Mother nature is one of the most powerful allies in helping reduce and store carbon-dioxide emissions.
Our coastal marshlands play a vital role in that process but are being threatened by erosion and sea level rise.
A Houston environmental attorney said he’s found a way to protect these delicate areas of the state while making it financially beneficial for big businesses to support the effort.
“This where the economy is headed and it’s a new economy for agriculture in Texas, for coastal land owners,” said attorney Jim Blackburn. “It’s part of a new economy of carbon, as well as protection of the Texas coast.”
Blackburn’s goal is to create a thousand miles of living shoreline stretching from Orange County to Cameron County. He believes energy industry leaders can help with this effort in exchange for carbon credits.
“We want to give companies the opportunity to help reduce their carbon footprint by contributing, by buying if you will, a mile, two miles, 10 miles of this living shoreline,” said Blackburn.
The purpose of the project is to protect the Texas coast from erosion and sea-level rise, which is eating away vital marshlands.
“The marshes are the key to the fisheries of the Texas coast. Shrimp, blue crabs, flounder all use the marsh as a nursery,” said Blackburn. “Every acre of the marsh has about 400 tons of carbon that’s been deposited in the soil.”
Blackburn said if the marshlands are destroyed, all the carbon in the soil gets released back into the atmosphere.
“We’re going to build oyster reefs to protect the wetlands and in the process keep carbon dioxide from being released,” said Blackburn.
Blackburn said the Valero Energy Corporation is funding the study needed to create a system where companies can purchase carbon credits that will help fund the construction of this living shoreline. Blackburn created a non-profit company called B-Carbon, which issues the credits.
“Which, they’ll basically put in their annual reports, those types of things, about how they’re reducing their carbon footprint,” said Blackburn.
As for the living shoreline, the idea is to deposit rocks or bricks near the coastline and then seed the reefs with oyster spat. Oyster reefs then grow and anchor the structures to the sea-bed, protecting the shoreline from getting chewed away by wind, waves and rising sea levels.
“To sustain coastal fisheries, to sustain coastal birds, to sustain all of those things we as people really enjoy,” said Lalise Mason with Scenic Galveston, Inc. and Texas Coastal Exchange.
Mason already spearheaded a similar project to protect Virginia Point, which is next to the Galveston causeway.
“Its first and primary function was to protect this coastal prairie peninsula,” said Mason.
Mason, along with an army of volunteers, helped construct stone reefs to protect the shoreline from erosion. Marsh-grass was then planted, which helps anchor the sediment and prevents carbon stored in the soil from being released.
“It develops biomass under the ground, it develops huge root mass,” said Mason. “That biomass in the soil is carbon. That’s soil carbon, that’s what it is.”
The entire area is thriving with fish, birds and rapidly thickening lines of marsh grass.
“We try and develop when we look at a living shoreline, a solution that mimics a natural system,” said Chris Levitz, Gulf Coast manager for AECOM.
Levitz helped design the coastal system now protecting Virginia Point. He and Mason are working with Blackburn on designing different prototypes that will make up the one-thousand miles of living shoreline.
“Do (Virginia Point), but do it on a more repeatable, smaller scale,” said Levitz.
Blackburn hopes this plan serves as a model for a new type of economy and industry, helping preserve or rehabilitate areas of natural carbon filtration in exchange for carbon credits to show a dedication to reducing carbon footprints.
“All of this is happening outside of government regulation,” said Blackburn. “In the past, we’ve seen the market and environmental being kind of at odds. Today, we’re going to see them working together and moving together.”
Blackburn said the design phase of the project should be complete by the end of this year and he hopes to see construction begin on segments of the shoreline next year with the goal of having the entire project complete in five to six years.