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Sanctuary Identified as Manta Nursery

unnamed Sanctuary Identified as Manta Nursery

Where do young manta rays spend their time? Finally, researchers have an answer: Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary.

In a paper published in Marine Biology, Dr. Nancy  Foster Scholar Joshua Stewart and sanctuary researchers Marissa Nuttall, Emma Hickerson, and Dr. Michelle Johnston suggest that Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary and the area surrounding it may represent the first documented nursery habitat for oceanic manta rays (Manta birostris) and a potential new species of manta (Manta cf. birostris).

In light of the fact that oceanic manta rays were recently listed as threatened under the Endanger Species Act, this is quite significant. The protections provided within the sanctuary keep juvenile mantas relatively safe from threats affecting them in other parts of the world.

We always knew this place was special. This new finding just makes it more so!

Seabrook fish kill reported

seabrook fish kill 2 Seabrook fish kill reported

Thousands of dead shad begin to accumulate at the rocks near the base of the Todville Road bridge in Seabrook, TX on the afternoon of June 6, 2018. Photo by Brandon Rowan.

By Brandon Rowan

June 6, 2018 – A new fish kill has been reported in Galveston Bay near Seabrook. Thousands of dead shad are washing ashore near Todville Road and the surrounding area.

This is the second Galveston Bay fish kill reported in two weeks. The Seabrook event comes only a week after a massive fish kill further north in the Bay near the Houston Yacht Club.

Hotter-than-average temperatures in late May and early June are most likely responsible. Hot weather depletes oxygen supplies from the water and suffocates these small fish.

Due to health concerns, Texas Parks and Wildlife discourages fishing in areas where fish carcasses have accumulated.

You may report other fish kills to Texas Parks and Wildlife by calling their 24-hour hotline at (281) 842-8100.

Lethal Crab Traps Collected in Christmas Bay

crab trap removal Lethal Crab Traps Collected in Christmas Bay

Brazoria County Gulf Coast Rescue Squad volunteers remove crab traps from Christmas Bay. Volunteer Chuck Courson drives the orange boat at back. The front boat is manned by Boy Scout/Angleton Troop 531. Joeseph West, left, Dylan Hanson on top and non scout volunteer Sterling Greathouse on the deck. BC/GCRS volunteer and Troop 531 leader Mike Hattaway at the wheel. Photo by Jim Olive.

By Janice Van Dyke Walden

The fisherman had been dead for quite a while, and now his crab traps were full.  On the morning of Saturday, February 17, 2018, as the sun came out and the tide retreated, volunteers in airboats found the metal cage crab traps among the grasses in the backwaters of Christmas Bay.  They were full of crabs.

They also found 50 sheepshead trapped at another location, and, like the crabs and all other marine life they find in the traps, they released them.  “Last year, we found a turtle in one of the traps,” says Jim Olive who organizes the effort every year.

When he started the Christmas Bay Foundation years ago, Olive was working to save the sea grasses from shrimpers, and keep a pipeline of human waste from dumping in the shallow pan bay of Follet’s Island.  Now, years later, the shrimpers have been banned, and the pipe re-directed into the Gulf.  The sea grasses flourish, and Christmas Bay has become a popular place for recreational fisherman.

The crab fishermen still place their cage traps out in the waters, but not all can be recovered by the third Friday of each February.  That’s when the State of Texas calls a 10-day closure on crab trap fishing, allowing volunteers to collect what has gone adrift or been forgotten.

“They are a pernicious, lethal killer,” says Olive of the traps.  “When they are abandoned, the crabs die in the trap; the scent that they put out attracts more crabs to the trap.  Those crabs die, and it’s just an ongoing cycle.”

This year, Olive and 14 other volunteers from Boy Scouts, Brazoria County and Texas Parks and Wildlife manned 7 boats for 6 hours, fanning out into the lakes and bayous that eventually feed into Christmas Bay.  They covered more area than in years past.  “It was definitely our most extensive coverage,” says Olive.  In all, the group collected over 60 crab traps.

Bruce Bodson of the Lower Brazos Riverwatch was one of the volunteers.  When he returned to shore, he stomped on the cages he’d collected so they couldn’t be used again.

Since 2002 when the law took effect, over 33,820 abandoned crab traps have been retrieved from Texas coastal waters, from Sabine Lake to Brownsville, with volunteers in the Galveston Bay area and San Antonio Bay consistently collecting the most traps.

To join the effort next year:

www.christmasbayfoundation.org

www.galvbay.org/get-involved/volunteer

Galveston Bay Foundation’s Bay Day Festival 2018

27540956 10155551240698439 5713663818272352907 n Galveston Bay Foundations Bay Day Festival 2018

Come celebrate the Bay with us this Earth Month at Bay Day Festival!

Bay Day is a one-day FREE celebration presented by Galveston Bay Foundation and numerous community partners. Festival highlights include bay-themed arts and crafts, wildlife presentations, touch tanks, a scavenger hunt, science and marine exhibits, and more.

NEW THIS YEAR: We’re so excited that Bay Day is taking place in April, making it a signature Earth Month event for the Kemah area. Keep your eyes peeled for new activities and surprises, and tips for promoting a clean and healthy Galveston Bay, one of the largest and most productive estuaries on our planet!

*There is no charge to participate in the Bay Day Festival. Kemah Boardwalk parking fees may apply, as well as other costs associated with using Kemah Boardwalk amusements and restaurants, etc.

For more information, or if you are interested in volunteering or sponsoring Bay Day, Visit our website: www.galvbay.org/bayday

Plastic in Paradise Part II: Microplastics

plastic shard Plastic in Paradise Part II: Microplastics

Colorful, tiny and abundant, microplastics enter the marine system as fragments, film, fiber and microbeads and may stay in the ocean for thousands of years. (Photo courtesy University of Florida IFAS Extension, Florida Microplastic Awareness Project)

It may be in the oysters we eat, the water we drink and in the air we breathe.  There’s no magic way of getting rid of it.  And, it seems the Gulf of Mexico’s most pervasive plastic pollutant may be literally on our backs.

By Janice Van Dyke Walden

For years, scientists have reported on the extent of plastic pollution in far-off places of the world.  But a new effort is revealing just how extensive “plastic soup” is in the Gulf of Mexico.  In the first citizen-scientist effort to document the extent of microplastic pollution in the Gulf of Mexico, volunteers and scientists are finding that these permanent fragments are in nearly every sample they take.

The low-level collection method of dipping one-liter water bottles and collecting sediment in one-gallon bags is also showing that microplastics are just as extensive in urban areas as they are in remote locations of the Gulf.

2017 10 09 09.07.07 300x300 Plastic in Paradise Part II: Microplastics

Plastic fibers float in a sample collected in Galveston. Photo courtesy Turtle Island Restoration Network, Galveston.

Microscopic trash

Most microplastics are created when sunlight or wave action breaks down larger pieces of plastic debris into tiny, even microscopic bits.  Colorful and abundant, they enter the marine system as fragments, film, fiber and microbeads.  Lifted in the air, washed from our landfills, or drained from our sinks and washing machines, they end up in our oceans for thousands of years where marine life ingest or adhere to it.

Through a microscope, Theresa Morris has observed baby shells living among microplastics and algae living in Styrofoam.  As a citizen-scientist coordinator based in Galveston with the Turtle Island Restoration Network, she’s one of the scientists involved in creating a more complete picture about the extent of microplastics in the Gulf of Mexico.  “The research is so new, we don’t know how bad it is,” she admits.  Although Morris and volunteers have analyzed just a few samples on Galveston’s beach, she’s convinced that more investigation needs to be done with funding behind it.  Each sample she’s examined contains some form of microplastic.

In the course of her PhD thesis, Caitlin Wessel has seen microplastics in hundreds of samples she’s collected, from the Texas-Mexico border to the Florida Keys.  As she   finishes her doctorate, Wessel works as the Gulf of Mexico Regional Coordinator for NOAA’s Marine Debris Program based in Mobile, Alabama.  Her two years of degree work collecting samples from water, beach sand and coastal shelf material show just how prevalent tiny bits of plastic are, even in the most unlikely locations.

Wessel got curious about microplastics four years ago during a moment offshore Louisiana.  While helping a fellow grad student off Louisiana’s uninhabited Chandeleur Islands, Wessel found herself picking bits of plastic out of seagrass cores.  It’s not what she expected to find 30 miles offshore at the nation’s second oldest National Wildlife Refuge.  “That got me thinking,” Wessel recalls.  “This is supposed to be a pristine habitat, but there’s all this trash out here.”

