Why is the Ocean Brown at Galveston Island?

Why is the water brown in Galveston?

I asked this question myself the first time I saw the sea at Galveston Island, Texas.

Is the ocean really Brown at Galveston?


Is the water dirty on Galveston Island?

No, not really dirty in the sense you mean.

Answers… I promise answers.

I wondered these things myself and before I would stick one toe inside the water there, I looked it up. I wanted a scientific explanation (dumbed down enough that I could understand.) I mean… Is brown water in Galveston safe?

Here’s why the ocean water is brown in Galveston:

The Gulf of Mexico is fed in part via the “Loop Current”. This is a nifty term that scientist like to use 😉    This ocean flow (or current) sends warmer water from the Yucatan Channel northward into the Gulf of Mexico. As this current comes in it bends and then heads towards Florida.

( I am no artist, but I drew a diagram to help you visualize.)

Loop Current ChrissyAdventures
Loop Current brings in warm water

The Loop Current is one of the strongest and fastest in the Atlantic Ocean. This is what happens in the lower portion of the Gulf of Mexico.

Now… the upper portion of the gulf is affected by other factors. Look at my terrible diagram and notice the pink arrows from Louisiana towards Texas. Notice how the current is kissing the coast of Texas there?

The Mississippi River empties into the Gulf.  Not considering the tributaries this river has, the Mississippi alone carries roughly 2 million tons of sediment each day. This sediment is dumped into the Gulf waters around and near Louisiana heavier than other areas. But this sediment is also joined by sediment from the Red River. You see, the Red River joins up with the Mississippi to create the Atchafalaya River. Guess where that river empties…

Yep, it’s the Gulf of Mexico. Are you starting to see a trend?

Sediment of Mississippi River Map Gulf of Mexico
Sediment of Mississippi River as indicated by red markings

The currents (above in pink) indicate how the sediment in carried in two directions. Those currents carry a large portion of sediment to the coast of Texas.  Sediment in other beach areas of the US have sea flora on the ocean floor that help trap sediment and clear the water. The ocean around Galveston is mostly shallow. Shallow water has a high sand and sediment turnover … literally. Therefore the water has a brown color that cannot be seen through.

The brown ocean water is very warm, almost tepid. Although it is murky water, it’s thoroughly relaxing to swim in. A warning though: there are more creatures that live in that area of the gulf and you can’t see them. I would recommend exercising common sense caution.

Have you been to Galveston and seen the brown water? Did it bother you or did you enjoy it just the same?



  1. The Neches also dumps in the Gulf of Mexico. My mom tells me pleasure island in Port Arthur used to be clear water when her family would go there she could walk out past her waist and see her toes under the water but now it’s really dirty water. Mom also said about the time they started building plants in the area is when it turned dirty.

    • You can make up any excuse you want, but the real reason Galveston has brown disgusting water is that it’s downstream from 8 million people. You won’t catch me touching that water – no way. Go 40 miles either up or down the coast and water quality improves greatly

  2. […] While we were exploring the giant state of Texas, we decided to find out.  My husband and I love the ocean and visit regularly. We normally are swimming in the Atlantic Ocean though, so the Gulf of Mexico was a new experience. The little town of Galveston Island has a bad reputation due to the deep brown coloring of the sea on its shoreline. I even heard it referred to as Texas’ armpit.  Don’t believe the hype.  The water is, in fact, brown, but there are many theories as to why. (See my blog here) […]

  3. This was an interesting bit of knowledgeable information about the brown ocean at Galveston Island. I have never been there before but would love to check it out some day. Your diagram I do believe was indeed helpful for explaining the current, etc. Thanks for sharing the interesting information. .

  4. Thanks for getting into the science of this stuff! What a great post about why the water is warm and the color!

  5. What an informative post. I would have been hesitant to get in the water before, but definitely not now

  6. I forwarded this post to my niece. She lives for trivia knowledge like this. The real question is. Can you skip the costly mud bath at the spa and go there instead? ;D

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