Dylan Baddour, Houston Chronicle
Wednesday, August 19, 2015
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More fish, turtles and other sea life should be coming to the Texas coast.
With recovery funds from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has contracted with a Galveston company to build a vast underwater hamlet for coastal creatures in state waters.
Callan Marine LTD, a seagoing construction company, will place 2,400 concrete pyramids, each about 1,000 pounds, in the Gulf of Mexico, expanding an "artificial reef" near Freeport and creating one near Matagorda County, which will be the biggest artificial reef in the state.
In total, the two projects will add almost 300 acres of reef.
"This is going to be the most material we've ever put down at one time," said Dale Shively, director of TPWD's artificial reef program. "The idea behind these reefs is you put hard substrate for some organisms to attach to, then you start an ecosystem there."
The $4.7 million to finance the project will come from the $1 billion Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Natural Resource Damage Assessment, funded by BP in the wake of the 2010 disaster that ravaged Gulf life.
Sarah Dearing, construction manager on the reef projects for Callan, said the company is in the process of finalizing a reef structure to submit for review to TPWD. Current plans are for a concrete pyramid, 10-feet-wide and eight-feet-tall, with small holes for fish, large holes for turtles and a rough, chunky limestone coating for other creatures to attach themselves.
"A very large consideration is the critters—the critters that will live in and on top of them," Dearing said. "They're the whole point of installing them."
They are also experimenting with methods for a spray-on concrete coating that will give many creatures a course surface for easy attachment.
Over the decades, the reefs should grow into thriving communities that will bring more life and more diversity to Texas' coastal waters. Shively said it will start with spineless animals that tack onto the concrete's rough coating—sponges, soft corals, barnacles, mussels, clams and algae. Eventually larger creatures will come for the food and shelter, until the biggest coastal fish and turtles make the man-made reefs home.
"When we create this reef site it will have impacts beyond the next hundred years," Shively said.
This isn't Texas' first shot at an artificial reef; the state legislature created the artificial reef program in 1989 to harbor healthy sea life, bolster the Lone Star seafood harvest and create recreational opportunities for fishers and divers off the coast.
Most of the "reefs" are cleaned-and-sunken oil platforms—about 140 of them. There are also 12 intentionally-sunken WWII ships and other concrete reefs near Corpus Christi, Port Mansfield and Port Isabel. Other sites are currently being permitted near Sabine and Galveston.
Dearing said Callan should be ready to deploy the concrete reefs -- 800 to Freeport and 1,600 to Matagorda -- after the winter. Then several dozen barges will carry them to the permitted areas and cranes will drop the blocks into the Gulf.
The two projects were awarded to Callan after a competitive bidding process, and are among five Texas projects, totaling $18 million, aimed at compensating Texas for damage incurred by the spill. For the coastal company with a record of dredging projects, dock facilities and other industrial marine construction, creating an ecosystem is novel work.
"We're all just really excited because it is a very different project, and it is a big deal to get involved in an environmentally sensitive project like this and feel like you're a part of something," Dearing said.