Galveston Bay

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Area Galveston Bay
Place Galveston, Texas
Country USA
Topics Nature Protection
Author(s) Margaret Weber
Galveston Bay aerial.jpg


Galveston Bay is the seventh largest estuary in the United States and houses three trans-Atlantic ports, one of which is the second most productive port in the United States. It is bordered to the west by the fifth largest metropolitan area in the nation and is affected heavily by stormwater runoff and pollution from both the urban and industrial areas upstream and on its shores. Heavy tropical storms batter its coastlines and barrier islands to the south. Although it is highly productive as an industrial area, the health of the ecosystems found within it are in question. The unique composition of the barrier islands, salt water marshes and shallow water creates a plethora of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems unique to this bay that must be protected as the area becomes more developed and storms increase in magnitude.

Location and scope

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A Landscape System Analysis

A.1 Landscape layers and their system context

Geomorphology, landscape units and coastal typology

  • Description of evolution, status quo and driving forces, is the coastal typology changing? Why is that? (approx 200 signs)

The landscape is comprised of flat grass marshes, prairies, lagoons and brackish ponds, shoals, and sand beaches. It has been settled and rapidly urbanized with piers, road infrastructure, residential houses, industrial factories, hotels and harbors of various sizes. The inner bay is protected from the Gulf of Mexico by the barrier island which has been built up over millions of years by Pleistocene sediments, marine mud, sand, and degraded shells. Land degradation is common here, not only from rapid urbanization and industrial pollution, but also from erosion caused by tides and strong tropical storms.

Land use

The bay area developed rapidly from its settlement in the 19th century to today, mainly as an industrial area with ports, oil rigs and factories. Vacation homes are attractive along the Galveston Island, and tourist attractions follow. Fishing is common along the shores and from boats. Various storms and hurricanes have kept the growth in check with mass destruction and steady erosion, but never slowed it.

Green/blue infrastructure

  • What are the major potential elements of a green/blue infrastructure network? Are these likely to change/disappear? Why is that?

Galveston Bay is comprised of The major elements of the green/blue infrastructure are coastal prairies, estuarine emergent wetlands, palustrine emergent wetlands, conservation zones and parks, beaches, oyster reefs, ocean, Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, river mouths, lagoons, & connected lakes. People utilize the beaches to traveel along the coastline, while pathways through the nature preserves connect nature to humn settlement. Various dredged canals allow for boat and ship passage through the shallow waters. As climate change makes water rise, need for canals will decrease, and beaches will be pushed further upland.

Actors and stakeholders

  • Who is driving changes in this landscape? Who is affected by those changes?

This area has a variety of powerful actors and affected stakeholders. Climate change and the rising water levels and increasing tropical storms and hurricanes that come from the change are the most prominant driver to the landscape. The most powerful actors are the people behind the market demands and the economy, which includes industrial tycoons and their businesses, commercial fisherman, offshore oil business, the government, and developers. Based off the market, these actors will develop the land as much as possible. If weather destroys the progress, it will eventually be rebuilt - either by the original individuals or someone else. The actors that are affected but have less power are the workers, tourists, sport fisherman, and people that live along the coast. They buy the goods and live in the houses, but do not fully control the changes. The actors that are the most affected and have the least power are the wildlife and their ecosystems, the health of the various habitats, the cleanliness of the waters, and the future generations.

Sacred spaces and heritage

  • Which places/elements hold cultural value and to whom?

There are a number of places that are culturally important. They include nature preserves and parks that embody the bay's natural state and where Native Americans once resided, battle grounds of the Texas Revolution, and a historical district that is home to some of the oldest, most-ornate Victorean-era houses in Texas. They are important to the people as historical monuments, educational sites, and areas that can be enjoyed generations later.

Visual appearance and landscape narrative

  • Which elements are essential for the landscape character?

Grass marshes, sandy beaches, shallow muddy water, fishing boats, piers and houses on stilts, harbors and big ships, oil rigs.

Many people have written about Galveston Bay, whether it be tourist/travel guides, historical literature, ghost stories, environmental impacts, storms of the past, or industrial successes. Explorers wrote of the area in their journals and letters, military leaders specified it's optimal location for goods transport and protection, and it was written about in every newspaper across the nation following the 1900 Hurricane that destroyed the entire city of Galveston. The English author James Anthony Froude (1818–1894) wrote of it in his book 'Oceana; or, England and her Colonies' (published 1917) following his global travels.

