GALVESTON, Texas - Galveston beach-goers have long tiptoed around massive piles of seaweed, often using their children's plastic beach toys and a few well-chosen expletives to rake away the stinky, dark muck that arrives daily like an unrequested gift from the Sargasso Sea.
But after years of having midnight workers try to clear the beaches of tons of seaweed delivered by the currents, the Galveston Island Park Board of Trustees and Texas A&M University are launching a pilot program aimed at using the sticky muck to build a buttress against severe weather. The pilot program will test a theory that sand dunes fortified by compressed seaweed will be more resilient to storm surges and tides.
The $140,000 project is just one of several ongoing programs along the Texas Gulf Coast designed to use natural resources and the existing habitat to fight rising sea levels and future hurricanes, ideas that have become more popular since 2008, when Hurricane Ike breached Galveston's man-made, multimillion-dollar seawall, flooding the inner city and causing more than $20 billion in damage.
"People's mentality about sustainability is increasing. Awareness about the role that each component of nature has in the life cycle is growing," said Kelly de Schaun, the board's executive director.
Jens Figlus, an expert on coastal engineering at Texas A&M, said the hypothesis is that similar to large, plant-covered sand piles, a dune that has a strong base of seaweed also will better withstand the force of ocean waves and massive storm surges, he said.
Figlus believes the nutrients from the seaweed also will help plants grow on the dunes, creating a strong storm barrier system.