Aided by Volunteers, Sweetwater Lake Restoration Project Nearing Completion

  • September 21, 2022
  • News

A recent trip to Galveston Bay Foundation’s Sweetwater Preserve was anything but a typical day in the office for a group of volunteers from Aramco Americas. Ties and sport coats were swapped out for Kelly green T-shirts and waders. No florescent lighting in this workspace, just abundant sunshine occasionally filtered by soft white clouds.

The volunteers got a head start on National Estuaries Week last Thursday by planting approximately 3,000 steams of smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) in roughly two hours as part of Fall 2022 Marsh Mania.

“To see some of my co-workers who are always dressed up in their suits and ties be out here in the water up to their waist, it was a lot of fun,” said Stephanie Palmer, Corporate Communications Advisor with Aramco Americas.

National Estuaries Week, observed Sept. 17-24 in partnership with Restore America’s Estuaries, the National Estuarine Research Reserve Association, and the Association of National Estuary Programs, is celebrated annually to increase public awareness of estuaries and to encourage people to become involved in the protection of these important natural resources. Galveston Bay is the largest estuary in Texas and seventh largest in the United States.

The hands-on work done by the group from Aramco Americas was the latest in a series of volunteer restoration activities that have taken place around Sweetwater Lake in Galveston since 2014.

“It’s a great way for them to get to see our work firsthand but also to really help us in a larger-scale effort restoring more acres of marsh and oyster reef all at once,” said Haille Leija, Galveston Bay Foundation’s Habitat Restoration Manager.

Work over the past 8 years has included the construction of a living shoreline to combat erosion taking place along the western shoreline of Sweetwater Lake. Because the lake is a lower energy environment, recycled oyster shells have been used to create a reef structure offshore, which slows down wave action enough to allow marsh grass to be planted and grow behind it.

In addition to protecting the shoreline, both the saltwater marsh and oyster reef provide critical nursery habitat for fish, shrimp, and crabs that are commercially fished offshore and throughout other parts of Galveston Bay.

“Not only are you getting shoreline protection with these two barriers, the oyster reef and the marsh, you’re also creating that amazing intertidal habitat that’s providing that nursery area for all of those species to come in and utilize,” Leija said.

The COVID-19 pandemic caused a slowdown in work at the site; however, it is Leija’s hope to complete the living shoreline project within the next year or two. The finish line would not be in sight without the effort of hundreds of volunteers who have contributed to the project.

“We couldn’t do what we do without our volunteers,” Leija said. “They help us make light of very heavy work.”

The opportunity to get out of the office and make a positive impact in the community has kept some Aramco Americas volunteers coming back for nearly a decade or more.

“The participation speaks for itself,” Palmer said. “We come out here year after year. Our employees are very vocal about what activities they like to do, and to be honest, Marsh Mania is one of the favorites.”