Our Blog

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Protecting Our Waterways to the Bay

Addressing Marine Debris

Learn about how you can improve waterway health.

Written by Dr. Erin Kinney, Research Scientist, Coastal Ecology

Action and Plans Underway to Clean Up Waste and Debris

It’s hard to fully acknowledge the state of our waterways and oceans. It might seem daunting as we’ve seen the alarming photos of islands of plastics in our oceans. We’ve read about the direct impact these materials have on marine life population, and the additional environmental dangers of microplastics, and the weakened environmental well-being of the estuaries and waterways.

At HARC, we are working to address marine debris and solid waste in our waterways. To begin, we have launched a local initiative collaborating with many partners such as local governments and community organizations. Later this year, our work continues with a grant-funded study from the state of Texas's General Land Office.

Goals of Plan:
Goal 1: Conduct High Quality Research and Needs Assessment
Goal 2: Reduce Land-Based and Water-Based Debris through Prevention
Goal 3: Support and Sustain Removal of Debris, Trash and Debris

Building Awareness
In April 2017, stakeholders from the Houston-Galveston region convened a Trash Summit with the focus of determining priorities and best-practices that would help frame a plan to serve as guidance for improved collaboration and coordination to reduce and minimize the impact of debris on marine life. (If you’d like to become more involved, consider attending the next Trash Summit on May 7.)

HARC soon joined the conversation and is one of the community partners framing a Galveston Bay Watershed Trash-Based Aquatic Plan. Following a second Trash Summit, and a series of conference calls, stakeholders developed an outline of this plan.

Addressing a Growing Problem
Half of the state population is included in the Galveston Bay watershed, extending from Dallas-Fort Worth to Galveston Bay. Litter in the watershed flows into waterways and eventually becomes marine debris in Galveston Bay.

State agencies and non-profits have responded to the litter issue by independently organizing clean-ups, outreach and education programs, and data collection strategies. But these are costly - litter cleanup initiatives in Houston alone cost an estimated $13.3 million annually.

Collaborating on All Levels
Government agencies and departments and non-profits recognized that their work would benefit from increased collaboration and a region-wide plan to identify sources and types of trash, coordinate removal efforts, and create prevention strategies. Thus, the Trash Summit and plan were developed.

How can you help? Visit and click What You Can Do.

Outline in hand, stakeholders reviewed their common goals and practices and examined existing programs and efforts in the Galveston Bay watershed, including projects in Fort Worth and Dallas. They also identified potential strategies and evaluated possible solutions that would prevent and reduce marine debris in the Houston-Galveston region.

Stakeholders tied this analysis to three major goals for the initial draft of a Galveston Bay Watershed Trash-Based Aquatic Plan: research, prevention, and removal. Each goal includes several strategies and underlying tasks, including examples of current efforts in the Galveston Bay watershed.

Join the conversation by subscribing to our newsletter. We will be highlighting the program over the next few weeks on social media and we’d like to have you engaged.

HARC’s current role is to work with our community partners to gather littler and trash data and create a regional database, look for data gaps, and identify successful strategies. HARC will also be working with the Trash Summit group to finalize the writing of the Plan so that it can be endorsed by partners, city, county, state and federal agencies.

There is much to do, and the structure of the Plan is designed to be open-ended and inclusive so that it can be adapted to future successes and new challenges.