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The State of the Bay Galveston Bay Area Project
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The Bay's Living Resources

Galveston Bay and its watershed are home to a diverse array of organisms. Fish and wildlife resources provide some of the area’s greatest economic, recreational, and aesthetic assets. These organisms also serve as useful indicators of the overall condition of the watershed and estuary. Therefore, considerable scientific and management resources are devoted to studying these populations.

Phytoplankton abundance, as measured through chlorophyll a concentrations, has changed significantly through the years, possibly in response to increases in nutrients peaking in the late 1960s, followed by nutrient reductions. Over wide expanses of the bay, the benthic community remains abundant and diverse, following a natural gradient of increasing diversity from the upper bay system seaward. Benthic species exhibit the clearest impact of pollution on a biological community.

Although oyster reefs appear to have expanded in recent years, the oyster population is nowhere near the levels found in Galveston Bay prior to shell dredging, and it was recently decimated by sediment brought into the bay by Hurricane Ike. Shell dredging and hurricanes are major habitat alterations. The bay may never obtain equivalent oyster resources to those that existed prior to commercial exploitation of this resource.

Most finfish populations appear to be in good health and many fish species exhibit increasing trends in catch per unit effort (CPUE). This suggests that habitat is suitable and management of the biological resources is generally successful.

Monitoring data for large blue crabs exhibit a declining trend. Their complex life cycle makes the cause of this decline difficult to determine. White shrimp had been showing a declining trend in the 1980s, but have been variable in CPUE with no trend over the last 20 years. Brown shrimp have exhibited no trend in CPUE over the period of record.

Colonial waterbird species are showing some trends of concern, particularly those species in the guild of wading birds (great blue heron, tri-colored heron, reddish egret, black-crowned night heron, and white-faced ibis). In addition, the composition of the colonial waterbird community appears to be changing with stable numbers of terns, decreasing numbers of herons and egrets, and dramatically increasing numbers of brown pelicans. Shorebirds, including some rare and endangered species, also forage and nest in the Galveston Bay area. A system of bird sanctuaries located around the bay protects some of these areas and creates a great opportunity for nature viewing.

A variety of reptiles and mammals, including the bottlenose dolphin and three species of sea turtles, can be found in and around the bay as well. Abundance of marine mammals has not been a concern in the area around Galveston Bay, despite some episodes of mass mortality. Populations of sea turtle seem to be responding to conservation efforts and are increasingly observed.

When compared to other estuaries of the eastern United States, Galveston Bay’s living resources appear to be relatively well preserved and well managed. As stewards of the bay’s living resources, it is important to promote continued monitoring of populations, to support habitat protection and restoration activities, and to encourage improvements in water quality.



Related Pages:

Colonial Waterbirds
Invasive Species
Coastal Fisheries



Image of blue crab, courtesy Della Barbato, Galveston Bay FoundationBlue crab (Callinectes sapidus). Image courtesy Della Barbato, Galveston Bay Foundation



Spotted Seatrout Population TrendGraph depicting the growth in the spotted seatrout population in Galveston Bay



Kemp's ridley sea turtle in Galveston in 2007. Image courtesy Texas A&M University at Galveston, Sea Turtle and Fisheries Ecology Research Lab.  Researchers satellite-tagged and released this Kemp's Ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys kempii) in Galveston in 2007. Image courtesy Texas A&M University at Galveston, Sea Turtle and Fisheries Ecology Research Lab.

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