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Dune and dirty: Hurricane teaches lessons through ecosystem research
Date:12/8/2008

s findings, when comparing before and after Ike, is that the marshes lost elevation, which is contrary to what most would expect to happen in a hurricane.

Damage to Texas's barrier islands stroke a variety of long-debated issues. According to the state's General Land Office, Texas is the only state in the nation that has an Open Beaches Act. That means the public has " free and unrestricted access to and use of the beach" or the area between the dunes and the "state-owned submerged lands," the land office indicates.

The state's coastline is more than 365 miles long. The width is measured from the vegetation line on the land to more than 10 miles into the Gulf of Mexico, according to the land office, which estimates a $7-billion-a-year tourism economy from the area.

Thus, tension brews around mending hurricane-slashed coastal ecosystems from the standpoint of people who choose to live nearby and those who want to enjoy the state's property.

Feagin, who admits a passion for coastal ecosystems, said four elements are impacted as a hurricane rolls over a barrier island: beaches erode, sand dunes "blow out," houses and buildings are damaged and, finally, the marshes receive sediment deposits from all the above.

"With beaches, sand from the beach is washed out into the sea, and it usually comes back in the natural wave cycles over time," he said. "But along the Texas coast, our sand doesn't come back very well. That's because it is very silty and so is carried farther away in the Gulf." He said the state's coastline also has a lot of development and engineered structures such as jetties which are meant to stabilize the land but instead interrupt the natural sedimentary process.

"The coast is one of the most dynamic ecosystems there is, and it can totally change in a hurricane," Feagin said.

In some areas, he said, there was only a thin sand veneer on top of clay. With that sand now gone, all of the invertebr
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Contact: Kathleen Phillips
ka-phillips@tamu.edu
979-845-2872
Texas A&M AgriLife Communications
Source:Eurekalert  

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