Volunteers dipping one-liter bottles are finding microplastics in the most remote locations of the Gulf Coast. (Photo courtesy University of Florida IFAS Extension, Florida Microplastic Awareness Project)

Fiber, fiber everywhere

Around that same time, Dr. Maia Patterson McGuire started wondering if microbeads were present in the ecosystem she works in.  Found in toothpaste and exfoliate healthcare products, the tiny beads of plastic rinse off, go down the drain and into the stream chain.  Because they are so tiny, most wastewater treatment facilities pass microbeads.  When McGuire, a University of Florida Marine Biologist, began her citizen-science investigation in 2015, there was no law forbidding the production of microbeads, and not very much was known about their impact on marine life.  With a grant from NOAA, McGuire trained and equipped 16 partner organizations that organized 130 volunteers to collect water samples along the entire coast of Florida.  McGuire was looking for the tiny microbeads.  Instead, she found a different, more prevalent plastic: plasticized fiber, the kind used in synthetic clothing and other products.

“It could be nylon, it could be acrylic, it could be polyester, it could be the plant-based plastics like rayon or a polymer that is made from cellulose, but still a plasticized product,” says McGuire.  Without access to more precise equipment, “we can’t tell just what kind of fiber it is,” she says.  But what she does know is that the fiber is manmade, it’s widespread, and it’s not going away.  “There seems to be an equal-opportunity of finding plastics in water samples regardless of where they are collected.”

Erik Sparks agrees.  At Mississippi State University, he is the collection point for all the samples taken in this citizen-scientist project.  Working with Morris, Wessel, McGuire and other partners along the Gulf Coast, he’s seen the results of hundreds of samples, from Corpus Christi, Texas to the Florida Keys.  In the two years of data reporting, Sparks is finding that “at least 90% of the microplastics have been fibers.  By far, the most abundant microplastics are microfibers that come off of polyester clothing.”

Clothe the world

With only so much land on earth to produce cotton and wool, polyester fiber is filling the gap, clothing a world population expected to exceed 9 billion people by 2050.   As the population soars, so does polyester production.  In the last 20 years, polyester production increased five times to 50 million tons per year.   In the next 8 years, it’s expected to nearly double to an all time high.

Fibers in bivalves

That’s not good news for the Gulf of Mexico where oysters and other bivalves live and ingest the “plastic soup”.  When they filter microplastic-infused water, plastic can stay lodged in bivalve tissue.  No one knows for how long.  Of the oysters that Caitlin Wessel found in Mobile Bay, 25% contained 3 to 5 bits of microplastic.  Beyond its disturbing presence in tissue, microplastics are also known to interfere with the reproductive and offspring performance of oysters.  A study published by the National Academy of Sciences in March 2016 explains that Pacific oysters exposed for two months to polystyrene microspheres (micro-PS) experienced decreases in diameter, oocyte number and sperm velocity.

And, microplastics’ adverse interaction is not limited to oysters.  It appears to affect all levels of aquatic life.  A 2017 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations shows that in lab results dating to 1991, aquatic organisms experienced at least one impact through interaction with microplastics.   The impacts range up the aquatic food chain from adherence in algae to liver toxicity in fish.

That kind of exposure may affect humans.  “As plastics break down, they leach toxins that are very bad for you,” says Morris, “Like PBCs.  They’re carcinogenic.  They cause mutations in fetuses.  They also cause a lot of physiological complications in your endocrine system.  Fish eat them, and so, when you eat fish,” she explains, “you are eating meat that has had these plastic toxins leached into the meat.  The research is so new; we don’t know if this is what is causing people to come down with cancer.”

Given the recent spotlight on microplastics in the media, there’s still no ceasing the trend of more people on earth.  So, the demand for plastic will be there where natural resources are spare.  Which means, microplastics will be in the Gulf of Mexico a long, long time.  “There’s no feasible way to remove microplastics from the water without basically removing every piece of life from the water,” says McGuire.  And, if that were to happen, we’d no longer have an ocean.

TAKE THE PLEDGE

McGuire used her citizen-scientist investigation to form the Florida Microplastic Awareness Project.  Each volunteer takes a pledge. You can, too.

  • Read labels on personal care products and avoid those that contain polyethylene.
  • Use paper or re-useable shopping bags.
  • Avoid using plastic drinking straws.
  • Bringing your own water bottle or drinking cup instead of buying single-use plastic beverage bottles.
  • Instead of Styrofoam, bring your own washable hot drink cup.
  • Use foil or a washable container as a to-go box.
  • Recycle as many plastic items as possible.
  • Instead of nylon, acrylic and polyester, choose more natural fabrics.

Find it at www.plasticaware.org.

Law passed to create federal Maritime Center of Excellence designation

24276906227 3f331218f2 z 300x200 Law passed to create federal Maritime Center of Excellence designation

The fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) was recently signed into law, which includes provisions from the Domestic Maritime Centers of Excellence Act (H.R. 2286). This authorizes federal designation of community and technical college “centers of excellence.” Pictured is John Stauffer, associate vice chancellor and superintendent of maritime at San Jacinto College, in the engine room simulator at the College’s Maritime Technology and Training Center in La Porte, Texas. Photo credit: Jeannie Peng Mansyur, San Jacinto College marketing, public relations, and government affairs department.

Domestic Maritime Centers of Excellence Act supported by Sen. John Cornyn and Congressman Gene Green

President Donald Trump signed into the law the fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which includes provisions from the Domestic Maritime Centers of Excellence Act (H.R. 2286) that authorizes federal designation of community and technical college “centers of excellence” to help provide technical education and training programs to secure the talent pipeline for the nation’s maritime workforce.

Congressman Gene Green (D-TX-29) introduced the Domestic Maritime Centers of Excellence Act. In September, the legislation was offered on the Senate floor as part of broader package of maritime provisions contained in an NDAA amendment by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX).

“San Jacinto College is positioned as a top maritime training program in the heart of one of the largest ports in the world,” said Sen. Cornyn. This legislation will benefit both national security and international trade and allow for the growth and strengthening of our maritime workforce thanks to training programs at our community colleges.”

As a Maritime Center of Excellence, San Jacinto College will expand its capacity to train domestic maritime workers by admitting more students, training faculty, expanding facilities, creating new maritime career pathways from associate degree to baccalaureate degree programs, and awarding credit for prior learning experience – including military service.

“In our district, we have a surplus of maritime jobs and not enough people with the skills and training to fill them,” said Congressman Gene Green (D-TX-29) in a press release. “The industry is continuing to invest and grow along the Port of Houston, and we want to make sure that our constituents have the opportunity to take these high skilled, middle-class jobs. This bipartisan legislation will help bridge the gap. It’s good for our local community, it’s good for our businesses, and it’s good for the American economy.”

A lack of federal government focus on domestic maritime industry technical training, maritime workers approaching retirement, technological advancements, and the expansion of the Panama Canal are all factors that affect the maritime workforce shortage. Under the provisions of the Domestic Maritime Centers of Excellence Act, the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) can support community and technical college centers of excellence by providing funding and support, technical assistance, and donating surplus federal assets for maritime education – such as marine vessels for use in training programs. Recently, San Jacinto College received support from MARAD to allow maritime students access to Ready Reserve Fleet ships to keep current with the most recent developments of the Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW).

San Jacinto College has awarded more than 5,500 U.S. Coast Guard (USCG)-approved course completion certificates since 2010 and introduced the state’s first associate degree program in maritime transportation to train those new to the maritime industry. Last year marked the opening of the College’s Maritime Technology and Training Center on the Maritime Campus in La Porte, Texas, to offer more training opportunities for new and incumbent mariners.

“We are truly grateful to Sen. Cornyn and Rep. Green for supporting the important role community colleges hold in the training of mariners for the workforce,” said Dr. Brenda Hellyer, Chancellor of San Jacinto College, in a prepared statement. “San Jacinto College’s maritime program is located along one of the busiest ports in the United States. We are committed to producing highly qualified mariners and aim to alleviate the shortages occurring due to retirements and the expanding global market.”

The San Jacinto College Maritime Technology and Training Center on the Maritime Campus offers a full calendar of USCG-approved maritime courses. For more information and to register, visit sanjac.edu/maritime.

