HOUSTON (KIAH) – Whether it be along the coast of Galveston, Brazosport, or even out to Corpus Christi, Texas waters have what many have described as an unsettling, murky tint. Why is that?

Historic testing and reporting show there is some pollution, and some bacteria along the southeastern coast, including an uncomfortable amount of human waste, but this is not the culprit behind the color.

Many rivers and smaller waterways feed out into the Gulf of Mexico. As the freshwater flows south, it brings with it soil, sediment, and organic matter, giving the water that brownish color.  

Have you ever heard of or seen someone effortlessly floating in the Dead Sea? It sits between Jordan, to the east, and Israel, to the west. The iconic Dead Sea is incredibly salty, which causes the density of the water to become very high with all the concentrated salt. The liquid in our bodies is less dense than the sea, thus we are then able to float through science, and not necessarily skill.

This is very similar to the phenomena that occur along the coastline. As our freshwater rivers, which hold the soil and sediment, flow into the salty Gulf of Mexico, the concentration of the river water is less dense, so it floats.

Aerial views show that the further you go offshore, the more the waters of the Gulf mix with the freshwater. The brownish tint gradually fades away. How fast this process occurs depends mainly on ocean currents and surface winds.

Since shallower gulf waters can more easily be churned up in a storm, the high winds and waves push more sediment southwest, which also contributes to the water tint. Rivers in the region are also more likely to carry more sediment into gulf waters during severe weather.

Credit: NASA

So next time you are out along a Texas beach, don’t be scared to get it in. It is safe! One long-lived saying is a little dirt doesn’t hurt!