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The Texas Barrier Islands | AMLI Residential

Feb 1st, 2021

If you’ve ever been to the Gulf Coast or just looked at a map of Texas, then you may have noticed a long, thin chain of islands that runs down the Texas coast. These are the Texas barrier islands, and the chain of seven islands runs for just over 234 miles along the Gulf Coast.  

The Texas barrier islands provide a unique habitat for the ocean life and birdlife that make their homes behind the thin strips of land. The estuaries that separate the islands from the mainland attract migratory birds and wildlife from all over, and the diverse ecosystem that exists as a result is one of the most important and diverse in the country. 

First, what are barrier islands?

Barrier islands are long, thin islands that form just off the mainland coast. These islands are usually made of sand that builds up over a long period of time, mostly due to tidal activity. Barrier islands run parallel to the coast and can protect the mainland from strong waves and erosion, allowing wildlife to flourish in the protected waters and behind the islands. 

Barrier islands of Texas

The seven Texas barrier islands provide a 234-mile-long coastline protection barrier. The calm waters behind the islands is where Texas’ rivers mix in with the ocean, creating estuaries where both fresh and saltwater mix. These estuaries are havens for birds, fish and wildlife that thrive in the diverse ecosystem that the blended waters create.

If you live in our luxury Houston apartments, then you’re closer than anyone to this fascinating series of islands along the coast! 

Galveston Island

27 miles

Galveston Island is the northernmost barrier island in Texas. It’s also pretty much all part of the city of Galveston, aside from Jamaica Beach. 

The island has been inhabited by people for centuries. At the time of the European exploration, it was inhabited by the Akokisa and Karankawa Native Americans, and there’s evidence that much earlier societies used the island for hunting and fishing. 

Before Texas officially became a state, Galveston island served as the home base for the pirate Jean Lafitte and his crew. The settlement, which Lafitte named Campeche, the Galveston Bay and the island were central to Lafitte’s smuggling and piracy operations.

After Texas was annexed by the United States in 1845, Galveston Island grew rapidly in population, especially as it served as a convenient port of entry in the country. Galveston was the largest city in Texas until the dawn of the 20th century, and it was even the largest cotton shipping port in the world for a brief period of time. 

Follets Island

13 miles

The next island down the barrier chain is Follets Island. There’s not much on the island aside from beach houses and tourist spots, but if you’re looking for some truly deserted beaches then this is the place to go! 

Fun fact: the minor estuary behind Follets Island is called Christmas Bay, so if you never want Christmas to end, you know where to go!

Matagorda Island

38 miles

Third in the island chain is Matagorda Island, which means “thick brush” is Spanish. Most of the island is protected land, with a large state park and multiple wildlife refuges taking up the majority of the island. 

Matagorda Island was temporarily used as a training facility during World War II, and the remnants of the deserted Air Force base and Army Airfield are all that’s left of that time. 

San José Island

21 miles

Although San José Island is devoid of residents today, the island has quite a few fascinating tidbits of history.

  • The first American flag to fly over Texas soil was planted on San José Island on July 26, 1845, when a Lieutenant from the USS Alabama swam ashore. 
  • The only town to have ever been established on the island was called Aransas, which was destroyed by the Union Army in the Civil War. 
  • In 1935, oilman Sid Richardson bought all of San José Island to use as his private and only residence. The estate was lavish, modern and only the most exclusive of business tycoons and political figures were entertained at the house, including President Franklin D. Roosevelt and then-senator Lyndon B. Johnson.
  • There are two known treasures stashed on San José Island. The first is a batch of missing payments for Spanish soldiers. The second is a stash of gold ornaments that were meant to go to a cathedral.

Mustang Island

18 miles

Spring breakers, this is the place to go. Mustang Island has long been known for its beachfront resorts and quaint beach town. 

Jean Laffite, the pirate who holed up on Galveston Island, frequented this island during his days of plundering and pillaging, and there’s supposedly some of his treasure still buried underneath the shifting sands.

Padre Island

113 miles

This island is not just the longest of Texas’ barrier islands, but it’s also the longest barrier island in the world! 

Named after 19th-century missionary Padre Ballí, Padre Island protects the Laguna Madre lagoon to the West and provides a vital sanctuary for sea turtles and migratory birds.

Brazos Island

4 miles

The final island along the Texas barrier island chain is Brazos Island, the shortest island in the chain.

Aside from some remote beaches and surrounding bays, the only area of interest near the island is the SpaceX Launch Facility that operates just to the south on the Boca Chica peninsula.

Next time you’re looking to venture away for a beach trip, whether it’s for remote wading, tourist havens or digging up pirate treasure, these barrier islands on Texas’ coast are perfect for your next road trip. There’s so much history packed into those long, thin islands not too far from our luxury Houston apartments, so why not take advantage of it?


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Featured photo courtesy Pixabay/inderstar

Author of Article

Colleen Ford is a South African who now lives in Spokane, Washington. She loves to travel, camp (in warm weather) and bake.

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