Homeowners can practice restoration of essential wetlands on their own small plots of coastal land by creating what are often called living shorelines — constructed marshes like the ones at the Texas City Prairie Preserve, except on a smaller scale.

In Galveston, Alice Anne O’Donell, a pediatrician-turned-conservationist, was one of the first to create a living shoreline on her Settegast Road property, just across the street from a section of what’s now the Artist Boat Coastal Heritage Preserve.

O’Donell purchased her bayside property with the intention of turning it into a heavily vegetated refuge for birds. Her landscape was wiped out by Hurricane Ike, but with the help of her brother, a landscape architect, she replanted and, a decade later, it has returned to its previous lush state.

Partnering with the Galveston Bay Foundation and Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife, O’Donell brought in tons of riprap to create a breakwater just offshore from her property, topped with bags full of concrete mix. Between the shore and the breakwater she planted plugs of smooth cordgrass to create a marsh that now helps prevent erosion along the shoreline.

The land beyond the waterline belongs to the state and has to be leased, one of several administrative tasks that go along with building a living shoreline. O’Donell pays $75 a year to the state to lease the land below her marsh.

Over the years since it was planted, the cordgrass has spread and filled in to create a living marsh, teeming with fish. Along the breakwater, oysters have taken up residence.

Lee Anne Wilde of the Galveston Bay Foundation helps homeowners all around the bay create living shorelines like O’Donell’s.

“We work with private landowners with erosion issues, or who simply want to enhance their property,” Wilde said. Most of Galveston Bay’s shoreline is privately owned, so these efforts can collectively make a significant improvement, she said.

“One guy doing a small thing in front of his property doesn’t look like a big thing, but add it up and it begins to look bigger,” Wilde said.

The Galveston Bay Foundation helps as much or as little as owners want, offering a range of services from evaluating the property, helping with permitting and finding contractors to providing labor.

With normal tides and normal rainfall, significant growth can occur on a living shoreline and it can fill in within a year, Wilde said, adding that the past year was tough with “ridiculously high tides and ridiculous amounts of rain.”

“Over time, nature will find its balance and natural processes will take place,” she said

Kathryn Eastburn: 409-683-5257; kathryn.eastburn@galvnews.com.

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