Kids Learn about Nature at Galveston Island State Park
Galveston Island has long been known for their treasure; gold buried by pirates and washed ashore by sunken Spanish ships. Treasure hunters have spent their lives combing the beaches, finding something just large enough to keep them searching. One of the real treasures of the island isn’t an object but the experiences waiting at the Galveston Island State Park!
Located on the West End of the Island, the Friends of Galveston island State Park and Galveston Master Naturalist meet every Saturday and Sunday to offer a guided look into the plants and animals that live on the beach and bay, and like the best known marine life for most kids, they soak it up like a sponge!
Galveston Island State Park spans across the island, with waterfront on both the beach and the bay side of the island. Both exploratory classes, which last about an hour to an hour and a half, start at the Nature Center on the Bay Side of Farm to Market 3005, which divides the island on the West End.
Here we learned about some of the items that have been found on the beaches, such as seed pods from the Caribbean Islands that have floated across the Gulf, shells and even plastic bottles missing holes. The floating bottles confuse sea turtles, who think they are biting into a jellyfish.
Master Naturalist lead the exploratory, as part of the Friends of Galveston Island State Park. The FoGISP are volunteers working to provide enriching experiences and educational programs to the public, as well as working to preserve and restore the fragile Galveston ecosystem. To learn more about the FoGISP, click HERE.
Before we headed down to the Bay they also demonstrated how to use a salinity refractometer to test the salinity of the Bay, which is slightly lower in salt content than the beach.
We then proceeded down to the bay, where the kids were quickly combing the shore searching for hermit crabs! This hermit crab is living in a Lightning Whelk Shell, which just happens to be State Shell of Texas! The Lightning Whelk is a common marine snail that lives on the bottom of the bay eating bivalves such as oysters. They are unique in that their shell runs counterclockwise, opposed to most others with a clockwise spiral. Once the snail dies, hermit crabs move in to their shell.
Like all crabs, these water-dwelling hermit crabs have gills instead of lungs. Even your pet land-dwelling hermit crabs sold in pet stores, which are different than these on the Gulf, have gills and without access to both fresh and salt water they will suffocate!
The boys were led out into the water to learn the art of seining! Using a long net stretched between two poles, they drug along the bay floor to collect a variety of marine life!
Seining is an old method of fishing, used as far back as Roman times. The sein collects everything in it’s path, so it’s important to catch and release as quickly as possible!
Seining is legal in Texas if all you are doing is collecting non-game bait fish, and throwing back everything else, with a net not exceeding 20′. It’s also a fun way to responsibly learn more about what lives in the marine environment. Similar to a cast net, which has the advantage of being able to be operated by one person and you can throw without getting wet, a sein is much easier for kids. They can be purchased at sporting good stores and on Amazon for about $25-$30.
Once onshore, the nets were shaken and all types of little fish, crabs and shrimp were shaken out! Each was identified by the Master Naturalist, and they told us a little about them. We caught shrimp, minnows, and even a crab!
One of the most interesting was this little Chain Pickerel or Pike. This is a terrific example of how the bay acts as a host for fish that then leave for the cooler waters of the Gulf as they get larger! This fish could weigh up to 4.5 – 5 lbs as an adult!
We were also introduced to some of the plants that live along the shores of the bay, each with a different salinity temperament, as the shoreline changes with the tide. These Salt Wort grow on the edge of the water, and are very salty, especially the more yellow ones. A bit of a foraging class, we learned that these are edible, and good in a salad!
Anything in the water is going to be covered in barnacles, including boats! Barnacles are small arthropods, related to crabs and lobsters, that adhere to anything and create a calcified protection. The barnacle is then permanently adhered and is a filter feeder, never able to leave.
We spent an incredible weekend at the state park, and had a such a great time! We’ve camped at the state park numerous times, but this time was with my son’s Boy Scout Troop.
The Park has camping loops on both the beach and the bay side, but only day use on the beach, with no overnight camping in the sand. There are also 2 cabins for rent in the park.
In addition to the Bay Exploration, we also took our canoe and went on one of the paddling trails with the Boy Scouts. The bay is very shallow, and most of the trail was in water we could have stood up in. On calm days, the water is very clear and we saw jellyfish, stingrays and all sorts of fish swimming around us, not to mention a huge assortment of birds! The park also offers kayak tours, but it doesn’t matter how you get out to explore Galveston Bay, just be sure you do it!
Things To Do on Galveston Island
The Galveston Island Pleasure Pier has rides, games, entertainment and much more! Click HERE for more information.
Galveston is full of history, from pirates to the Great Storm of 1900 which killed over 6,000 – 10.000 people! Learn more about the history of the island with Dash Beardsley Ghost Tours! Click HERE for more information.
Learn more about the Jean Lafitte and the pirates of Galveston at Pirates! Legends of the Gulf Coast! This fun, interactive museum is located on the Historic Strand in Downtown Galveston! Click HERE for more information.
We love The Spot on the Galveston Seawall, which offers burgers, seafood, desserts and drinks all with a view of the Gulf! Click HERE for more information.
Galveston Island State Park
14901 Farm to Market 3005, Galveston
Click HERE to visit their website.
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