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Ecology and Geography of Galveston and Surrounding Coastal Areas
Quick Facts About Galveston Island: Coordinates:29°18’ N, 94°48’W Length:32 miles Width at widest part:Approximately 2 miles Total square miles of land:46.2 Elevation:Varies from sea level to 17 feet along seawall
Galveston Island is a long and narrow barrier island situated roughly two miles offshore and running parallel to the mainland’s coastal shoreline.Its relative location is about 45 miles southeast of central Houston. Its coordinates are 29°18’ N, 94°48’W.
Galveston is a true natural island surrounded on all sides by natural bodies of water.The Gulf of Mexico is to the east and south; West Bay is to the west and Galveston Bay is to the north.A deepwater channel connects Galveston's natural harbor with the gulf, the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway and Galveston Bay.Two causeways and a ferry system connect Galveston to the mainland.
Although much diminished from historic levels, Galveston Island still supports a unique and diverse natural ecosystem, especially on the west end of the island and in the East End Lagoon area.It also serves as a physical barrier between the harsh offshore environment and the more environmentally sensitive bays and wetland estuaries. The three primary natural habitats of Galveston Island and adjacent coastal areas include: bays and corresponding wetlands, beaches and dune systems, and coastal prairies.
The Galveston Bay system and the wetlands along its margins make up Texas’ largest estuary.While teaming with marine life and serving as an important habitat for birds, the wetlands serve other valuable functions including protecting shorelines from erosion; absorbing excess rain and storm surge; and filtering toxins in runoff.
Popular game fish in Galveston’s bays and along its beaches include flounder, redfish, speckled trout, sand trout and black drum.Shellfish include oysters, shrimp and blue crab.Offshore species include tarpon, red snapper, king mackerel, ling, grouper, amberjack, shark and tuna. Myriad other forms of marine life flourish in Galveston’s surrounding waters, including bottlenose dolphins that frequent the deeper channels and beach front where they feed and frolic to the delight of residents and tourists alike. And thanks to strong conservation efforts, after decades of absence from the area, populations of brown and white pelicans are once again at healthy levels.
he Beach front and dunes alsosupport diverse and abundant life forms from mollusks and crustaceans to bird species such as pelicans, egrets, snowy plovers, sanderlings, and willets. Dune plants such as panicum, morning glory, and sea purslane tolerate the harsh, salty environment and help stabilize the dunes.
Thanks to an ongoing sea turtle restoration program, endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles -- once almost extinct, are again building their nests and laying eggs along Galveston’s beachfront.
Galveston’s coastal prairies are part of a subtropical grassland region that extends along the Gulf of Mexico from Louisiana through Texas and into Mexico.Prairie areas are dominated by cordgrass and other tallgrass species along with shorter grasses and small woody shrubs.Prairie habitats are home to raccoons, armadillos, snakes, squirrels, rabbits, coyotes, possums, nutria and other small mammals and reptiles.
The coastal prairies, along with associated wetlands and salt marshes, are home to hundreds of species of resident fowl and also provide a temporary home to 75% of migratory waterfowl crossing the US.