About San Jacinto College 

Surrounded by monuments of history, industries and maritime enterprises of today, and the space age of tomorrow, San Jacinto College has been serving the citizens of East Harris County, Texas, since 1961. As a fiscally sound institution, the College currently holds bond ratings of AA and Aa2 by Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s, respectively. San Jacinto College is a 2017 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence Rising Star Award recipient and an Achieving the Dream Leader College. Approximately 45,000 credit and non-credit students each year benefit from a support system that maps out a pathway for success. The College offers eight areas of study that prepare a diverse body of students to transfer to four-year colleges or universities or enter the workforce with the skills needed to support the growing industries along the Texas Gulf Coast. San Jacinto College graduates contribute nearly $690 million each year to the Texas workforce.

For more information about San Jacinto College call 281-998-6150, visit sanjac.edu or join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

Plastic in Paradise

shane Plastic in Paradise

Captain Shane Cantrell shows how a 2 cent plastic bag nearly cost him $80,000. Photo by Jim Olive.

The Bottle and the Bag

By Janice Van Dyke Walden

Plastic in Paradise is a three-part series on the prevalence of plastic in the Gulf Coast’s marine life, and how it affects the food we eat and the water we drink.  Speaking to local groups who deal with it everyday, they tell us how prevalent plastic pollution is along the Gulf Coast, and what we can do to reduce it and to eliminate it from our lives.

As much as 90% of floating marine debris may be plastic.   And that doesn’t account for all the plastic that sinks to the bottom of the ocean, settling in sediment for thousands of years.  Researchers estimate that 70% of plastic pollution will never be seen because it sinks out of sight.

While a definitive study on the impact of plastic on the Gulf of Mexico has not be conducted, institutions along the Gulf Coast from Florida to Texas are now banding together to collect, quantify and analyze plastic samples found along our shores.

A study published in 2014 estimates that 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris possibly float in the world’s oceans.   Because the Gulf of Mexico was not included in that study, there’s no telling what our Gulf would contribute to the plastic count.  But on the surface, here’s what some Gulf Coast residents are finding.  It’s affects their livelihood.  It affects the way we live:

The cost to fishermen

It’s the sound that no captain wants to hear: an alarm onboard goes off while you’re ten miles offshore.

That’s what happened last August to Captain Shane Cantrell aboard his charter vessel, Sharecropper.  The boat was full of paying clients, ready for a day of fishing.  They had cleared the Galveston jetty and were well out of site of land.  Something triggered the overhead alarm on the intake.  Cantrell stopped everything to open up the engine hatch and take a look.  Inside he saw convenience wrapped around his gear case:  a plastic ice bag either thrown overboard or allowed to get loose by someone.  Ten miles offshore, a single bag had sucked up in his engine and blocked off the intake for the water pump that keeps the engine cool.  Sharecropper’s twin engines were overheating and could have failed, leaving Cantrell stranded in the Gulf of Mexico with a boatload of clients.

A single 2 cent bag could have cost Cantrell $80,000.  If he had lost both engines, Cantrell figures their replacement would have cost up to $30,000, and his downtime in high season could have meant $50,000 in lost revenue.

Encountering plastic offshore is nothing new to Cantrell.  Most often in May and June when he’s out in depths up to 1,000 feet of water, he’ll see mylar balloons floating in the sargassum.  The balloons are from the season’s graduation parties and ceremonies that have been released and floated away.  Their shiny mylar plastic lodges in the floating beds of sea grass that are food for the Gulf’s juvenile turtles.  “I’ve seen everything from hard hats to plastic bottles out in the sargassum,” he says.  “But, the most common debris apart from the balloons is the single-use bottle and bags.”

turtle Plastic in Paradise

Joanie Steinhaus of Turtle Island Restoration Network says juvenile turtles bit these plastic bleach and vinegar bottles that washed ashore Bolivar Peninsula. Photo by Jim Olive.

Floating global: plastic bottles

Long-time San Leon resident Stennie Meadors shares that same observation.  She speaks with over 30 years in the field of environmental management.  For ten years till 2001 she was an emergency response manager for Texas Commission on Environmental Quality handling response units for spills.  She worked on the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and before that, she conducted hazardous waste inspections in the Houston area.  A turning point for her came in 2007 when her grandson brought her the skeleton of a brown pelican with a plastic bottle lodged in its pelvic area.  The bottle may have come from across the ocean, or it may have been deposited locally.

For three years, Meadors fought to ban plastic bottles in her area.  To this day, there’s no law banning the bottle.  Now she focuses on grassroots clean ups and consumer awareness in the shoreline process.  She and her group of volunteers for Plastic Pollution Partnership comb the beaches from San Luis to Bolivar and from Morgan’s Point to the Texas City Prairie Preserve picking up plastic on a regular basis.  “We see plastic straws,” Meador says, “They are a problem, but we don’t see them as often as we see water bottles.”

Meadors tells of the plastic bottles that washed up recently at Bolivar: about 50 bottles were found  – small, yellow and worn-out, the product of Industrias Macier SA.  The bottles were also punctured with holes.  Meadors discovered they were bite holes of juvenile turtles.  The bottles had floated across the Gulf from the Dominican Republic and drifted onto the beaches of Texas and Louisiana.  Filled with vinegar or bleach, the contents had been used to distill water in the Dominican Republic.  “They sell for 10 cents a bottle, get discarded and then get caught up in the Gulf Stream and land on our shores,” Meador says.  She has given some of the turtle-bitten bottles to Joanie Steinhaus to display.  Steinhaus runs the Galveston office of the Turtle Island Restoration Network, and uses samples like these to bring awareness to the public and to students they work with in Galveston’s schools.

“The plastic is so sharp that it can perforate on the way down,” says Steinhaus’ colleague, Theresa Morris, who is part of the coastal research team.  The turtles “have these spikes in their throat that makes sure the food goes down, and so it will actually force food down in their guts, and the plastic will cut them up on the way down.  Sometimes they can pass it, but you’re talking about very small pieces of plastic, and depending on what they’re made of, the plastics will be leaching chemicals that could cause physiological disruptions.”

The bag

Although bottles are among the top ten plastic items trashing the Gulf Coast, Steinhaus’ biggest plastic peeve is the single use bag, also among the top 10.  “We live on an island,” she says.  “Single use bags have a shelf life of maybe, 12 minutes.  Less than 5% of them are recycled.  They end up in the water.  We live on an island.  They’re blowing down the streets.  They’re going to end up in the Gulf.”

A world of convenience

At Galveston’s Walmart on the Seawall at 64th Street, it’s easy to see how this happens.  The parking lot is full at noon with shoppers pushing cartloads of purchases in plastic bags.  Most of the items are double-sacked.  Within five minutes, 80 plastic bags leave the store.  Outside, a plastic bag floats by a woman waiting for a ride.  “That wasn’t mine,” she says, “It was here when I got here.”

That attitude prevails in North America and Western Europe which use 80% of the 4 trillion plastic bags produced each year.

Some kind of fight

For Steinhaus, “It’s one simple change, and people fight it.”  People like Gov. Greg Abbott.  He opposes individual cities banning the plastic bag, claiming that Texas is being “California-ized.”  Also opposing city ordinances to ban the bag is Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.  He’s asked the Texas Supreme Court to affirm the Fourth Court of Appeals decision that declared Laredo’s plastic bag ban unlawful.   Paxton is calling a bag ban by individual cities unlawful because it violates state law, the Texas Health and Safety Code, which forbids municipalities from making rules to “prohibit or restrict, for solid waste management purposes, the sale or use of a container or package in a manner not authorized by state law.

Last year, resistance came on another level, Steinhaus says, when after working with a team of Galveston city officials to draft an ordinance on the marine environment, City Attorney Don Glywasky received a call from a South Carolina law firm with the intent to sue if Galveston passed its bag ban.

The Texas Supreme Court is scheduled to hear Laredo’s case on Jan. 11.  The court’s ruling will have implications for Houston, Galveston and all other Texas cities that want to determine their own bag law.  In the meantime, businesses and individuals are choosing alternatives to the plastic bag.

Galveston businesses take voluntary actions

“For hotels, it was easy for them to eliminate them,” says Steinhaus, “They have very limited use; their gift shops – especially the places like the Tremont, The Galvez or the Hilton, their clientele doesn’t mind.  Most of them use paper bags or sell bags.”  For the island’s smaller shops where price margins matter more, Steinhaus is in favor of forming a bag coop to lower the cost of paper bags for individual shop owners.

