Mary Tutwiler

Artificial oyster reefs build coast in Texas

by Mary Tutwiler

The state of Louisiana allowed its primary storm surge barriers, the coastal oyster shell reefs, to be dredged from about 1900 until 1987, when the last permits expired. Coastal erosion and heightened hurricane surges are the consequences of the loss of the protective reefs. Now Texas is using a system, invented in Louisiana, of rebuilding shoreline with — you guessed it — oyster shells. Steel frames hung with nylon sacks containing oyster shells are placed along waterways experiencing erosion. The artificial reefs attract oyster spats, the spats build new shells, and within a season, not only is the structure trapping sediment and breaking up wave action that would have eroded wetlands, but it has started to produce oysters as well.

Why is the system not being used to help prevent coastal erosion in Louisiana? WDSU, Channel 6, in New Orleans reports that state coastal tzar Garret Graves says the reefs don’t work during hurricanes, and actually become projectiles. However where the reefs are located, on Nature Conservatory property in Matagorda, Texas, they rode out Hurricane Ike without any problems. If protecting Texas’s coastline, but not our own, with historically inspired and Louisiana made shell reefs weren’t irony enough, the cost of the artificial oyster reefs is half of what it takes to build breakwaters, which is what we do here in Louisiana, with imported limestone.