Artist Boat

Artist Boat Brings Life Back To Galveston Beaches

By George Lee

Restoring the island’s beaches means far more than sand replenishment. We’ve read stories about replacing sand lost to erosion along the beachfront, and seen the trucks lumbering up and down the seawall, earth movers darting along the beach, spreading tons of beach sand from the seawall base to the Gulf’s tide. Galveston’s tourism industry demands this attention, but what of the habitat lost to Ike’s destructive power?

The Artist Boat is quietly replacing the plant life along the beaches ravaged by the angry waves and devastating surge that Ike pushed before it and swept across the land. Artist Boat is a non-profit organization with two basic but worthy purposes vital to our coastal environment.

Artist Boat educates children, using art, kayak trips and tours of our precious wetlands, to teach them the value of respect for the land and sea. Artist Boat, through its Habitat Restoration Adventures (HRA), also takes action in preserving and restoring fragile ecosystems damaged by storms and human neglect. Artist Boat staff, led by executive director Karla Klay, are currently working daily on the west end of Galveston Island planting thousands of indigenous plants that succumbed to the wall of water rammed over the sand by the disastrous hurricane in September.

Nicole Ekstrom, Habitat and Stewardship Coordinator, leads the effort, with generous grants from the Gulf of Mexico Foundation, and support from homeowners living along the coast on Galveston’s west end.

Everyone knows what beach replenishment is, but how many really understand habitat restoration? Think of it as a combination of science and landscaping.

Science drives the selection of plants and where to place them, as well as consideration for the creatures that make their homes there. Nicole holds a Masters of Science degree in marine biology and grew up on South Padre Island, giving her a practical knowledge of the coastal environment. Landscaping involves the physical planting and care of the salt grass, sea oats, bitter panicum, sea purslane and railroad vine that Nicole is bringing back to the dunes and beaches.

Why the emphasis on planting? There are a number of reasons, one of the most important being that the plant roots will hold the sand in place, serving the same purpose as rebar reinforces concrete with an internal structure, as roots provide a framework to protect the dunes from wind and water erosion. A very important factor that is often overlooked, is the shelter plants provide for the hundreds of creatures that inhabit the beaches, and depend on the vegetation for their survival.

Birds, reptiles, crabs, insects and a multitude of diverse species make their homes within the protection of the plants, where they hide, feed and reproduce in the shelter of the vegetation. This in itself is fascinating and critical to every organism, near and far from the sea, but also a valuable learning experience for the children in our area. An integral part of Artist Boat’s HRA service, is to bring school children to the sites, where Nicole teaches them about the habitat ecosystems and leads them in planting, watering and beach exploration.

Usually working with groups of approximately twenty children and their homeroom teacher, often traveling in by bus from Houston, she guides them in the habitat restoration as they work together in teams. It’s a wonderful experience for them in a number of ways. They learn respect for the land and the creatures that share it with us. They are able to enjoy the sun, sea and fresh gulf breeze, while participating in something truly important. Being young urban grade school students, they may not appreciate the valuable service they are performing, but Nicole emphasizes this in the three-hour sessions. When they return to their school in the afternoon, they have exciting stories to tell and a bag of seashells, flotsam and jetsam collected from her informative and entertaining beach walk, which Ms. Ekstrom supervises at every HRA session.

While restoring the beach habitats, Artist Boat is also providing a fun filled experience for the kids, which truly earns its name as “adventure”!

Source is NOAA Gulf of Mexico News.