Either way, these local residents all agree it comes down to personal choice.  Plastic “is something that we can have more control over,” says Cantrell. “It’s not coming from any other source but human.  People don’t think about it, and people don’t intend to throw into the ocean, but it’s there.”

What can you do?

  • Refuse the bag; bring your own bag and bottle.
  • Bundle your plastic bags and deposit them at recycling receptacles located at the front of most grocery stores.
  • Buy your own re-useable bags and keep them in your car. If you don’t yet have a collection of re-useable bags, use paper bags.
  • Tell the store manager you’ll shop elsewhere unless they provide an alternative bag, like a paper bag or one you can buy and re-use.
  • Recycle any plastic bottles you find or purchase.
  • Instead of buying bottled water for home consumption, buy a Brita or other water filter, and filter your own water.  Drink for drink, it’s less expensive, too.
  • Tell your city, county and state representatives what you want done about the plastic bag and bottle.
  • Join a local advocacy group.  Help with clean ups.  Spread awareness and good habits.  You can do it every day or once a year.

 

Texas Local Advocacy Groups

Plastic Pollution Reporting for Galveston/Harris Counties

Stennie Meadors

stenmead@aol.com and on Facebook

 

Galveston Bay Foundation

www.galvbay.org

 

NOAA Marine Debris Monitoring and Assessment Program

https://marinedebris.noaa.gov/

 

Turtle Island Restoration Network

https://seaturtles.org/newssection/bring-the-bag-psa-galveston/

 

Texans for Clean Water

http://www.texansforcleanwater.org/

 

Adopt a Beach

https://www.facebook.com/TexasAdoptABeach/

 

Trash Bash

http://www.trashbash.org/

Galveston Oysters After Hurricane Harvey

Gbaysalinity Galveston Oysters After Hurricane Harvey

Texas Department of State Health Services salinity readings.

Unprecedented influx of fresh water ravages reefs

Months after the storm, we are still seeing the effects of hurricane Harvey. A massive amount of freshwater flushed through Galveston Bay and caused heavy casualties to the area’s live oyster reefs.

Galveston oysters need a balance in salinity in order to thrive, usually around 15 ppt (parts per thousand). The low salinities in many parts of Galveston and East Bay have decimated live oyster reefs, to the dismay of local oystermen and women.

In early September, Christine Jensen, TPWD Fisheries Biologist, sampled oysters from the middle of the bay and saw about 20% mortality on those reefs. The Department of State Health Services also took salinity readings (see figure below) and found that salt levels were rising in the lower parts of Galveston Bay but East Bay was still very fresh.

Jensen again sampled public reefs in October and it was determined that areas TX-1, TX-4, TX-5 and TX-6 will not open for oyster season on Nov. 1.

“East Bay experienced the worst of Harvey’s effects with very few live oysters left.  It remained too fresh for too long for most oysters to survive.  Hannas Reef had 51% mortality, Middle Reef had 95% mortality, and Frenchy’s Reef had 100% mortality.  Almost all of the restoration areas in East Bay were killed,” Jensen said.

“Some reefs on the west side of the ship channel also saw significant mortality near where Dickinson Bayou drains into the bay Dollar Reef had 90% mortality and Todds Dump had 62%. However, several reefs in the middle of the bay survived fairly well and have higher numbers of live oysters than they have had in many years.  The numbers of oysters in TX-7 were starting to rebound prior to Harvey and luckily survived with relatively low mortality.  This area will open for oyster harvest on November 1.”

salinity10 25 NOAA Galveston Oysters After Hurricane Harvey

NOAA’s Galveston Bay Salinity Nowcast, a computer-generated forecast guide shows that upper Trinity and East Bays are still very fresh as of late October.

Upper Galveston, Trinity and East Bay still remain relatively fresh with salinity less than 10 ppt. But there is a silver lining; the reefs in the middle of the bay are doing well with higher catches than have been seen in many years. Also, there is a lot of clean cultch (dead shell) for oyster larvae to settle.

“A clean place for larvae to settle has always been a limiting factor in Galveston Bay for oyster numbers to rebound,” said TPWD Biologist Christine Jensen.

“Hopefully, we will see a quick return in a few years if mother nature will cooperate.”

Blueprint for the Great American Dream

prestige oyster Blueprint for the Great American Dream

Lisa and Raz Halili of Prestige Oysters.

The story of Prestige Oysters

By K. Pica Kahn

halilis Blueprint for the Great American Dream

Johnny and Lisa Halili.

It is a love story,  and a story of the American dream. Johnny Halili, a little boy in Albania, never dreamed he would be an oyster mogul in the U.S. In the 1970s, coming from his home country to Chicago, he began his American work life in a car wash. Drifting from job to job, he heard from his cousin that there was work in Louisiana; so off he went.

Working on a boat for the first time, he was a deckhand and worked very hard for years. Eventually he bought his own oyster boat, the Lady Katherine, and that is when his successful American dream life began.

Prestige Oysters is a private family run business which continues with his best deckhand Lisa, who later became the love of his life and his wife. Working through all kinds of weather, they never gave up their dreams. The couple are now joined by their son Raz in this family owned and run business. The company has two full-time processing plants providing market for over 100 boats from Texas to Louisiana and Maryland.

The family was able to increase their business with the acquisition of the Quintus 350L high-pressure processing machine and CryoQuick tunnel to process oysters. In 2013, the company acquired Joey’s Oyster Company’s state of the art facility with HPP technology in Amite, Louisiana.

Rescue Bae

Raz Halili took to the flooded streets after Harvey to rescue people and animals alike. He has gained national attention after one of his rescue photos went viral. He has been affectionally dubbed ‘Rescue Bae.’

“HPP is one of the most clean and advanced food processing technologies. It is the size of a small room,” said Raz. “It does 1,200 oysters at a time in high pressure. We buy from other people, and we have our own boats. We also buy from independent contractors from South Texas up to Maryland. Oysters are a very popular appetizer. They are a delicacy – a romance between ocean and man ”

The High-Pressure process is a food processing method using water and elevated pressures to achieve consumer desired goals.  In 1990s, HPP emerged as a method of processing food, but not until the 21st century was it applied to seafood.

The advancements in HPP technology over recent decades have proved this method of food processing is of the highest quality. From fresh juice to meats and seafood, HPP neutralizes listeria, salmonella, E. coli and other deadly bacteria. Their Treasure Band oysters have undergone our High Pressure Process which reduces the Vibrio Vulnificus and Vibrio Paraheamolyticus to non-detectable levels.

The idea for the purchase of the multi million dollar machine was that of the father, according to Raz.

“He really saw the value in it, and so we bought one, and it has been a great asset for us.”

According to his mother Lisa, Raz took the business to a new level, when he approached the giant Sysco Foods.

“He was just this kid with an idea, and he made it happen,” said the proud mom. “We would have never even thought of it, but after college he came on the sales side of the business and this was his venture, and he took a chance and did it for us. It made all the difference. We are very proud of him. We were just simple wholesalers, and he took us to a whole new level.

Like his father before him, the son now 31, had a vision of where he wanted to take the company.  After pitching the idea to the seafood director at the time, he felt confident this was a program with a story behind it that could sell.

“We were able to supply a year-round supply of oysters at a competitive price, and we are the first ones to have a corporate level oyster program at Sysco,” said Raz. “It was a multimillion dollar investment, but we always want to change, grow and push our company to greater highest.”

Although the idea and the execution was the son’s idea, he says he learned so much from his father, from whom he got his work ethic.

“He taught me the meaning of hard work and dedication, always preaching to never take anything for granted, to help others and stay loyal to the ones who have helped you along the way. My family and I have a great appreciation of living in a free country, where you can fulfill your wildest dreams. Enjoy working hard and it will pay off.”

Non-profit Offers Free, Easy-to-Use Tool to Keep Houston-Galveston Communities Clean

We all want clean neighborhoods, but does anyone know the specific agency that cleans up pollution in our cities and communities? The problem is that it’s not just one agency responsible for responding to all kinds of water and land pollution – it’s a myriad of county, state, and local government entities in any given region that each respond to different kinds of pollution.

The agency in your neighborhood that cleans up sewer overflows may not be the same that cleans up chemical spills or illegal dumping. And if you cross into another city, it may be a completely different set of agencies responsible than those in your hometown.

