Mother Nature is one of the most powerful partners in reducing and storing 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 says he’s found a way to protect these hard-hit areas of the region while making it financially worthwhile for big businesses to support his efforts.
“This is where the economy is headed and it’s a new economy for farming in Texas, for coastal landowners,” said attorney Jim Blackburn. “It’s part of a new carbon economy, as well as the Texas Coast Guard.”
Blackburn’s goal is to create a thousand miles of living coastline stretching from Orange County to Cameron County. He believes that energy industry leaders can help with this effort to exchange carbon credits.
“We want to give companies an opportunity to help reduce their carbon footprint,” Blackburn said.
The project’s goal is to protect the Texas coast from erosion and sea-level rise, which is eating away at critical wetlands.
“Wetlands are key to Texas coastal fisheries. Shrimp, blue crabs, flounder all use the marshes as nurseries,” Blackburn said. “Each acre of marshes stores about 400 tons of carbon in the soil.”
According to Blackburn, if the wetlands are destroyed, all the carbon in the soil will be released into the atmosphere.
“We build oyster reefs to protect wetlands and sequester carbon dioxide in the process,” Blackburn said.
Blackburn said Valero Energy Corp. is funding the research to create a system where companies can buy carbon credits to help build this living beach. Blackburn created a non-profit company called B-Carbon to issue the credits.
“They basically put in their annual report, those types of things, how they’re reducing their carbon footprint,” Blackburn said.
His idea for a living beach is to place rocks or bricks near the beach and then seed the reefs with oyster spit. Oyster reefs grow and embed the structures with the sea-bed, which protects the coast from erosion by wind, waves and sea level.
“To sustain coastal fishing, to preserve shorebirds, to preserve all the things that we as humans really enjoy,” said LaLise Mason of Scenic Galveston, Inc. And he spoke with the Texas Coastal Exchange.
Mason has already led a similar project next to the Galveston Trail to protect Virginia Point.
“His first and foremost mission was to protect this coastal prairie peninsula,” Mason said.
Mason, along with an army of volunteers, helped build rock reefs to protect the coast from erosion. Swamp grass is planted, which traps sediment and prevents the release of carbon stored in the soil.
“It develops biomass underground, it puts down big roots,” Mason said. “Biomass in soil is carbon. That’s soil carbon, that’s it.”
The whole area is rich in fish, birds and fast marsh grass lines.
“We try and develop as we look at the vibrant coast,” said Chris Levitts, AECOM’s Gulf Coast manager.
Levitz helped protect Virginia Point by designing the beach system. He and Mason are working with Blackburn to design a variety of prototypes that cover the Thousand Mile Coast of Life.
“Do it (Virginia points), but do it in small, repetitive amounts,” Levitz said.
Blackburn hopes the plan will serve as a model for a new economy and industry to demonstrate its commitment to reducing carbon footprints by protecting or restoring natural carbon sinks.
“All of this is happening outside of government regulation,” Blackburn said. “We have seen the market and the environment at odds with each other before. Today we see them moving together.
Blackburn said the design phase of the project should be completed by the end of this year, and he hopes to begin construction on portions of the beach next year, with plans to complete the entire project in five to six years.
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