Immense Sand Deposit Could Save Key Texas Island
A project underway by a Texas A&M University at Galveston researcher might save one of Texas’ most important – but relatively unknown – coastal venues from disappearing completely – Follet’s Island.
Tim Dellapenna, associate professor of marine sciences and oceanography who has studied Texas beaches for years at the Texas A&M Galveston campus, has identified a potentially huge sand deposit off the waters of Follet’s Island, a tiny barrier island near San Luis Pass, not far from Galveston.
Follet’s Island is only 14 miles long and less than a quarter mile wide and protects nearby Christmas Bay and the Intracoastal Waterway from severe storms from the Gulf of Mexico.
Working with a $100,000 grant from the Texas General Land Office, Dellapenna has identified what he believes is a massive sand deposit that could contain as much as 55 million cubic yards of beach quality sand. To put that into perspective, just 1 million cubic yards of sand would fill up 100,000 dump trucks.
“If we are correct, this sand deposit is immense,” Dellapenna explains.
“Our goal is to determine how much sand is down there. It could possibly save the island – it has been really battered by storms, and it was devastated by Hurricane Ike in 2008, where the island was breached 75 times and the main road along the island had to be rebuilt.
“The possibility is there that island could be lost forever.”
Major storms and hurricanes have caused considerable beach and dune erosion on Follet’s Island, named for the Follett family who were early settlers in the region.
The island is known for its numerous birds, which include pelicans, egrets, gulls, terns, great-tailed grackles and others. Follet’s Island is also a popular spot for people to bike and walk its shores and fish, camp, birdwatch and picnic.
Barrier islands are sand islands, often with dunes, that form parallel to a mainland coast along much of the Gulf and eastern coast of the U.S. coastline.
Nearly the entire coast of Texas consists of a series of barrier islands and peninsulas, including Bolivar Peninsula, Galveston, Mustang, Matagorda Islands, as well as Padre Island, the world’s longest barrier island.
Beach erosion in Texas, as in numerous other U.S. locations, is a huge problem. Studies show that about 64 percent of the Texas coast is eroding at an average rate of 6 feet per year, but some areas are losing more than 25 feet per year. On average, the Texas coast is losing about 2.3 feet a year to erosion.
That presents obvious problems. In America, people like to live near the water: according to the Environmental Protection Agency, of the 25 most densely populated U.S. counties, 23 of them are near a coast.
The large sand deposit could be used to replenish sand that has been lost due to erosion on Follet’s Island and even Galveston Island, which suffers from the worst beach erosion in Texas.
Follet’s Island also protects a section of the Intracoastal Waterway, which acts as a huge marine highway that stretches from Maine to Brownsville.
“There is $43 billion a year in commerce that travels through the Texas portion,” Dellapenna adds, “so this little island is more important than many people believe.”
The project also might serve as a blueprint to help similar locations facing the same problems as Follet’s Island.