This complicated framework for reporting pollution can be discouraging for individuals who see pollution and want to do something about it. That’s why Galveston Bay Foundation developed the Galveston Bay Action Network, an online tool and free mobile app that allows users to report any land or water pollution in Harris, Galveston, Chambers, and Brazoria counties quickly and easily.

The Galveston Bay Action Network allows users to report various kinds of pollution such as trash/debris, oil spills, fish kills, wetland destruction and more by simply submitting a single online form that can be supplemented with photos or videos of the pollution event. These reports are then automatically sent to the specific agency that can respond to them based on the location of the report and the kind of pollution observed, taking out the work of tracking down the correct agency for you.

Help keep our communities clean and download the app on Google Play and iTunes, or report pollution on a desktop at www.galvbay.org/gban.

The Galveston Bay Action Network was developed under the guidance of Galveston Bay Foundation, with funding from the Texas General Land Office (TGLO), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Gulf of Mexico Program. In order to ensure these reports were sent automatically to the proper authorities, GBF worked with the technology company Vertices to create the necessary code and software for the Galveston Bay Action Network.

Beautify the Bucket

oliviahopkins Beautify the Bucket

The winning bucket by Olivia Hopkins.

Galveston Artist Boat’s Beautify the Bucket Competition is designed to allow citizens to take an active role in beautifying Galveston’s beaches in a way that also encourages better stewardship behaviors in others. Marine debris is a serious threat to organisms in our coastal and marine ecosystems. While the three “R’s” (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) will help prevent marine debris all throughout the watershed, proper use of trash receptacles can reduce debris directly from the beach.

On Earth Day, April 22, 49 trash cans painted by local artists of all ages were on display at the Texas Adopt-a-Beach Beach Clean Up meeting location at Menard Park on the Galveston Seawall. Later that evening, the trash cans were moved to the Galveston Arts Center during Artwalk, where the public voted on which trash can they liked best for the People’s Choice Award.

All 49 trash cans will be placed on the beach along the seawall for the public to utilize and enjoy. The next Beautify the Bucket competition will be held Sept. 23, 2017. Visit www.artistboat.org for more information.

Winners

Adult

  • 1st Place: Olivia Hopkins
  • 2nd Place: Unbleached Designs (Anabel and Daniel Orta)
  • 3rd Place: Charli and Jim Rohack

Adult Groups

  • 1st Place: Beauties and the Bucket
  • 2nd Place: The Williams Family and Friends
  • 3rd Place: Galveston Cancer Crushers

Youth/Family

  • 1st Place: The Morris Family
  • 2nd Place: Brookside Intermediate Art Club
  • 3rd Place: Cub Scouts Den 3 Pack 615

The Environmental Considerations of Storm Surge Mitigation

storm surge The Environmental Considerations of Storm Surge Mitigation

By Scott Jones | Director of Advocacy, Galveston Bay Foundation

Our area has been blessed with Galveston Bay, one the most productive estuaries in the country and the most productive in Texas. From its waters, a full third of the state’s commercial seafood harvests and recreational fish are landed, creating an economic engine of related businesses and quality of life for area citizens. The Bay is renowned for its oysters, shrimp, crab, redfish, flounder and speckled trout. The Bay ecosystem also supports a thriving ecotourism industry and people travel from all over the world to witness the resident and migratory birds that grace our shores.

The Bay area is also the home of hundreds of thousands of people, one of the busiest ports in the nation, one of the biggest petrochemical complexes on the world, wonderful medical centers and, of course, NASA. After the damage and loss of life wrought by Hurricane Ike in 2008, it only makes sense that residents, academic institutions, and government is looking for ways to lower the risk from future hurricane storm surges. The Galveston Bay Foundation supports such efforts, as long as all of the potential benefits and costs are fully known and all environmental impacts are openly discussed and addressed through a robust scientific investigation and review process, and the impacts are ultimately avoided or minimized.

GBF’s mission is to preserve and enhance Galveston Bay as a healthy and productive place for generations to come. Just looking at things from a purely environmental damage standpoint, we recognize that if a major storm surge were to strike our industrial complexes there could be a disastrous release of petroleum and other petrochemicals that could lead to an ecological disaster. So, we agree that there needs to be system(s) in place to prevent that occurrence, whether it’s proper management practices and protective levees at individual plants to levees that protect a whole industrial complex, e.g. the Texas City Levee System or Freeport Levee System, to a larger regional protection system such as the Texas A&M at Galveston’s Ike Dike concept. In short, there are ways to prevent those releases on multiple scales.

However, we are also a part of the local community, living and making our living on or near the Bay, and want to be a positive voice in the discussion on how best to protect not only the environment, but also people and infrastructure. As with mitigating damages to the environment from storm surge, there are also multiple ways to protect people, homes, and businesses, both structurally and non-structurally at a range of scales. The biggest question is just what is it we need to protect from storm surges. It is a fair question to ask if we need to install a coastal spine like Ike Dike the whole length of the Upper Coast to try to protect every shoreline structure from High Island to Freeport when many are already elevated and many others could be brought up to standard. Maybe a coastal spine will end up being the best answer, but all of the alternatives need to be discussed and debated in an open, transparent manner.

Getting back to environmental impacts from structural solutions, we must be aware of unintended yet irreversible damages that can be done to Galveston Bay and all it provides unless we proceed carefully, be it the Ike Dike concept, SSPEED Center’s Houston-Galveston Area Protection System concept, or the Gulf Coast Community Protection and Recovery District’s Phase 3 Recommended Actions. GBF is concerned about both direct and indirect impacts to the Bay and its habitats, but what concerns us most is the proposed massive gate structures at Bolivar Roads and, in the case of the Ike Dike, also San Luis Pass. We should note that SSPEED has also included a middle Bay gate as an option to the Bolivar Roads gate. That gate, too, also raises concerns.

Besides the release of oil and petrochemicals, the only other possible major ecological damage to the Bay related to hurricane surge will be indirect effects from the installation of these gates to water circulation, salinity, sediment transport and the movement of larval and post-larval shrimp, crabs and fish. Environmental lift gates and navigational gates at Bolivar would be open 99.9% of the time, but based on the information we have seen, the passes’ natural width would be permanently reduced by 40-50% to accommodate the footings and other structures that house the gates themselves. Thus, they would always restrict the flow and greatly increase velocities.

At this time, we do not know what effect these gate structures will have on the movement of our critically important recreational and commercial species. If we are not careful, we could lose those fisheries and the businesses that depend upon them, and that would be an unacceptable huge blow from an ecological, economic and quality of life standpoint.

To prevent such negative impacts, GBF is asking is that all possible structural and non-structural options are truly debated and that rigorous environmental research and studies be completed upfront on the structural options that can permanently alter the Bay’s natural processes. We need complete information to make a good decision, because once huge structures are built there is no going back.

The Kraken – Galveston’s Newest Artificial Reef

galveston kraken coordinates The Kraken   Galvestons Newest Artificial Reef

GPS coordinates to the new reef are: 28 26.634 N, 94 17.168 W

kraken ship The Kraken   Galvestons Newest Artificial Reef

The Kraken prior to its sinking. Photo TPWD.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Artificial Reef Program sank a 371-ft cargo vessel, named The Kraken, earlier this year in January. Dubbed the Kraken after the mythical, squid-like sea monster immortalized on film and in literature, the vessel was sunk 67 miles off the coast of Galveston to create a new artificial reef (located at GPS coordinates  28 26.634 N, 94 17.168 W).

The Kraken began its journey in May 2016 when it was towed from Trinidad to Brownsville to be repurposed for its new life as an artificial reef 140 feet below the surface. Contractors with Cahaba Disaster Recovery LLC worked with the Artificial Reef Program to remove all fuel, oil and hazardous materials from the vessel in order to comply with the Environmental Protection Agency’s best management practices.

Over time, this sunken ship will become an artificial reef that attracts fish, coral and other invertebrates, as well as divers and anglers. Given its location, this wreck could become a hot spot for grouper, amberjack and snapper.

“The entire marine ecosystem benefits from artificial reef projects like the Kraken,” said TPWD Artificial Reef Program Leader J. Dale Shively. “The Gulf of Mexico has only a few naturally occurring reefs so whenever we are able to add a new structure like this, the whole area benefits from the added habitat and species diversity.”

