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What is an Estuary?

An estuary (pronounced esCHo͞oˌerē ) is a semi-enclosed coastal body of water which has a free connection with the open sea and where sea water mixes with fresh water.

Galveston Bay is an estuary located in Southeast Texas near the Houston-Galveston area. In this wonderfully complex system, freshwater inflows from rivers, bayous and streams mix with salty water from the Gulf of Mexico. This mixing provides a unique environment that houses indigenous coastal plants and offers a nutrient rich arena that nurtures juvenile marine organisms such as shrimp, oysters, crabs, and numerous fish.

Why are estuaries important?

Estuaries are one of the planet’s most productive and important ecosystems. Estuaries like Galveston Bay are “nature’s nurseries.” The bay nurtures juvenile shrimp, oysters, crabs, and fin fish. Without a well-functioning estuary, there would be little local seafood in our restaurants, and recreational and commercial fishing would dramatically decline.

Why is Galveston Bay important?

Galveston Bay is vital to the Houston-Galveston Area’s economic well-being and quality of life. Its ports, transportation industries, and proximity to rich petroleum reserves form the core of the local economy. At the same time, the Bay is a rich and productive ecosystem, supporting several key water-based industries such as recreational fishing, commercial fishing and shellfish harvesting, and nature tourism. These industries contribute billions of dollars to the region’s economy and employ thousands of people.

The Galveston Bay Estuary also provides important ecological services. Its upland prairies and wetlands absorb flood waters and filter contaminated storm water runoff. Its bay waters, rivers, streams, and bayous naturally assimilate pollutants from wastewater discharges, streets, businesses, and homes.

Where can I learn more about estuaries?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency provides detailed information about our nation’s estuaries, their importance and impact, and what the agency is doing to help.