Artists have worked to capture its unique identity for hundreds of years, the first being French explorer Jean-Baptiste Bénard de la Harpe in 1721 with his general area map. The Battle of the Bay in 1863 was a common theme for many artists of the time, and many post cards from the early to mid 20th century were painted depicting the various elements and sceneries of the bay. Important aspects included in all these pieces of art are the water, sand, grasses, birds, boats, busy people, and ships of all shapes and sizes.

A.2 Summary of you landscape system analysis and your development Targets

As compared to the 'Sustainable Development Goals: 17 Goals to Transform our World', goal risks related to Galveston Bay include:

  • (3) GOOD HEALTH AND WELL-BEING: Air and water pollutants can make health decrease over time in the bay area.
  • (6) CLEAN WATER AND SANITATION: Following oil spills and industrial-related pollution, the water has become very polluted in the bay, receiving a "C" grade in water quality for toxins found in bay sediments & contaminated dump sites (HARC, 2016).
  • (7) AFFORDABLE AND CLEAN ENERGY: There is no shortage of energy in the bay due to the many oil rigs, but there is a dependency on fossil fuels for energy. More initiatives for wind, hydro and solar power could be made.
  • (11) SUSTAINABLE CITIES AND COMMUNITIES: Although the location is prime for fishing, sun, liesure, and business, there is a constant worry that a storm could level everything, just as it did during the 1900 Hurricane and Hurricane Ike in 2008. Better ways to develop the area without fear of property loss should be pursued, as well as ways to develop without decimating ecosystems - the very ones that help slow erosion and storm surges.
  • (12) RESPONSIBLE CONSUMPTION AND PRODUCTION: Development is very irresponsible along the bay. Fragile ecosystems are destroyed to development in the housing sector and industrial sector. Factories that use the water for cooling tend to over pump and pollute. Fishing is well-regulated due to laws.
  • (14) LIFE BELOW WATER: As climate changes and more factories expel warm water into the ocean, bacteria and algae thrive, the water gets warmer and oxygen decreases. Fish and other marine flora and fauna cannot live there, and dead zones are created.

My hypothesis for this landscape is that if the pollution caused from the industrial areas and the land degradation and habitat loss from housing and industrial development is not curbed and better controlled, nearly all remaining natural areas and ecosystems will be destroyed or fragmented to such a level that they can not survive. Furthermore, as climate changes and storms continue to increase in frequency and intensity, the unvegetated, unprotected, heavily-developed coasts and barrier islands will be destroyed from harsh winds, waves and rising water levels.

There are some existing intitiatives for the Galveston Bay landscape. The Galveston Bay Foundation is a land conservation organization working to protect the estuary of Galveston Bay since 1987. "GBF has conserved over 8,000 acres of coastal habitat through property acquisitions and conservation easements and is working to substantially increase acreage conserved in the coming years" (Galveston Bay Foundation, 2018). GBF assists in shoreline management by developing “living shorelines”, which provide erosion control benefits while utilizing nature to enhance the existing natural shoreline habitat. Land trusts and initiatives have been organized to get community members and business owners involved. Children are educated during field trips and outdoor classroom exercises. Organized Oyster Reef and Wetland restoration projects are deployed, and groups do regular marine debris cleanup to improve habitat health. for There has been a recent push for tighter regulatory laws placed on factories and other industrial areas to hinder pollutants such as oil and trash entering the water. However, with the current rate of development and proposed growth for the future of the area, the high chance of oil spills, the amount of roads, parking lots and general loss of habitat to houses shows a bleak view for nature protection.

A.3 Theory reflection

National Ocean Policy of the United States of America

'The National Ocean Policy sets forth a vision of an America whose stewardship ensures that the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes are healthy and resilient, safe and productive, and understood and treasured so as to promote the well-being, prosperity, and security of present and future generations' (Bureau of Ocean Energy Management).

The National Ocean Policy (2010) specifies the following priority goals:

  • Ecosystem-Based Management: protect, maintain, and restore the health of the ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes ecosystems and resources
  • Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning (CMSP)
  • Make informed decisions and improve understanding for all involved
  • Coordinate with national security and foreign policies and their adjoined interests
  • Improve understanding, resiliency, and adaptation to climate change and ocean acidification
  • Provide regional ecosystem protection and restoration
  • Improve water quality and sustainable practices on land
  • Explore changing conditions in the arctic
  • Develop ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes observations, mapping, and infrastructure
  • Improve sustainability of ocean and coastal economies
  • Preserve heritage