For more information about the Texas Artificial Reef Program, please visit  tpwd.texas.gov/landwater/water/habitats/artificial_reef

Oyster Gardening

bayou vista oyster Oyster Gardening

Bayou Vista Resident Jeannie Kidwell pulls up her oyster bags with Galveston Bay Foundation’s Haille Carter and Michael Neibuhr. Photo: www.stockyard.com

Residents hang bags from their docks to spawn bi-valves

By Janice Van Dyke Walden

Good things happen over wine, and in this case, it was oyster gardening.  At a Wine Social last Spring, Bayou Vista resident Chris Roper suggested to her neighbors that they collectively cultivate oysters, right from their docks.  It’s a program that Galveston Bay Foundation started in 2010, and has been doing with success in Kemah and San Leon.

Fourteen residents signed up to help, and in June, they gathered at the Roper’s driveway on Blue Heron Drive to create the 5-pound bags.  In all, they assembled 25 bags.  Again, wine was the elixir. “We were bagging with oyster gardening in one hand and wine in the other,” says Chris.

With Galveston Bay’s oyster population at an all time low, beset every two years by silt, storms, low salinities or high salinities, Galveston Bay Foundation is enlisting communities to spawn their growth and shore up subsiding land.

Bayou Vista’s tightknit bay community is a perfect setting to try out the nursery program.  At the intersection of I-45 and Hwy 6 near Galveston, it’s built around a series of residential canals fed by Highland Bayou.  On the community’s southeast boundary lies a wetland fed by West Bay.  Residents hung bags from their docks both on the bayou-canal side and the wetland side to see where the oyster larvae, spat, would take hold starting in June.

•••

Six months later, on this last day of November, it’s time to collect the bags, check for spat, and move the bags to an oyster bar breakwater so they can mature.  We’re at the Roper’s residence, it’s a brilliantly clear afternoon, and the folks from Galveston Bay Foundation are curious to see what’s inside two ice chests at the Roper’s front door.  Hallie Carter, Galveston Bay Foundation’s Habitat Restoration Coordinator, and Michael Neibuhr, Program Technician, open the chests and remove the wet towels covering bags that neighbors have dropped off.  One bag, hung in the canal, shows no spats; the other, hung in the wetland, is full of spats.  Commenting on that neighbor’s results, Chris says, “We’ve had very little influx.  I’m not surprised that our water in the canal was not absolutely full of silt.  It was dark brown.  You couldn’t see anything.”

Unlike Chesapeake Bay, where oyster gardening has been going on for years, it’s not legal to seed oysters here.  In Texas, it has to happen naturally.  So, if communities want to build oyster populations, they have to set their bags in optimum conditions.  This first year at Bayou Vista is a telling example for future sites.

Jeannie Kidwell has just returned from Christmas shopping for her grandkids when she comes to her dock to help pull up her half-year effort.  “I was a Foster Parent,” she says.

Haille and Michael open her bags and the others on the Roper’s dock, sorting the shells, looking for spats.  “I’m amazed at what I see,” says Haille.  She’s finding spat on every 10 oysters.  Some shells are covered with three or more spat.

oyster spat Oyster Gardening

That’s a spat! The oyster gardening program is designed to spawn new oysters each year.

It will take two years for this spat to grow to the legal 3-inch-size oyster for harvesting.  But these will never be harvested.  Today they’re going into restricted waters off Galveston Bay Foundation’s 449-acre Sweetwater Preserve.  There, the oysters will build a breakwater for land quickly eroding at a rate of two feet each year.  The waters at the edge of this Galveston Island preserve connect to Bayou Vista’s wetland nursery.  “When we transport spat, we have to keep them in the same sub-bay system,” says Haille.  And, in this case, it’s West Bay.

The evening is closing in when we arrive at the Sweetwater Preserve to deposit the bags.  Near the water is a tall pile of oyster shells, a curing site for those collected from nearby restaurants.  So far, six Bay Area restaurants participate in the shell-recycling program.  They’ve been given 32-gallon collection bins that Galveston Bay Foundation retrieves and brings to the curing site on a weekly basis.  Michael led that effort for most of last year. “I’d visit Tookie’s the most, about three times a week,” he says.

Shells at the curing site will go into the 5-pound bags for the gardening program.  They also make up the 35-pound bags that form this and other breakwaters.  Since 2011, the program has collected 570 tons of shells.

As they set the bags in the reef, Haille talks about how the program will expand to Galveston Island in the next year.  “We‘ll partner with Gaidos and Cajun Greek, and continue our partnership with Texas A&M-Galveston with students picking up shells at those recycling sites and taking them to the curing sites.”

Oyster gardening is easy for families to do with their kids, and it’s a good way for kids to connect to their eco-system.  To get involved, contact:

Emily Ford | eford@galvbay.org

www.galvbay.org/get-involved/volunteer

Field Season Highlights

image001 Field Season Highlights

image004 Field Season HighlightsSummer is field season for Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. Typically, the Gulf of Mexico is warmer, seas are calmer, and underwater visibility is at it’s best this time of year.

But, this has not been a typical summer. Challenging sea conditions have caused us to reschedule or cancel several research cruises and have limited work efforts on others. While this isn’t entirely unusual, it is frustrating.

  • Data collection was completed for Long-term monitoring efforts at East and West Flower Garden Banks and Stetson Bank. In addition, a new monitoring program was started at High Island A-389A, the gas production platform located within sanctuary boundaries.
  • A mass mortality event was discovered by recreational divers at East Flower Garden Bank. We still haven’t figured out the cause, but the investigation is ongoing. Check out the latest news.
  • As of late August, coral bleaching had begun in parts of the Flower Garden Banks. While some level of bleaching in late summer is not unusual due to elevated ocean temperatures, we try to keep an eye on it to gauge the severity and long-term consequences.
  • Additional ROV exploration was conducted at several banks under consideration for sanctuary expansion with the help of the University of North Carolina Wilmington-Undersea Vehicles Program and the Mohawk ROV. We also conducted additional deepwater monitoring in areas around East, West and Stetson Banks.
  • The second Lionfish Invitational took place aboard M/V FLING. Twenty-two recreational divers removed 394 lionfish over four days of diving, and an eight-person science team conducted pre- and post-removal surveys of each area.

With any luck, the field season isn’t quite over. We have three more trips on our October calendar and an optimistic outlook!

http://flowergarden.noaa.gov

Oysters in Peril

By Janice Van Dyke Walden | Photography by Jim Olive

oliveoysters Oysters in PerilIt’s just after peak growing season for Eastern oysters in Galveston Bay, but on this day you wouldn’t know it.  When the field team and scientists with Texas Parks and Wildlife conduct a normal, random dredge sampling at dawn, the results are anything but normal.

In her orange-gloved hands Coastal Fisheries Technician Claire Iseton holds three empty oyster shells.  The few oysters that do come up in the basket are black and lifeless.  Coming up empty within site of Kemah’s famous seafood boardwalk where oysters are on the menu from November through April 30 is not a good sign, but it’s a trend that’s been deepening since 2000, when oysters large enough for the market suddenly plummeted and have been on a steady decline since.

What it takes

There’s no telling the age of the live and dead oysters dredged up this morning, but what the team does know is that it takes about two years for a spat to become a mature oyster.  And, the bay’s once prolific oysters reefs just haven’t had enough time to recover before they are dealt another blow.

Cattle-crossing prolific

Over 50 years ago, oyster reefs in Galveston and surrounding bays were so common that the coastal roads were paved with oyster shells.  Over a century ago, before roads and railroads, a natural oyster reef linked both sides of Galveston Bay.  So prominent was this reef that, given a stiff north wind and a low tide, cattle crossed the bay on this ridge.

Blow-by-blow, every two years now

Galveston Bay used to account for 80% of Texas’ harvested oysters.  Today, that number is more like 40%.  Although the counts have been in decline for over 20 years, it has stepped up in the last eight years with a major setback every two years.  In September 2008, Hurricane Ike hit, covering nearly half the oyster beds of Galveston Bay with smothering silt.  The situation in East Bay, behind Bolivar’s Peninsula, was worst: over 80% were silt-covered from the storm.  Then in 2010, the lack of fresh water due to the drought sent salinity rates soaring, exceeding what oysters could live on.  The next year, 2011, oysters were hit by the Red Tide, and then, back-to-back, last year and this year, excessive rains flooded the bay with freshwater, beyond the oysters’ capacity to survive. According to TPWD’s Fisheries Biologist Christine Jensen, the bay’s average salinity for this July was ”getting closer to normal, but still low at an average of 11.5 parts per thousand.”

