Grades Are In

How Healthy Is Galveston Bay in 2019?

There's good news and bad news on the annual Galveston Bay report card.

By Gwendolyn Knapp September 4, 2019

Get involved to help with the health of the bay.

Image: Gene Fisseler

An earlier version of this article stated that it's dangerous to eat seafood from Galveston Bay, which is not true, though the Houston Shipping Channel and certain areas of the bay do have seafood consumption advisories.  

It's report card time for GALVESTON BAY Again. Our state's largest estuary, with a watershed that stretches all the way to the Dallas-Fort Worth area and includes half the Texas population, has once again received its annual grade from the Galveston Bay Foundation, in collaboration with the Houston Advanced Research Center and the Houston Endowment.

Using science-based monitoring data collected from state, local and federal agencies, the foundation uses 22 indicators to grade the bay's overall health. These indicators are divided among six categories—water quality, habitat, coastal change, pollution events and sources, human health risk, and wildlife—all of which are graded as well. 

Galveston Bay received an overall grade of "C" for the fifth year in a row. 

But there's some good news, too—Hurricane Harvey, for instance, showed that our bay is pretty darn resilient and that the systems supporting it are evolving to withstand extreme events as well. And while our watershed is still facing some very serious health issues, all of us can contribute to its progress in very simple ways, and spoiler alert: Your own well-being will vastly improve by helping out.

Here are the main takeaways from this year's report card. 

Phosphorous pollutants and saltwater wetlands are in the red. 

Good News

  • Last year's report card expressed concern over blue crabs, but thankfully the population did not decline in 2018, which means the species may see stabilization in the near future.  
  • The oyster population received a grade of C, which is actually pretty decent, given the hardship they’ve faced from years of drought (from 2011 to 2014) followed by subsequent years of flooding. 
  • Bacteria concentrations in bayous, and the health risks associated with them, are improving.  A number of urban and suburban bayous saw Cs and Bs this year (but not you, White Oak and Brays bayous, you both got Ds.).
  • We continue to see improvement regarding pollution events and sources, especially in terms of metals found in sediment, though mercury is still a big problem (and dioxin in the Ship Channel is still a major concern, too).

Bad News

  • Sadly, water quality declined from an A to a B due to increased phosphorous concentrations across various watersheds in 2018. These pollutants tend to flow from storm drains to bayous to the bay. While some sub-watersheds improved their phosphorous grades, many did not, including Greens Bayou, which dropped from a C to a D, and Barkers Bayou, which earned an F. 
  • Habitat and wetlands both received a D. Post-Harvey, our watersheds require attention and the decline of wetlands needs to be turned around to benefit water quality, flood mitigation, and our area’s resilience against storms.
  • Sea level rise gets the grade of an F. Combined with episodic storm surges and coastal subsidence, it’s something to watch as coastal change continues to be an issue.
  • Like last year, seafood consumption safety remains a concern, with the bay receiving a C grade and rivers/bayous earning a D.  The majority of seafood from the bay is safe to eat, but there are advisories not to eat certain species of fish (or any) caught in our rivers, bayous, and shipping channel.

What You Can Do To Help

  • Reduce the amounts of grease (fats and oils) you pour down your sink as this affects the amounts of nitrogen, phosphorous and dissolved oxygen in Galveston Bay and rivers and bayous.
  • Reduce stormwater run off by installing a rain barrel to positively impact coastal resilience.
  • Remove litter and trash from your community shorelines to protect wildlife.
  • Volunteer at a wetland or oyster reef restoration event through Galveston Bay Foundation to support local restoration efforts. Head to for more information. 
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