Cathy Bader Mills – Louisiana Artist

Cathy’s romance with the birds of Louisiana started oh so long ago. Their personalities whether still or in motion captured her imagination. She documents her interpretations through her paintings with subtle and vibrate images and colors.

“The intimacy of small lush places and vast panoramic scenes have inspired me over the years. Observation is the key to knowing. I discovered when you know about the land and wildlife, you begin to love it. That love is what I try to share over and over again.”

Cathy gravitated to workshops in her teaching career through the Louisiana Sea Grant College Program based at Louisiana State University as well as information through the CWPPRA outreach materials. When National Geographic education made a call for teachers to be trained as Teacher Consultants, Cathy made her way to Washington, D.C. That opportunity led to a 2 ½ month trek across public lands. A website was developed that educated the public about their lands, another opportunity to love the land. The knowledge learned became a part of her work. Images of her work can be seen in her illustrations of “OH NO! Hannah’s Swamp is Changing” an education book on exotic aquatic invasive species. Her website https://www.cathybadermillsfinearts.com/ documents the scope of her work, real and imagined. You can also check her out on Facebook! https://www.facebook.com/cathys.flock


Phoenix Marsh Creation – East Increment (BS-42)

Degraded marsh in coastal Louisiana.


The project is located in Region 2, Breton Basin, Plaquemines Parish.


Two major causes of wetland loss for this area are sediment deprivation and saltwater intrusion. Altered hydrology and oil/gas development have exacerbated this loss. Much of the fresh and intermediate marsh that once existed earlier in this century has either converted to more saline habitats or has become open water as a result of oil/gas canals, subsidence, and a lack of sediment deposition. The 1984 to 2019 USGS land change rate is -0.78% per year.

Restoration Strategy

The project goal is to restore 392 acres of marsh in the open water areas between Bayou la Croix and River aux Chênes through the placement of dredged material via hydraulic dredging. This project will work syngeristically with projects to the east by creating continuity with the Breton Landbridge Marsh Creation (West) Project (BS-38) and the Mid Breton Landbridge Marsh Creation and Terracing Project (BS-32). This proposed first increment would extend the reach of the Breton Landbridge and is part of an overall, long-range, restoration goal to create/nourish 1,000 to 2,000 acres of intermediate marsh across 5 miles of the Breton Sound Basin from River aux Chênes to the Mississippi River.

Sediment will be hydraulically dredged from the Mississippi River. The dredged riverine sediments will be pumped via pipeline into two semi-confined disposal areas. Where feasible, existing marsh will be used as containment instead of containment dikes.

Vegetative plantings are not proposed in the marsh creation areas, and containment dikes will be gapped no later than year three post construction.

Service goals include restoration/protection of habitat for threatened and endangered species and other at-risk species. This project would restore habitat potentially utilized by the black rail, which is proposed for listing as a threatened species. The project could also benefit other species of concern including the saltmarsh topminnow and seaside sparrow.


The project was approved for Phase I Engineering and Design in January 2020.

The project is on Priority Project List (PPL) 29.

The Federal Sponsor is US Fish & Wildlife Service.

The Local Sponsor is CPRA.


Hydrologic Restoration and Vegetative Planting (BA-34-2)


The Lac des Allemands River Basin Initiative identified the following specific problems within the Lac des Allemands Watershed: drainage impairments; water quality impairments; loss of marsh; and decline of cypress forest. Many years of study by Louisiana State University researchers in these swamps have demonstrated that, because of impoundment, subsidence, and inadequate accretion of sediments and organic matter, some areas are already highly stressed and converting to open water, floating aquatic plants, and fresh marsh. Also, the Coast 2050 report suggests that other areas of the swamps throughout the basin will likely convert to open water or floating marsh by the year 2050. These problems are caused by the loss of river water along with the associated sediment and nutrients necessary for swamp health. The loss of river water can be attributed to the leveeing of the Mississippi River. Impoundment caused by roads, drainage canals, and spoil banks is also a major cause of degradation of these swamps.
Restoration Strategy:

The original proposed restoration strategy included installing two small siphons (averaging 400 cubic feet per second) to divert water from the Mississippi River; gapping spoil banks on Bayou Chevreuil; gapping spoil banks along the borrow beside Louisiana Highway 20; installing culverts under Louisiana Highway 20; improving drainage in impounded swamps; and planting cypress and tupelo seedlings in highly degraded swamp areas.

The proposed diversion from the Mississippi River was to bring fresh water, fine-grained sediments, and nutrients into the upper des Allemands swamps, which would have helped maintain swamp elevation, improve swamp water quality, and increase productivity and regrowth of young trees as older trees die. However, after hydrologic modeling and more detailed engineering/design and cost estimation, it was determined that the siphon would cost far more than originally anticipated. For that reason, the CWPPRA Task Force approved the project sponsors’ request to re-scope the project to eliminate the siphon feature, and to focus on the remaining project features.


Location: The project is located West of Lac des Allemands in St. James Parish, Louisiana, south of the town of South Vacherie, bordered on the south by Bayou Chevreuil, and on the east by LA Highway 20.

Progress to Date: The Louisiana Coastal Wetlands Conservation and Restoration Task Force approved Phase 1 funding in January 2001. In June 2013, the Task Force approved a request to change the scope of the project to eliminate a siphon feature and focus on the remaining original hydrologic restoration and vegetative planting project features. The Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority performed the engineering and design services. Design was completed in October 2015 and Phase 2 funds for construction was approved by the Task Force in January 2016. Construction activities for excavation and placement began in October 2017 and ended on December 20, 2017, vegetative plantings occurred in late January, and officially completed on February 2, 2018.

