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Galveston Bay is a large estuary located along the upper coast of Texasmarker in the United Statesmarker. It is connected to the Gulf of Mexicomarker and is surrounded by sub-tropic marshes and prairies on the mainland. The water in the Bay is a complex mixture of sea water and fresh water which supports a wide variety of marine life.

The bay has been historically important during Texas' history. The island of Galvestonmarker was home to Texas' earliest major settlement and, during most of the 19th century, it was Texas' largest city. The island's port, on the bay side, became one of the top ports in the U.S. During the 20th century as the oil boom in Texas took hold the bay became even more important as a shipping center as Houstonmarker and Texas Citymarker developed into major port and industrial centers.

Today the bay is within the Houston–Sugar Land–Baytown metropolitan area, which is the sixth-largest metropolitan area in the U.S. and is home to major ports including the second-busiest port in the nation. It produces more seafood than any bay in the nation except the Chesapeake.

"Galveston Bay is the second most productive estuary in the nation, producing more seafood than any other bay—trailing only Chesapeake Bay, which is over six times Galveston Bay’s size!"


[[Image:Anonymous portrait of Jean Lafitte, early 19th century, Rosenberg Library, Galveston, Texas.JPG|thumb|left|150px|Anonymous portrait claimed to be of Jean Lafitte in the early 19th century, RosenbergLibrary, Galveston, Texas]]

The Gulf Coast gained its present configuration during the last ice age. Approximately 30,000 years ago sea levels fell dramatically as water was incorported into vast ice sheets. The Trinitymarker and San Jacinto rivers carved wide valleys into the soft sediments, especially along the modern coastline. Gradual melting of the ice sheets as the ice age ended filled the valleys with water creating the bay system approximately 4,500 years ago. Sea level rise reached a relative peak approximately 4,000 years ago giving the bay its present form.

Human settlement in what is now Texas began at least 10,000 years ago following migrations into the Americas from Asia during the last ice age. The first substantial settlements in the area are believed to have been the Karankawa and Atakapan tribes, who lived throughout the Gulf coast region.

Though several Spanish expeditions charted the Gulf Coast, it was explorer José Antonio de Evia who in 1785 gave the bay and the islandmarker the name Galvezton in honor of the Spanish Viceroy Bernardo de Gálvez. Louis Aury established a naval base at the harbor in 1816 to support the Mexican Revolution. His base was soon appropriated by the pirate Jean Lafitte who temporarily transformed Galveston Islandmarker and the bay into a pirate kingdom before being ousted by the United States Navy.Chang (2006), pg. 187
Kearney (2008), pg. 177

Following its independence from Spain the new nation of Mexicomarker claimed Texas as part of its territory. Settlements were established around the bay, particularly Galvestonmarker and Anahuacmarker, as well as Lynchburgmarker and San Jacinto. Following growing unrest, Texas revolted and gained independence in 1835 at the Battle of San Jacintomarker, near the bay along the San Jacinto River. The new Republic of Texas grew rapidly and joined the United States in 1845. The bay would gain notoriety for war one last time during the naval combat of the Battle of Galveston, part of the Civil War which Texas ultimately lost.

Reconstruction was swift in southeast Texas. Ranching interests were major economic drivers on the mainland in the 19th century. The city of Galveston became a major U.S. commercial center for shipping cotton, leather products and cattle, and other goods produced in the growing state. Railroads were built around the shore and new communities continued to emerge.
Commercial fishing developed as a substantial industry, particularly oysters, finfish, and later shrimp. By the end of the 19th century the inland city of Houston had begun to emerge as an important competitor to Galveston as dredging in the bay made it a viable port.

The Galveston Hurricane of 1900marker devastated the city of Galveston and heavily damaged communities around the baymarker. Growth moved inland to Houston as fear of the risks posed by establishing businesses at Galveston limited the island's ability to compete. Texas City emerged as another important port in the area. Shipping traffic through the bay expanded dramatically.

The Texas oil boom beganmarker in 1901 and by 1915 oil production by the bay was fully underway. Oil wells and refineries quickly developed throughout the area.
Pollution on land and in the sea skyrocketted. Wealth emerged in the area as never before.

The establishment of NASAmarker's Johnson Space Centermarker near the bay in Clear Lake in 1963 brought new growth. By the 1970s Houston had become one the nation's largest cities and its expansion connected it with the bay communities. The bay's shoreline became heavily urbanized. The bay and the communities around it gradually emerged as major recreational destinations.

Hurricane Ike struck the bay in 2008 causing substantial damage both environmentally and economically, the most destructive event since 1900. a proposal to build a levee system, the Ike Dike, to protect the bay is under discussion.


