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Perdido deep-water project, Gulf of Mexico, USA, 2010

Erosion of the Gulf Intercoastal Waterway

But erosion of the Gulf Intercoastal Waterway is threatening this important coastal prairie – one of the few remaining ones in the United States. So Shell and The Nature Conservancy, along with other environmental and government partners, are building a 2 ¼-mile rock breakwater barrier to protect this vital landscape.

The Intercoastal Waterway was constructed in the early 20th century as a commercial transportation route along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States. Originally built 100 feet wide by 60 foot deep, over the last 75 years, the channel along the Gulf Coast section has widened up to 500 feet in some places. This aggressive erosion of the waterway has allowed saltwater to intrude on sensitive wetlands and coastal prairies.

“When that happens, we essentially lose the diversity of these habitats,” says Mark Dumesnil, regional manager for The Nature Conservancy. Protecting these habitats is vital, especially considering the United States has lost 99 percent of its coastal prairies and 50 percent of its coastal wetlands, according to Dumesnil.

“This area on the Texas coast is at the bottom end of the central North American flyway for migratory water fowl and other water-dependent species, as well as neo-tropical migrants during their spring migration. So, it’s very important that we protect these habitats, and this project will do that on a much more permanent basis,” Dumesnil says.

The 2 ½-mile breakwater barrier is being built 30 feet from the shoreline out of granite rocks barged to Texas from a Missouri quarry.

The wall will provide a buffer from the wave energy and will protect the marshlands from saltwater intrusion.  “This project will protect and enhance up to 2,500 acres of coastal wetlands and prairie habitat,” Dumesnil notes. “This project is really exciting. It’s really an opportunity to mend nature.”

For more information on The Nature Conservancy and its efforts to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people, go to www.nature.org .

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