Pressures all around

Add to these natural pressures, there’s the human pressure: more people live in Texas than 50 years ago, and there’s more demand to enjoy oysters at the table.   Fishermen are pressured to harvest the very material that might provide the future harvest.  And, they can get a good price for it.  In 2014, a sack of oysters commanded $35, up $20 from 1993.  Given current low harvest counts, this year’s price may well be that, or higher.

oliveoysters2 Oysters in Peril

Claire Iseton inspects an oyster sampling on TPWD’s vessel, the Trinity Bay, at a reef within sight of the Kemah Boardwalk.

Recovery, Restoration, Intervention

It’s unknown just how much of Galveston and the surrounding bays are covered with oyster reefs.  The last complete mapping survey was done 21 years ago by Eric N. Powell who tapped the bottom of the bay with a pole to pinpoint reefs.  His research on the Eastern oyster continues.  Sophisticated technology like hydro-acoustics and side scan imagery has been useful for mapping specific losses, like in the aftermath of Ike, but the application for the whole bay is considered time consuming.

In the meantime, man’s efforts to recover the losses seem like a drop in the bucket.  Since 2009, reef restoration efforts have only restored about 1/10 of what’s been lost, 1,300 acres of the bay.  And, many of those restoration sites are off limits to fishing until they can flourish.

On June 11, Galveston County Judge Mark A. Henry took the first step to help area oyster business owners get financial assistance by declaring a local disaster.  In order to get funding, oysters farmers will need a disaster declaration from the State of Texas.  The Judge is in the process of submitting a formal request to Governor Abbott for targeted legislation to address the issue.

Galveston Bay Foundation and HARC release 2016 report card for Galveston Bay

gbaymap Galveston Bay Foundation and HARC release 2016 report card for Galveston Bay

Under the ‘find your watershed’ tab, you can enter in your city or zip code to find information about the bay, river or bayou in your community.

galvbayfound Galveston Bay Foundation and HARC release 2016 report card for Galveston BayThe Galveston Bay Foundation, partnered with the Houston Advanced Research Center, has released the 2016 report card for Galveston Bay. The grade is a C, the same as last year, after averaging the six categories of Water QualityPollution Events & Sources, Wildlife, Habitat, Human Health Risks and Coastal Change. Some categories improved from last year, but some got worse.

View the full report card here and see what you can do to help the health of Galveston Bay, the 7th largest estuary in the United States and the body of water where many Texas residents work, live and play.

The Importance of Galveston Sea Grass

27troutgrass The Importance of Galveston Sea Grass

This 27-inch trout came from a mix of widgeon and shoal grass.

By Capt. Steve Soule

www.theshallowist.com

Galveston Bay doesn’t have a large amount of sea grass. Prior to 2008 we had very little at all, with the exception of Christmas Bay and three areas where grass had been planted by the Galveston Bay Foundation during the late 1990s.

Galveston’s West Bay did historically have sea grasses, like much of the Texas coastline, but they had long since been wiped out. During the 1990s, when I moved to the Galveston area and started fishing, Christmas Bay was the only area where I could consistently find sea grass beds to fish. Though, there were years when certain coves in West Galveston would grow sea grass, it was primarily widgeon grass. It might grow well one year and then not be seen in the area for several years. Back then, I didn’t really realize why this grass was here some years and not others. I did however always know the benefit of the sea grasses and the incredible habitat that it provides for sea life.

Enter the Galveston Bay Foundation and their efforts to restore the bay in the mid to late 90s. They had already been involved in some shoreline restoration projects where they would replant shoreline grasses (Spartina). They also planted sea grass in three areas along the south shoreline of West Bay at Dana Cove, behind Galveston Island State Park, Snake Island Cove and at San Luis Pass behind the old water treatment plant. All of these areas still grow grass well, with Dana and Snake Island probably being the most prolific, and these grasses still thrive today. The type of sea grass that was planted at these areas is shoal grass

These patches of planted grass were a fantastic improvement for the bay. Prior to these plantings, there was only sporadic grass growth along the north shore spoils, primarily widgeon grass. Due to these grass projects and an interesting set of recurring circumstances, the shorelines of West Bay have been transformed.

All of us who fish are well aware of how breezy Galveston can be during spring with wind directions predominantly from the south or southeast. There are many days when 15-25 mile per hour winds are the norm. Stepping back and taking a look at the big picture, and remembering the three areas where grass was planted and thriving, add some powerful south winds and a seeding period in late spring, and the result is spotty grass growth along north shore spoils. The first area that I remember seeing it was west of Karankawa cut. This long flat filled in with grass rather quickly while other areas took slightly longer to grow. Next was the stretch from Greens Cut to Karankawa Cut. Over the years since, this grass has spread and now covers nearly every inch of the West Bay spoils.

Types of Galveston Sea Grass

We don’t experience the same level of grass growth every year, nor do we have the same grasses appearing. We have high and low salinity years, and as it turns out, some grasses are more adept at growing during each of these types of years.

spartina The Importance of Galveston Sea Grass

Spartina grass

Spartina grass (Spartina alterniflora) along our shorelines grow in both high and low salinity and don’t seem to be effected much by annual changes.

Shoal grass

Shoal grass.© Hans Hillewaert

Shoal grass (Halodule wrightii) grows well during higher salinity years and has some interesting characteristics. This species, native along nearly all of the Texas Coast, is a straight bladed grass with small fibers along its blades. These fibers do an amazing job of filtering small particulate matter from the water column. This is the grass that gives us very clear water by trapping suspended silt in the water column so common in the Galveston area.

Widgeon grass

Widgeon grass

Widgeon grass (Ruppia maritima), grows prolifically in lower salinities and it is very different when compared to shoal grass. Widgeon grass has multiple offshoots along the length of the plant stem, grows rapidly during low salinity periods and grows much taller than shoal grass. This grass will continue to grow rapidly during spring and will often grow to the water’s surface. Interestingly, as we often experience high tides in spring in conjunction with higher south winds, widgeon grass will grow to the level of the water during these high tides. This sounds great, and as it benefits the environment, it is. Due to the multiple offshoots, greater height and the density of its growth, this grass makes for an exceptional cover structure for all of the small prey animals that inhabit these areas, and the predators that follow them.

Not that it makes much difference, nor can we change what mother nature sends our way in terms of weather, but it will help you to understand when and where these grasses grow and how they will impact the water where they are present. Shoal grass is an incredible water filter and provides very good cover and habitat for small fish, crabs and shrimp that redfish and trout frequently feed upon.

Widgeon grass on the other hand, does not tend to filter the water column nearly to the degree that shoal grass will. Widgeon grass will definitely grow much thicker and provide a great habitat for both prey and predator, but will not give us the clarity of water that shoal grass provides.

For those who have been fishing the grassy areas over the past few years, you are quite aware that 2015 and now 2016 have not been great water quality years. The underlying case has been low salinity. Though we do have some areas with shoal grass, for the most part the bay floor has been taken over by widgeon grass and will stay that way until late summer when salinities are higher. Unfortunately, this is in my experience typically too late for the shoal grass to recover and grow as the early season growth of the widgeon will choke out and prevent photosynthesis.

One last note about sea grasses and Galveston Bay, and well the entire Texas Coast for that matter. Don’t quote me on the exact timing, but two-to-three years ago, Texas Parks and Wildlife department passed a law prohibiting the intentional destruction of sea grasses. These grasses are a valuable and limited part of the overall habitat, providing cover structure for numerous animals both predatory and prey. This resource can be damaged and frequently is by boaters either unaware or not concerned. Given the rate of growth and expansion of the areas with sea grasses over the past ten years, we can only hope to see a continuation of this trend. With some cautious stewardship from all who operate boats in these areas, this may be a trend that continues and provides excellent habitat and fishing for many years to come.

Texas Artificial Reefs

TXreefscuba Texas Artificial Reefs

Divers at reef MIA7 hover above a decommissioned platform in 150 feet of water 50 miles offshore Matagorda Island.

New life for old structures: Scientists are finding a surprising diversity of life on Texas artificial reefs

By Janice Van Dyke Walden

If there’s one uptick to the oil business, it’s that an old rig can bring new life.  Off the coast of Texas, some 195 structures, many of them decommissioned oil and gas platforms, are forming artificial reefs that provide intense colonies of marine life.  For sports fishermen, these are the go-to fishing spots.  For divers, these are dazzling underworlds of color and diversity.  For scientists, these are proof that the complex web of marine life can take place if provided space and structure.

