Texas officials are hoping that the harvesting of seaweed might actually help protect the city of Galveston from hurricanes.
In 1900, Galveston was a booming metropolis and arguably one of the more important cities in the United States. But a massive hurricane submerged the city, killing about 6,000 people on its way to becoming the greatest natural disaster in American history.
And now, the Galveston Park board of trustees has agreed to invest about $140,000 on a project that will use harvested seaweed to strengthen sand dunes so that they can better withstand the impact of future storms.
"It's part of our ecosystem, so any kind of beneficial use we can find for that material would be highly advantageous, both from an environmental and management standpoint, to make sure our beaches are clean and enjoyable for all of our beachgoers," board executive director Kelly de Schaun told the Houston Chronicle.
Over the years, the natural sand dunes along Galveston’s shoreline have eroded, making the area more susceptible to damage from future storms. A 2007 paper from Texas A&M University showed how using sargassum can help protect the shoreline and even rebuild the dunes over time.
The "seaweed-enhanced sand dunes” will be packed with harvested sargassum, which can grow to 50 feet in the ocean. It also reportedly does not smell very good. Nonetheless, it could save homes, businesses and even lives along the Texas coastline.
And it’s an environmentally sound approach as well. Officials say they will simply gather seaweed that has washed up on the shore to use in the project. They will then bale the sargassum and press it into sand dunes. Along with physically strengthening the dunes, officials say, the compressed seaweed will help spur the growth of natural dune vegetation.
As the implanted seaweed deteriorates over time, it will serve as fertilizer for natural vegetation that grows along Galveston's coast. The new vegetation is expected to provide a sustainable natural barrier against future hurricanes.