Mother nature is one of the most powerful allies in helping to reduce and store carbon dioxide emissions.
Our coastal wetlands play a vital role in this process, but are threatened by erosion and sea level rise.
A Houston environmental attorney said he has found a way to protect these sensitive areas of the state while making it financially beneficial for big business to support the effort.
“This is where the economy is headed and it’s a new economy for agriculture in Texas, for coastal landowners,” said attorney Jim Blackburn. “It’s part of a new carbon economy, as well as protecting the Texas coast.”
Blackburn’s goal is to create a thousand miles of living shoreline that stretches 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 businesses the opportunity to help reduce their carbon footprint by contributing to, buying if you will, a mile, two miles, 10 miles of this living shoreline,” Blackburn said.
The goal of the project is to protect the Texas coast from erosion and sea level rise, which is consuming vital wetlands.
“Marshes are the key to Texas coastal fishing. Prawns, blue crabs and garfish use the marsh as a nursery,” Blackburn said. “Each acre of the marsh has about 400 tons of carbon that has been deposited in the soil.”
Blackburn said if wetlands are destroyed, all the carbon in the soil is released back into the atmosphere.
“We’re going to build oyster reefs to protect wetlands and, in the process, keep carbon dioxide from being released,” Blackburn said.
Blackburn said Valero Energy Corporation is funding the study needed to create a system where companies can buy carbon credits that help finance the construction of this living coast. Blackburn created a non-profit company called B-Carbon, which issues the credits.
“That they’re basically going to put in their annual reports, that kind of thing, about how they’re reducing their carbon footprint,” Blackburn said.
As for the living shoreline, the idea is to deposit rocks or bricks near the shoreline and then seed the reefs with oyster shield. Oyster reefs then grow and anchor the structures to the sea floor, protecting the shoreline from being chewed up by wind, waves and rising sea levels.
“To maintain coastal fisheries, to maintain coastal birds, to maintain all those things that 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 just off the Galveston causeway.
“Its first and foremost function was to protect this coastal grassland peninsula,” Mason said.
Mason, along with an army of volunteers, helped build stone reefs to protect the shoreline from erosion. Marsh grass was then planted, which helps anchor the sediment and prevents the carbon stored in the soil from being released.
“It develops biomass below ground, it develops a large root mass,” Mason said. “That biomass in the soil is carbon. That’s soil carbon, that’s it.”
The whole area thrives with fish, birds and rapidly thickening lines of marsh grass.
“We try to develop when we look at a living coast, a solution that mimics a natural system,” said Chris Levitz, AECOM’s Gulf Coast manager.
Levitz helped design the coastal system that now protects Virginia Point. He and Mason are working with Blackburn on the design of different prototypes that will make up the thousand miles of living coastline.
“Do (Virginia Point), but do it on a more repeatable, smaller scale,” Levitz said.
Blackburn hopes this plan will serve as a model for a new kind of economy and industry, helping to preserve or rehabilitate areas of natural carbon seepage in exchange for carbon credits to show a dedication to reducing one’s carbon footprint.
“All of this happens outside of government regulation,” Blackburn said. “In the past, we’ve seen the market and the environment somewhat at odds. Today we’ll see them working together and moving forward together.”
Blackburn said the design phase of the project should be completed by the end of this year and he expects to see construction begin on segments of the shoreline next year with the goal of the entire project being completed in five or six years
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