Artificial reefs provide a solution to the barren bottom often found in northwestern Gulf of Mexico.  With the exception of a few natural banks, much of the ocean floor offshore Texas has no form for marine life to cling to, the kind of base that allows reef colonies to form. “Muddy and silty,” is how Jennifer Wetz describes the underwater terrain.  As Fisheries Project Manager for Harte Research Institute (HRI), Wetz has been diving and using Remote Operating Vehicles to study fish life among artificial reefs.  What she and her colleagues are finding among Texas’ artificial reefs is surprising.

“We didn’t expect to see how quickly these artificial reefs attract marine life,” says HRI Executive Director Dr. Larry McKinney.  Not only do submerged platforms become quickly colonized, they populate with an impressive diversity of fish.  In their study completed last year, HRI found 52 fish species from all observed sites, Snapper being the most common. “We also found the marine life habitat to be more complex than expected,” says McKinney.

That’s encouraging news to Chris Ledford, Artificial Reef Specialist at Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, who has a queue of 25 structures in the process of being converted and permanently reefed.  With 81 reef sites in Texas – an increase from 64 in 2014 – those structures will eventually add to 7 more reef sites being planned.

McKinney sees the artificial reefs as taking the pressure off the region’s few natural reefs.  “The number of fishermen with fast, long-range boats are increasing, as are good, relatively inexpensive electronics, making it easier to find these natural reefs.  So what these artificial reefs do is make more opportunities available to the recreational fisherman, and it spreads the pressure away from the natural systems.”

texas reef map Texas Artificial Reefs

Click the image above to view TPWD’s artificial reef map.

An estimated 3,000 non-producing platforms remain in the Gulf, under terms to be permanently removed.  If a company is thinking of decommissioning an old platform, converting it to a reef makes sense for the environment, and it could save them money.  By converting a 4-pile structure to an artificial reef, a company could realize a savings of up to half a million dollars.  To find out more, visit: http://tpwd.texas.gov/landwater/water/habitats/artificial_reef/index.phtml

texas-reef-fishREEF SPECIES

Hart Research Institute’s ROV (remote operating vessel) documented these species on their study sites, listed here in order of most common to least common. (Data courtesy of Jennifer Wetz, M.S., Harte Research Institute.)

Red Snapper Lutjanus campechanus

Spanish Hogfish Bodianus rufus

Mangrove Snapper Lutjanus griseus

Blue Angelfish Holacanthus bermudensis

Rock Hind Epinephelus adscensionis

Horse-eye Jack Caranx latus

Yellow Jack Caranx bartholomaei

Spotfin Hogfish Bodianus pulchellus

Great Barracuda Sphyraena barracuda

Blue Runner Caranx crysos

Lookdown Selene vomer

Atlantic Spadefish Chaetodipterus faber

Vermillion Snapper Rhomboplites aurorubens

Damselfish sp. Stegastes sp.

Creole Fish Paranthias furcifer

Gray Triggerfish Balistes capriscus

Almaco Jack Seriola rivoliana

Greater Amberjack Seriola dumerili

Crevalle Jack Caranx hippos

Rainbow Runner Elagatis bipinnulata

Spotfin Butterflyfish Chaetodon ocellatus

Sheepshead Archosargus probatocephalus

Reef Butterflyfish Chaetodon sedentarius

Tomtate Haemulon aurolineatum

Bermuda Chub Kyphosus sectatrix

Bluehead wrasse Thalassoma bifasciatum

Queen Angelfish Holacanthus ciliaris

Cobia Rachycentron canadum

Blue Tang Acanthurus coeruleus

African Pompano Alectis ciliaris

Bar Jack Caranx ruber

Black Jack Caranx lugubris

Sandbar Shark Carcharhinus plumbeus

French Angelfish Pomacanthus paru

Lionfish Pterois volitans

Black Margate Anisotremus surinamensis

Squirrelfish Holocentrus adscensionis

Townsend Angelfish Holacanthus sp.

Sergeant Major Abudefduf saxatilis

Porkfish Anisotremus virginicus

Creole wrasse Clepticus parrae

Scamp Grouper Mycteroperca phenax

Sharpnose Puffer Canthigaster rostrata

Doctorfish Acanthurus chirurgus

Palometa Trachinotus goodei

Permit Trachinotus falcatus

Silky Shark Carcharhinus falciformus

Pigfish Orthopristis chrysoptera

Lane Snapper Lutjanus synagris

Yellowtail Snapper Ochyurus chrysurus

Cubera Snapper Lutjanus cyanopterus

Rock Beauty Holacanthus tricolor

Brown Chromis Chromis multilineata

Bicolor Damselfish Stegastes partitus

Parrotfish sp. Scaridae

Yellowmouth Grouper Mycteroperca interstitialis

Goliath Grouper Epinephelus itajara

Warsaw Grouper Epinephelus nigritus

Texas Weedlines: A Blessing For Offshore Anglers

texas dorado Texas Weedlines: A Blessing For Offshore Anglers

By Capt. Joe Kent

Seaweed or Sargassum Weed as it is called is found mostly in the Atlantic Ocean and comes in concentrations from the Sargasso Sea. Sargassum Weed’s name is a result of Portuguese sailors likening this ocean-dwelling species’ bladder’s appearance to small grapes called salgazo.

Sargassum weed gravitates toward milder, more temperate and tropical oceans and farther toward shallow bodies of water. While some Sargassum weed attaches to the ocean floor, there are two species – the natan and the fluitan – that have become holopelagic, which means that they drift and migrate around the oceans and bodies of water throughout the world, though they are mostly concentrated in the Atlantic Ocean and surrounding bodies of water such as the Gulf of Mexico.

Sargassum weed acts as a mobile transport habitat for a great variety of marine life and as sublime refuge for young fish that may lack mobility. When young fish find a safe haven in Sargassum weed, they are far more protected from the ocean’s predators, thus making it possible to survive to adulthood. These patches of seaweed as we call them provide shelter, food and a place where schools of fish may form, further protecting young fish and other marine life.  Many species of marine life take refuge in the Sargassum weed and travel thousands of miles with this floating habitat, seeking protection and survival. With the presence of all of these young fish in one location, large fish often hover around, awaiting a shot at the young prey. All of this serves as a great advantage for anglers in search of the predator fish.

August is in my opinion the best month for offshore fishing along the upper Texas Coast.  Anglers able to make it 20 miles out should easily locate this fishing phenomena and the variety of fish in and around it.

Chicken Dorado, as the smaller of the species of Dorado are called, attack small bait with a vengeance and fishermen focusing on weed lines and patches mop up on them.

One nice thing about Dorado is that there are no bag or size limits; however, with that being said, good stewardship dictates taking only as many as you, your family and friends will consume.

For table fare, Dorado are among the best fish in the ocean.  Other fish commonly found among seaweed are all of the pelagic fish, tripletail and all sorts of small bait fish.

Offshore anglers fishing off of the Texas Gulf Coast encounter basically two types of seaweed concentrations.  Weedlines and Weed Patches.

Weedlines are, as the term suggests, long lines of seaweed clumped together along a tide line or water color change.  The patches are big clumps ranging in size from a few square yards to several acres.

One of the best ways to fish long weed lines is to troll both sides.  However, often there is so much scattered seaweed along the edges that trolling can be frustrating as the lures keep getting clogged with the weed.  Drift fishing is the other popular method for fishing around seaweed and is the method of choice if trolling is a problem.

Once a strike takes place, it is a good idea to chum the area to keep the schools of fish nearby.  Dorado in particular will continue to feed although others in the school are hooked and fighting for survival.

ling Texas Weedlines: A Blessing For Offshore Anglers

Capt. Joe Kent and Gulf Coast Mariner Magazine Creative Director, Brandon Rowan with a 65-pound ling taken from a weedline.

Some of the largest ling I have caught have come from seaweed concentrations as there is another benefit that comes from the big concentrations and that is shade.  Ling and Dorado love shade during the heat of the day and seaweed definitely offers that benefit.

Just about any bait used otherwise for offshore fishing will be good for fishing the weed lines and patches.  The idea is to keep the bait suspended anywhere from the surface to just a few feet below.

One of the best ways to test an area is to toss some chopped bait into the water.  If fish are nearby, they normally will come check it out and you can actually see your target.

Fishing around seaweed offshore is one of my favorite types of fishing.  If you have not tried it, chances are you will share my enthusiasm once you experience it.