The Community Effort to Protect the Coast

The Port helps advance research at the Nicholls Coastal Restoration Program

Counseling Center Stock Spring 2021

Can you imagine Louisiana without its coastline–or, by extension, a Louisiana without abundant wetlands and wildlife or thriving maritime industries? Neither can the Port of South Louisiana or Nicholls State University.

It’s because of the critical role the coastline plays in our state’s rich history, natural wonder and economy that the Port has partnered with Nicholls State for the fifth consecutive year to advance the university’s coastal restoration research and protective efforts.

Nicholls State has been implementing intensive long-term strategies to combat the effects of coastal land loss through its Coastal Restoration Program since 2005. The program’s efforts have included monitoring the effects of coastal erosion, regularly deploying groups of students and professionals to coastal sites, building sand fences and planting grasses and mangroves that will hold loose soil together to create surge buffers.

Dr. Allyse Ferrara, distinguished service professor and Jerry Ledet Endowed Professor of Environmental Biology, has helped to direct the Coastal Restoration Program for several years. She says the program has not only engaged students who live in coastal Louisiana, but that it has also helped students from out of state to understand the vital need for preserving and restoring the coast.

“If someone has not experienced coastal Louisiana, it is difficult for them to appreciate the beauty, value and uniqueness of the region,” Dr. Ferrara says. “We want our students to appreciate and value our coastal habitats, to be willing to learn more about coastal Louisiana and to have a desire to preserve and restore the region. Active and informed students benefit from these experiences and have the capacity to help engage and inform others. We know our region is valuable, and we need as many active and informed coastal Louisiana ambassadors as possible to help spread the word and spark interest in others.”

Dr. Ferrara says the plants used in their restoration efforts are cultivated at Nicholls Farm, a 277-acre lot that includes labs, classrooms, greenhouses and a 7.5-acre pond for wetland plant production. She says as soon as Nicholls State started receiving financial support from the Port of South Louisiana in 2017, a physical change at the Nicholls Farm became quickly apparent.

“We were able to hire student workers and purchase supplies for farm upkeep and to expand our plant production capacity,” Dr. Ferrara says. “Our ability to partner with other organizations for a wide range of projects greatly increased. Since we have been able to maintain the farm, we have been able to use it for more projects including undergraduate and graduate student research, course activities and outreach events. Overall, our activity and ability to participate in a variety of conservation and restoration events has greatly increased.”

Because of the immense amount of time, resources, and labor required to make a substantive impact on coastal restoration and preservation, Dr. Ferrara says contributions like the Port’s enable students and researchers to make a greater difference in the region.

“Support from the Port and similar entities allows us to respond to whatever is needed at the time,” Dr. Ferrara says. “This has allowed us to participate in a wide variety of projects and to quickly assist with projects where we are needed. We also have the ability to fund student research projects that may not be large enough to be eligible for competitive research grants. We very much appreciate the flexibility granted by this type of support because it allows us to be a more active community partner.”

Port of South Louisiana Executive Director Paul Aucoin says the Port is just as grateful to Nicholls State for advancing research that will ensure the integrity and vitality of the Port’s maritime infrastructure.

“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,” says 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.”