HOUSTON - School is back in session and Galveston Bay just received its report card for the year.
The Galveston Bay Foundation and the Houston Advanced research Center released its annual report card evaluating the environment of Galveston Bay, and this year the ecosystem received a C.
Depending on how you look at a grading scale, a C isn't necessarily great, but it's certainly not a failing grade. The report card says there is room for improvement, which can only be looked at as a positive.
The report card breaks down into six categories that cover a wide array of issues and problems that the Galveston Bay watershed faces. Water quality, pollution events and sources, wildlife, habitat, human health risks and coastal change are all given a grade, and the average of all the categories determined the final grade of C.
The study says that it is difficult to determine what a "healthy" bay system should look like, but the people behind the report said a healthy bay is "often related to how we, as humans, value the services that the system provides us, such as seafood harvests, clean water for drinking and playing, and habitat that protects and stabilizes shorelines."
The report also offers some great tips that people who live near Galveston Bay can do in their everyday lives to help keep the bay clean for years to come.
An easy way to determine if a body of water is doing well is to determine the quality of the water. Luckily for Galveston Bay, the quality of the water is pretty good, earning a B grade. Water quality is assessed by the nutrient levels in the water, as well as oxygen levels in the water.
Too many nutrients in the water can have negative effects on the bay as a whole. Nutrient pollution is caused by humans by doing such things like over-fertilizing or discharging wastewater. When nutrient levels get too high, things like algae blooms occur, which can kill marine life.
Nutrient levels get so high by runoff water, so the report suggests doing things like installing rain barrels to collect rainwater from your roof, or making sure to pick up after your dog since pet waste contains huge amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus.
Pollution events and sources
Big oil spills are one way to get a failing score on a report card, but luckily there were no major spills in 2018. The number of spills was also less than years prior. The Galveston Bay received a B in this category.
However, the report says Galveston Bay's long history of industrial manufacturing has caused some environmental damage. Pollution has left toxic compounds in the sediment of many rivers, bayous and Galveston Bay itself.
Trash pollution is another obstacle Galveston Bay's advocates must deal with. According to the report, there is little data to show on how trash is affecting the water and where it's coming from.
Being proactive in picking up trash and reporting spills is the best way you can help this situation. Even contacting your local officials to talk about cleaning up Galveston Bay is a great start.
The wildlife category received a C, which is the first grade to be lower than a B so far. Most of this is due to a declining shellfish population.
The report notes that the Galveston Bay has a variety of animals that call it home, the blue crab population is experiencing a decline. A lot of other populations of species such as finfish, shrimp, oysters and birds are maintaining populations, which isn't bad, but also isn't good.
There are lots of things you can do to help wildlife populations get back on track, such as volunteering to build oyster reefs, dismantling abandoned crab traps and reducing your plastic waste.
Now this is where things start to head south. The habitat category received a D, which isn't failing, but it's pretty close.
Galveston Bay and its watershed contain several habitat types, like open water areas to freshwater wetlands. These habitats are the homes to an array of species, so keeping the habitats clean and healthy is super important.
The report found that freshwater wetlands, oyster reefs and underwater grasses have seen significant declines over the years.
One of the easiest ways to help out these habitats that are in stress it to volunteer to help clean them up. Picking up trash and things that could pollute habitats will help tremendously.
The report also suggests to stay informed on projects that could threaten natural habitats.
Human health risks
Pollution in Galveston Bay can not only harm the wildlife, but it also buts humans at risk of getting sick. Galveston Bay received a C in this category.
The report points out that there is a lot of seafood that can be eaten from Galveston Bay, but recently that has changed. Toxic contamination in the bay has caused seafood consumption advisories for some species.
The report says that some streams and rivers that flow into the bay sometimes have high levels of bacteria that can make humans sick.
Luckily, there are a lot of things you can do to combat this issue. One way is to be aware of seafood advisories so you don't eat something you shouldn't. Another way is to stop pouring grease and oils down your sink. Sewers can overflow due to grease and fats, which then cause untreated sewage into Galveston Bay.
Other simple things like not dumping raw sewage from your boat into the Bay, or maintaining your septic tank will all help from decreasing pollution in the bay.
Finally, we come to coastal change, which received a C grade.
Rising sea levels is one of the biggest issues the Galveston Bay watershed is facing. Plus add in the decline in freshwater in the area and things aren't looking too great.
The report notes that pH levels and the temperature of the water has stayed the same, but rising sea levels and the lack of freshwater is of most concern.
The report suggests being conservative when it comes to using water in your home. Not only will it be a relief on your wallet, but the environment will benefit, too.
The Galveston Bay is loved by humans and wildlife alike, but it's our job to make sure it stays a healthy place for everyone that enjoys it. The report makes it clear that while the bay is not on its last limb of life, there are many things to be concerned about, and at the same time many things that can be done to help the region.
To see the full report card in all its glory, click here.
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