird-nesting uplands, and oyster reefs.
    • Maintained a nursery that produces 350,000-500,000 wetland plants each year so that restoration projects no longer need plants from established wetlands nor cultured plants that are purchased, thereby lowering the cost of restoration.

Supporting local water-management initiatives

Formed the Galveston Bay Freshwater Inflows Group in 1996 to develop management strategies that will strike a balance between human needs and those of the estuary. Through this group, the Estuary Program supports and coordinates, on a local level, the state’s consensus-based, regional approach to integrating environmental flow protection into the water allocation process while assuring that human needs are satisfied.

Protecting and improving water quality

The Estuary Program partnerships have helped:

    • Implemented pollution prevention practices, such as conservation landscaping, vegetative buffers along waterways, and storm water detention basins supplemented with wetlands.
    • Conducted workshops with local governments and developers to identify mutually beneficial sustainable development practices that reduce construction related pollution. Workshop discussions led to increased collaboration between some local governments that resulted in adoption of uniform construction guidelines.
    • Financially supported and participated in local watershed protection initiatives to address impaired water bodies including Total Maximum Daily Loads.

Protecting public health

The Estuary Program, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and several partners initiated a program in 1997 that provided the first complete and comprehensive look at the safety of Galveston Bay seafood in 2001. Fish tissue was collected and analyzed along with other data to assess safety of seafood caught in Galveston Bay. Seafood-safety advisories have been expanded in some areas and made less stringent or removed in other areas since the initiation of this effort.

The Estuary Program, with its state and federal partners, continues to collect and analyze data from the bay to determine if current advisories need to be expanded or if additional advisories are needed. The Estuary Program and the Texas Department of State Health Services notified the appropriate state and federal agencies, including the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the United States Environmental Protection Agency, so that they may seek solutions.

Building stewardship through education and involvement

The Estuary Program’s outreach and public involvement activities focus on creating a broad, compelling campaign message that indicates the estuary’s value and illustrates citizens connection to the health of the estuary; supporting programs and events to encourage public participation in activities relating to bay stewardship; developing educational campaigns for habitat, water conservation, and water quality aimed at the general public and targeted audiences; and building partnerships for habitat conservation, water quality improvement, and water conservation through the  Back the Bay education campaign.

State of the Bay Symposium

The Estuary Program coordinates the State of the Bay symposium to provide an opportunity for stakeholders to interact and share environmental policy and management successes, report the latest monitoring and research findings, and to illuminate the challenges facing Galveston Bay.

Past symposia (link to GBIC’s symposium info.)