Galveston Bay: An Eco-History

Several feet of sea water, in some areas fifteen feet deep, was pushed in from the Gulf of Mexico and covered the island. Nearly every building in Galveston took on water that September night. Damages and loss were unimaginable. Thousands died. Also victims were hundreds of trees, unable to survive the lengthy immersion in salt water. Around the edges of Galveston Bay, freshwater and marshy habitat that been home to all manner of fish and fowl literally changed overnight.

That was the ecological scene in 1900. What few island trees did survive met their end not long after as they were covered in dredge material from Galveston's grade raising project. The island was as barren of vegetation as when it was recorded by passing sailors a hundred or more years earlier
Rising to the occasion were sixty-six local women who banded together to take on the task of restoring the lush landscape enjoyed prior to the storm. By 1906, they were operating their own nursery on the island, and six years after that they had planted over 10,000 trees, including scores of oaks along Broadway that formed a beautiful, shady gateway to the city, one that would last about a hundred years.

Many of those trees, soaring testaments to Galveston's recovery from its greatest disaster, fell victim to Hurricane Ike in 2008. Once again, salt water poisoned trees; trees that were not native to the island in the first place.

The story of man's footprint on the island and on Galveston Bay is much broader than the impact of hurricanes, though. The dredging of shipping lanes, the dissipation of oyster beds, the loss of Redfish Bar, beach erosion and continuing development on the west end of the island and the west side of the Bay have all taken their toll. The effects have drastically altered life for hundreds of species, as well as for human sports and recreation.

Not every evolutionary change has been met with resigned acceptance, however. Much like the Galveston women of 1900, people have sometimes intervened for the good. Careful plantings have saved both beaches and marshes, and sometimes residents have simply managed to make the best out a bad situation.

Trees destroyed by Ike seemed destined for the landfill. However, over the weeks and months that followed the storm, homeowners began to hire sculptors to create something whimsical instead of another pile of storm debris to be hauled away. The restoration of a whaling vessel in Connecticut benefitted from seasoned oak hand selected for the purpose. Shipbuilders in Spain employed the sturdy trunks and limbs of oaks from the island to build a replica sailing brig christened the Galveztown. Other wood claimed by Ike has been reclaimed in bowls, cabinets or flooring. The dead trees now serve dozens of new purposes.

This documentary will tell the story of the both the bay and the island through interviews with naturalists, historians, biologists, coastal geographers, elected officials, horticulturists, foresters, artists and sailors. Those interviews will be combined with still photographs and film footage, both contemporary and historic, voice narration and original music to tell these stories of people and a city rising above disaster and of short-sighted gain that has forever altered idyllic shores.

The finished video will teach not only history, but also conservation, marine biology, reforestation, natural history and a can-do approach to civic involvement.It will bring sadness, anger and inspiration. It also lends itself to the addition of an online tourism component.

Projects of friends:
Frost Town Historic Site
















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