Mother nature is one of the most powerful allies in helping to reduce and conserve 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 delicate areas of the state by making it financially beneficial for big businesses to support the effort.

“This is where the economy is going and it’s a new economy for Texas agriculture, 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 vibrant coastline that stretches from Orange County to Cameron County. He believes that energy industry leaders can help with this effort in exchange for carbon credits.

Living coast (KPRC)

“We want to give companies the opportunity to help reduce their carbon footprint by contributing, if you will, by buying a mile, two miles, 10 miles of this vibrant waterfront,” Blackburn said.

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The goal of the project is to protect the Texas coast from erosion and sea-level rise, which is destroying vital wetlands.

“Marshes are the key to coastal Texas fishing. Grasshoppers, blue crabs, lampreys all use the marsh as a nursery,” Blackburn said. “Each hectare of marsh has about 400 tons of carbon that has been stored in the soil.”

Blackburn said that if the marshes are destroyed, all the carbon in the soil is released back into the atmosphere.

“We will build oyster reefs to protect wetlands and in the process prevent the release of carbon dioxide,” Blackburn said.

Blackburn said Valero Energy Corporation is funding the study needed to create a system where companies can buy carbon credits that will help finance the construction of this vibrant waterfront. Blackburn created a non-profit company called B-Carbon, which issues the loans.

“Which, basically, they’ll put in their annual reports, that sort of thing, about how they’re reducing their carbon footprint,” Blackburn said.

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As for the living shoreline, the idea is to deposit rocks or bricks near the shoreline and then seed the reef with oyster spat. Sea cliffs then grow and anchor the structures to the seabed, protecting the coastline from being eroded by wind, waves and rising sea levels.

“To support coastal fisheries, to support shorebirds, to support all those things that we as humans really enjoy,” said Lalise Mason with Scenic Galveston, Inc. and Texas Coast Exchange.

Mason already led a similar project to protect Virginia Point, which is adjacent to the Galveston causeway.

“Its first and foremost function was to protect this indented coastal peninsula,” Mason said.

Mason, along with an army of volunteers, helped build stone reefs to protect the shoreline from erosion. Then marsh grass was planted, which helps anchor the sediment and prevents the release of carbon stored in the soil.

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Project to protect Virginia Point (KPRC)
Project to protect Virginia Point (KPRC)
Project to protect Virginia Point (KPRC)
Project to protect Virginia Point (KPRC)

“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 what it is.”

The whole 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 that now protects Virginia Point. He and Mason are working with Blackburn to design various prototypes that will make up a thousand miles of living shoreline.

“Do (Virginia Point), but do it on a more repeatable, smaller scale,” Levitz said.

Another coastline record

Blackburn hopes this plan will serve as a model for a new kind of economy and industry, helping to preserve or rehabilitate natural carbon sink areas in exchange for carbon credits to show a commitment to reducing the carbon footprint.

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“This is all happening outside of government regulation,” Blackburn said. “In the past, we have seen that the market and the environment are somewhat at odds. Today, we will see them working together and moving together.”

Blackburn said the design phase of the project should be completed 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 completed in five to six years.

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