Several Federal agencies, including the Department of the Interior, work with a wide variety of tribal, state, and regional governments; private sector; scientists; the public; and national, regional, and local stakeholders to ensure public input and improved coordination. To ensure the policy is correctly implemented in all effected places, the interagency National Ocean Council was assembled, and later the National Ocean Policy Implementation Plan in 2013. The National Ocean Policy Implementation Plan helps the public and private stakeholders better interpret the policy and which actions are needed to be executed to achieve the policy’s vision.

reading list

A.4 References

Phase B: Landscape Evaluation and Assessment

B.1 Assessment Strategy

Based on the above hypothesis derived from the landscape systems analysis, the Goals of Assessment were found to be:

  • To identify the different land uses of the bay and important ecosystem services
  • To identify possible future growth patterns
  • To identify sensitive areas and potential threats to said areas
  • To develop strategies to protect ecosystems and bay identity

These goals are relevant to the current situation in Galveston Bay because it is experiencing much development and industrialization, which has resulted in degradation of sensitive ecosystems and heavy marine and terrestrial pollution. By identifying which areas are expected to develop further, which areas are important for ecosystem services, and which risks threaten which areas, it allows a compact plan to be developed in order to best protect existing ecosystems and the general health of the bay – from man-made and climate threats alike.

Following this assessment, the themes to be mapped in order to best evaluate the landscape status are:

  • Current land use
  • Projected land use following future development and climate change
  • Important ecosystem services
  • Potential threats and areas most at risk, and potential opportunities

B.2 Mapping

B.3 Problem definition and priority setting

  • Give a summary of the major findings of your mapping process, what are the problems/potentials identified?

Following the mapping process, key findings were unearthed. The most prominent potential threats Galveston Bay faces are: habitat degradation, rapid urbanization, coastal erosion, pollution, and rising sea level and increased storm frequency from climate change. In turn, with the development occuring there, there is potential for economic and recreational growth, as well as affirmative action for nature protection.

B.4 Theory reflection

  • Please reflect the assessment and evaluation methods used based on at least three readings
  • Did you encounter limitations'

Some limitations encountered include: lack of information, large area with large variety of land uses and development plans.

  • 200 words test contribution

B.5 References

Phase C – Strategy and Master Plan

C.1 Goal Setting

Based on the evaluation findings, strategic planning objectives have been developed in order to improve the sustainability and ecosystems along the bay, and more specifically on the threatened Galveston Island. These objectives include:

  • Provide green infrastructure in the urbanized areas
  • Create a nature corridor across Galveston Island for habitat and wildlife connection opportunities
  • Rejuvinate the existing and depleted natural areas and habitats
  • Improve water pollution threats from stormwater runoff with pervious surfaces

These four objectives link the previously mentioned goals from the Sustainable Development Agenda of the United Nations and provide a concrete way of implementing them. The objectives cover No. 14 - Life Below Water and No. 15 - Life on Land the most, with focus on improving fragile ecosystems that have been harmed by pollution and development along the barrier island. The site objectives also touch on No. 3 - Good Health and Wellbeing, No. 6 - Clean Water and Sanitation, and No. 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities. As growth continues, sea levels rise and gulf storms increase, it is important these objectives be utilized in order to preserve as much of the unique bay ecosystems as possible.

C.2 Spatial Strategy and Transect

C.3 From Theory of Change to Implementation

Partnerships needed to implent the vision include: Experts, Stakeholders, Citizen Actors and various Governmental Departments. Experts will ensure the project is done correctly for all special aspects involved. Stakeholders will ensure the project is moving in the correct direction to meet the goals and all special needs of the area. Citizen Actors will have the opportunity to be a part of the process and to enjoy the end results, if they are interested in doing so. The government is in charge of decision making and making sure all laws and regulations are followed throughout the entire process.

Resources are important to reach the vision. Resources include the people and their investments to the project, whether that be private donations, fund raisers or taxes. Other resources include land, water, hard goods for construction and repairs, and soft goods for vegetation installation and improvements.

C.4 References

  • give a full list of the references you have used for this section

D. Process Reflection

Study Outcomes:

  • Better understanding of Galveston Bay, its threats, and its opportunities
  • Meet Sustainable Development Goals and Objectives
  • Focus on Coastal Landscapes
  • Consider all Actors and Stakeholders
  • Feasible Intervention Plan


  • Large area, with limited amount of time to study it in more depth
  • Ever changing landscape
  • Distance did not permit ‘hands-on’ approach to research

What I have learnt from other case studies:

  • The world is a large place with a plethora of different coastal landscapes. How the culture is structured and how the connected government rules creates different coastal landscapes and the people use it depending on their needs, its structure and the climate. Interventions and styles adapt and change according to the landscape and the culture.

Opportunities for Improvement:

  • Choose a smaller area for a more detailed study