Despite Pandemic Delays, Coalition Uses Oyster Shells to Build Reef
NEW ORLEANS — Despite a delay caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, construction of the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana’s third reef made from recycled oyster shells is underway in Barataria Bay. The 800-ton “living shoreline” – which is two-thirds of a mile long – is designed to create habitat for new oysters and other aquatic life and stabilize an eroding coastline.
Construction of CRCL’s latest reef was slowed by the coronavirus pandemic even before cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Louisiana. The facility in China that manufactures the gabions — steel construction cages used to hold oyster shell in place — was forced to shut down in February, halting production of a vital piece of the project. Shortly after, cases of coronavirus were detected in Louisiana, causing the closure of CRCL’s office, the cancellation of volunteer events and the rescheduling of this year’s State of the Coast conference. Additionally, the Oyster Shell Recycling Program’s restaurants partners shut down, and the oyster industry was left devastated.
Now, the gabions have been delivered to Louisiana, where CRCL has been working with contractor Coastal Environments Inc. to fill the cages at a shell pile in Buras. The cages, filled with oyster shells collected by New Orleans restaurants that have partnered with the Oyster Shell Recycling Program, are being deployed at the reef site in Barataria Bay.
“The start of construction of our Barataria reef has been a gratifying moment for CRCL,” said Dr. Deborah Visco Abibou, CRCL restoration programs director. “Coastal land loss is a slow-moving but urgent crisis that affects our entire state, so we have to use every tool available to tackle the problem. We hope this reef demonstrates the effectiveness of a nature- based solution to slow shoreline erosion and re-establish functional reef ecosystems that can sustain themselves — and us — into the future.”
CRCL’s Oyster Shell Recycling Program began in 2014 and has collected nearly 10 million pounds of oyster shells from restaurants in the New Orleans area. In 2016, CRCL constructed its first oyster reef using recycled shell, a half-mile long reef in Lake Athanasio within the St. Bernard Parish’s Biloxi Marsh. A second reef, completed last year, is protecting the Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe’s culturally significant mound complex from erosion and sea level rise. CRCL recently collected positive data on that reef and is planning the construction of a fourth reef in Plaquemines Parish.
“The dramatic ongoing losses to Louisiana’s coastline necessitate a variety of restoration solutions and interventions: diversions, shoreline armoring, marsh creation and reef building — just to name a few,” said Steve Cochran, campaign director for Restore the Mississippi River Delta, a campaign to which CRCL belongs, along with the Environmental Defense Fund, the National Audubon Society, the National Wildlife Federation and Pontchartrain Conservancy. “Construction of the living shorelines, in addition to other priority restoration projects and community resilience measures, will help combat Louisiana’s land loss crisis, rebuild land that has been lost and sustain new land into the future.”