Foundation has worked for years to restore wetlands, protect bay
More than 450 acres on the West End of Galveston Island are home to sandhill cranes and other sea birds, oyster reefs and salt marshes, representing just one of many environmental projects along the coast aimed at restoring habitat and preventing erosion.
The Sweetwater Preserve off 103rd Street, owned by the Galveston Bay Foundation since 1998, is a site of more than 1,000 feet of oyster reef projects and attracts volunteers throughout the year, said Michael Niebuhr, a program technician for the foundation.
For more than 30 years, the Galveston Bay Foundation has been working on projects along the coast to restore them to their natural habitat, President Bob Stokes said. The foundation leads initiatives to restore wetlands, establish oyster reefs, protect land, test water quality and prevent erosion, among others, Stokes said.
“One of our challenges is convincing people of the merit of restoring the coast,” Stokes said. “We’ve always tried to let people know the economic benefits — if you invest and have more habitat, you create better opportunities.”
The foundation works in many different areas. One is wetland preservation.
For decades, groundwater pumping in the region caused massive subsidence and contributed to the loss of wetlands, Stokes said. That coastal erosion meant wetlands around the bay sank into the water, he said. The foundation engages in long-term strategic planning to determine the best areas to restore wetlands and has a number of projects designed at restoring the elevation of the wetlands, Stokes said.
One ongoing effort is a shoreline protection project on Moses Lake in Texas City where technicians are building shorelines to prevent erosion, Stokes said.
The foundation also builds oyster reefs to prevent coastal erosion. The foundation worked with seafood restaurants to collect recycled oyster shells, Niehbur said.
Volunteers and foundation employees placed the oyster shells parallel to the wave-break off the beach where oyster larvae in the water attached and began growing, he said.
Like many parts of Galveston Island, the foundation’s property on Sweetwater Preserve has sustained severe erosion, he said. The oyster reef project is part of larger restoration efforts in which the foundation has planted marsh along the shoreline, he said. The reef protects the marsh from more degradation, he said.
The foundation also has a land trust and has conserved about 8,000 acres of land in the region, Stokes said.
“We’re fortunate there’s a lot of undeveloped land still in Chambers County and we’re trying to conserve some of the land before development,” Stokes said.
Funding has historically been the most challenging part of the work, Stokes said. Many of the projects the organization undertakes are costly and it can be difficult to raise money, he said. The organization has been able to tap into some money from financial penalties assessed by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, he said.
Central to the foundation’s purpose is improving people’s knowledge about coastal issues and to create a better understanding of why Galveston Bay is so important to the region, Stokes said.
“We want a healthy coast,” Stokes said. “Having a good, healthy bay system provides layers of benefits. There’s still lots of opportunities for education, but more people understand it than they did 20 years ago.”