The Galveston Bay system consists of four main subbays: Galveston Bay proper (upper and lower), Trinity Bay, East Bay, and West Bay. The Bay is fed by the Trinity Rivermarker and the San Jacinto River, numerous local bayous and incoming tides from the Gulf of Mexicomarker. Many smaller bays and lakes are connected to the main system such as Christmas Bay, Moses Lakemarker, Dickinson Baymarker, Clear Lakemarker, Ash Lake, Black Duck Bay, and San Jacinto Bay. The Bay covers approximately 600 square miles (1,500 km²), and is 30 miles (50 km) long and 17 miles (27 km) wide. Galveston Bay is on average 7–9 feet (3 m) deep.

The Bay has three inlets at the Gulf of Mexico: Bolivar Roads (the exit of the Houston Ship Channel) between Galveston Islandmarker and the Bolivar Peninsulamarker, San Luis Pass to the West, and Rollover Pass to the East. The Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, a navigable waterway consisting of natural islands and man-made canals along the Gulf Coast, runs between the Bay and the Gulf. It effectively marks the boundary between the two.


This unique and complex mixing of waters from different sources provides nursery and spawning grounds formany types of marine life including crabs, shrimp, oysters, and many varieties of fish thereby supporting a substantial fishing industry.Additionally the system of bayous, rivers, and marshes that ring the Bay support their own ecosystems allowing for diverse wildlife and enabling freshwater farming of crawfish.

The wetlands that surround the Bay support a variety of fauna. Notable land-dwelling species include the American alligator and the bobcat, while notable bird species include the yellow rail, and purple gallinule, and the pelican.

Urban development

Houston skyline

Galveston Bay is located in the Greater Houston metropolitan area and itself is at the center of one of the most important shipping hubs in the world.
The metro area is the sixth-largest metropolitan area in the United Statesmarker with a population of 5.7 million as of the 2008 U.S. Census estimate.The population of the metropolitan area is centered in the city of Houstonmarker—the largest economic and cultural center of the with a population of 2.2 million.It is among the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the United States.

Four counties border the Bay: Brazoriamarker, Chambersmarker, Harrismarker, and Galveston Countymarker. The largest city in this area is Houstonmarker, the nation's fourth-largest. Houston itself, though, began its life as an inland city and only due to its immense growth has it reached the shores of the Bay. The area's original metropolis was Galvestonmarker, which though now largely a quiet, tourist island, was once one of the most important ports in the nation. Other significant communities bordering the Bay include Texas Citymarker, Pasadenamarker, Baytownmarker, and Anahuacmarker.

Important ports that serve the bay include the Port of Houston, the Port of Texas City, and the Port of Galveston. The Houston Ship Channelmarker, which connects the Port of Houston to the Gulf, passes through the Bay. It is a partially man-made feature created by dredging the Buffalo Bayou, the ship channel subbays, and Galveston Bay.

The area has a broad industrial base including the energy, manufacturing, aeronautics, transportation, and health care sectors. Houston is second to only New York City in the number of Fortune 500 headquarters in the city limits. The bayside communitiesmarker in particular are themselves the heart of both the nation's manned space program and the nation's petrochemical industry.

Weisman (2008), pg. 166,

"The industrial megaplex that begins on the east side of Houston and continues uninterrupted to the Gulf of Mexico, 50 miles away, is the largest concentration of petroleum refineries, petrochemical companies, and storage structures on Earth."


The climate around the Bay is classified as humid subtropical (Cfa in Köppen climate classification system). Prevailing winds from the south and southeast bring heat from the deserts of Mexicomarker and moisture from the Gulf of Mexicomarker.
Melosi (2007), pg. 13

Summer temperatures regularly exceed and the area's humidity drives the heat index even higher.

Winters in the area are temperate with typical January highs above and lows are near .

Snowfall is generally rare.

Annual rainfall averages well over a year with some areas typically receiving over .

Hurricanes are an ever-present threat during the fall season. Galveston Island and the Bolivar Peninsulamarker are generally at the greatest risk. However, though the island and the peninsula provide some shielding,
the bay shoreline still faces significant danger from storm surge.


The Bay receives the fourth highest level of toxic chemicals in the state from bayside industrial discharge, in addition to pollutants washing in from the Houston Ship Channel. Although contaminants from the major industrial complexes along the Bay contribute substantially to bay pollution, most is the result of storm run-off from various commercial, agricultural, and residential sources. Environmental News: Galveston Bay , Citizen's Environmental Coalition, retrieved 6 Sept. 2009

Contaminated storm water runoff, or nonpoint source (NPS) pollution, remains the top water quality problem facing Galveston Bay. NPS pollution is transported to our waterways via rainfall runoff from diffuse, landbased sources such as businesses, industries, farms, roads, parking lots, septic tanks, marinas, and residential yards. In recent decades, conservation efforts have been enacted which have substantially improved water quality in the Bay. Though concerns have been raised about the safety of seafood obtained from the Bay the Texas Department of Health have stated that fish from the Bay is "safe for unlimited consumption."

Excessive ozone levels can occur due to of industrial activities; nearby Houston is ranked among the most ozone-polluted cities in the United States. The industries located along the ship channel are a major cause of the pollution.

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