Mary Tutwiler

Stopping coastal erosion: reef or madness?

by Mary Tutwiler

A dozen Chenier au Tigres on the half-shell, please. I like the ring of that. Vermilion Parish is eyeing installing man-made oyster reefs at Chenier au Tigre, a barrier island below Intracoastal City that is one of the first lines of resistance from storm surges for the coastal parish. The project, reports The Advocate, was outlined to police jurors by Sherwood Gagliano, CEO of Baton Rouge-based Coastal Environments Inc.

Gagliano laid down his test reefs on Nature Conservancy marsh in Matagorda, Texas before Hurricane Ike. The steel frames hung with oyster shells in nylon sacks attracted oyster spats, the spats grew shells, the whole thing cemented together and rode out the massive storm surge with nary a dislodged oyster.

Eight months ago, there was resistance from state coastal tzar Garret Graves, who had concerns that the technology wasn’t perfected yet. Graves said the artificial reefs didn’t work to help control storm surges and that they could actually become projectiles. However, the privately owned Nature Conservancy saw so much improvement in their own property, they awarded Gagliano a $4 million grant to build reefs in Louisiana. Terrebonne Parish has gone forward with the artificial reefs, and now Vermilion Parish is a likely second setting.

Thank goodness for private business. Government grinds away at a glacial speed while the coast continues to erode, in part compromised because government permitted our natural oyster shell reefs to be dredged. Meanwhile, plucky entrepreneurs dive right in. And soon, lucky diners may be able to belly up to the oyster bar for some homegrowns. It’s a pleasure when you can have your coast restored and eat it, too.