Protecting culture and economy in the Gulf South
The coastline of Louisiana is a natural wonder. It’s what creates splendid wetlands filled with some of the best fishing on the planet. Its biodiversity is unrivaled by many parts of North America; and its oil deposits (which make up 30 percent of the United States’ domestic oil) are responsible for Louisiana’s thriving economy. Our coastline and the Mississippi Delta are what make Louisiana an incredibly rich community, brimming with significant history; and from it an enigmatic sense of connectedness. It is the lifeblood of Louisiana. So, it’s no wonder that our port industries and ecological experts have joined forces to protect our coast from its rapid rate of erosion.
Paul Aucoin, the Executive Director of the Port of South Louisiana, sees the importance of granting funding to coastal restoration projects. One of the most prominent projects is Nicholls State University’s Coastal Restoration Program. Nicholls has been implementing intensive long-term strategies to combat the effects of coastal land loss since 2005. “The Port of South Louisiana is located on 54 miles of the Mississippi River between St. Charles, St. John the Baptist and St. James Parishes,” said Aucoin. “Our industries along this stretch depend entirely on the river and so we know how important coastal restoration is and we believe that assisting Nicholls State University with their efforts is critical for not only this region, but the country.”
The Nicholls Coastal Restoration Program has been closely monitoring the effects of coastal erosion and has been regularly deploying groups of students and professionals to coastal sites, building sand fences as well as planting grasses and mangroves that will hold loose soil together and create surge buffers. Dr. Allyse Ferrara is a professor of biological sciences at Nicholls State University, and she also helps to direct the Coastal Restoration Program.
Dr. Ferrara has dedicated countless days to understanding and protecting southern Louisiana from coastal land loss. In a recent conversation, Dr. Ferrara explained how coastal land loss is an amalgam of the consequences of levee and canal construction, dredging of waterways and subsidence. “The levees prevent new land growth in the marshlands through the loss of silt and sediment that spilled out of the Mississippi River during annual floods thus replenishing our estuaries that naturally subside. Additionally, navigational canals allow the intrusion or upstream movement of saltwater that kills freshwater and brackish water plants that hold the soil together. Because of these and several other factors, we’re losing a football field of Louisiana coastline every 100 minutes.”
This is why the Nicholls Coastal Restoration Program engages in tedious, yet imperative projects at sites all along the gulf coast. In recent projects, Dr. Ferrara has taken students to fundamental coastline regions like the Isle Dernieres Barrier Islands, Fourchon Beach and Elmer’s Island to install sand fences and plant mangroves and beach and dune grasses. Native plants are grown and maintained at the Nicholls Farm for coastal plantings. Woody species such as black mangrove and native hibscus and grass species such as smooth cordgrass, Gulf cordgrass and bitter panicum are grown in fields and greenhouses at the Nicholls Farm.
Some of the upcoming projects that Dr. Ferrara is excited about are the black mangrove planting on Isle Dernieres Barrier Islands on September 8, the 2017 International Coastal Cleanup at Elmer’s Island on September 16, the 2018 Bayou Lafourche Cleanup in March and the upcoming expansion of the dune grass plantings on Fourchon Beach.
“We’re not doing anything on a massive scale,” said Dr. Ferrara, “but any work on restoring the gulf coast is critical. We’ve planted a lot of newly placed sediment to help keep the sediments in place. In the future, we hope to increase the number of species we produce at the Nicholls Farm for coastal restoration projects. Unfortunately, the plants don’t take care of themselves, so we are grateful that we have the staff and and students to do the work to grow the plants for coastal projects. We’re also thankful for the support of coastal industries like The Port of South Louisiana that allow us to grow plants at the Nicholls Farm for use along our coast.”
By Kevin O’Sullivan