The three (3) principal project features included:

1. Eight (8), 400-foot-long, strategically designed gaps were cut in the northern Bayou Chevreuil spoil bank to reverse the effects of impoundment;

2. Sixteen (16) spoil placement areas were created on each side of the channel banks; (1 placement area on both sides of each gap) to beneficially use the dredged material on site;

3. Seven hundred (700) Bald Cypress and one hundred (100) Water Tupelo saplings were planted in the constructed spoil placement areas to start swamp regeneration and swamp productivity.

This project enhanced 2,395 acres of swamp habitat that would have continued to degrade without the project.

This project is on Priority Project List (PPL) 10.

The sponsors include:

Federal Sponsor: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Local Sponsor: Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA)




Classifying Wetlands Part 2

Last week’s Wetland Wednesday mentioned 3 main criteria as part of identifying a wetland (wetland hydrology, hydrophytic vegetation, and hydric soils). – Today we’ll look at how plants and soils help scientists delineate wetlands.

In the field, scientists identify and sample soils and plants as part of wetland delineation. The LSU AgCenter groups plant species based on where the plant is naturally found as seen in the table below.

indicator_2Wetland plants have adapted to flooded soils. “Obligate” plants can tolerate water at high levels or when soil saturation is a normal condition to that area. Examples of these plants include the bald cypress (Taxodium distichum), or cattail (Typha latifolia) [3].

In contrast, plants that cannot handle flooded conditions for an extended period would naturally be in the “upland” area of land (i.e. winged sumac (Rhus copallina), eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis), or panic grass (Dichanthelium sp.) [3].

People delineating wetlands focus on a project area according to aerial and soil maps along with aerial photographs [1]. Delineators then take soil samples and determine characteristics seen in hydric soils which relate to cycles of flooding and drying. – Examples of those include oxidized soils, hydrogen sulfide (rotten egg smell) and organic bodies found on plant roots. Finally, the plant and soil types are compared, tested, then matched to determine wetland boundaries for mapping and policy purposes [1].

Wetland delineation is a tool for protecting and documenting these important landscapes which contribute to a healthy and functional environment. It is important to note that wetland delineation requires much more than just plant and soil identification. CWPPRA utilizes sound science, engineering, mapping, and geo-technical surveys in the process of planning, approving, constructing, and maintaining coastal Louisiana wetland restoration projects.


[1] Bedhun, Rebecca. 2018. “Watch and Lean Now: How To Do A Wetland Delineation”. Shoret Elliot Hendrickson Inc. Available: http://www.sehinc.com/news/watch-and-learn-now-how-do-wetland-delineation [September 9, 2018]

[2] Jon Kusler. “Common Questions: Wetland Definition, Delineation, and Mapping”. Association of State Wetland Managers, Inc. Available: https://www.aswm.org/pdf_lib/14_mapping_6_26_06.pdf [September 9, 2018]

[3] LSU Ag Center. 2018. Louisiana Plant Identification: Plant List. Available: http://www.rnr.lsu.edu/plantid/listcommon.htm [September 10, 2018]



Classifying Wetlands Part 1

When we think of wetlands, our mind may paint a picture of a swampy area with open water, and maybe a heron or alligator. Despite common perception, not all wetlands are the same. — These watery features come in all shapes, sizes, and locations along with a unique system of processes and purpose.

Wetlands are diverse and the difference between dry and wet environment lies along a gradient. Therfore, there cannot be one perfect definition to represent what a wetland is. Scientists have developed criteria to identify wetlands and aid in assessment, inventory, and management [1].

Figure 1. An example used by scientists to start the process for wetland delineation.

Criteria Definition
Wetland hydrology the gradient or degree of flooding or soil saturation across a landscape [2].
Hydrophytic vegetation plants adapted to grow in water or in a soil that is occasionally oxygen deficient due to saturation by water [2].
Hydric soils soils that are sufficiently wet in the upper root zone  and may develop anaerobic (oxygen lacking) conditions during the length of at least 1-2 growing seasons [2].

As seen below in Figure 2 and 3; some wetlands are flooded year-round while other  water levels fluctuate. The wetland hydrology differs depending on location and the geography of the landscape.

Figure 2: A simplified example of a wetland water gradient dependent on elevation and tidal ranges.

better_gradient pic.png

Figure 3.

basic_gradientYou may not live close to a coastal marsh, but many water sources eventually connect to a wetland on the coast, making the streams, lakes, and swamps in your backyard an important link to the larger watershed. That’s why it’s important to support, respect, and appreciate the water systems and land of everyday life. CWPPRA projects restore and protect these systems to support the livelihood and cultures of Louisiana and to protect the land we value so dearly.

In next week’s edition of Wetland Wednesday, we’ll look at how scientist use vegetation and soils to classify wetlands!


[1] Fish and Wildlife Service. Classification of Wetlands and Deepwater Habitats of the United States. Available: https://www.fws.gov/wetlands/documents/Classification-of-Wetlands-and-Deepwater-Habitats-of-the-United-States-2013.pdf [August 27, 2018].
[2] Natural Resources Conservation Service. Hydric Soils Overview. Available: https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/soils/use/hydric/?cid=nrcs142p2_053985 [August 27, 2018].


This week marks 13 years since Hurricane Katrina, an event some citizens of Louisiana are still recovering from. We may have all heard the name, but do we know what a hurricane is, how wetlands are affected, and how coastal landforms can decrease hurricane impacts?

“Hurricanes” are low-pressure tropical storm systems that differ from other storms in severity as well as location. A hurricane is a storm with winds above 64mph accompanied by heavy rain that originates in either the NE Pacific or the N Atlantic Ocean (the oceans that touch the USA). Due to a phenomenon called the Coriolis Effect, hurricanes rotate counter-clockwise, whereas a southern hemisphere storm would rotate clockwise. Hurricanes develop a characteristic “eye of the storm” in the center, which is an area of low pressure and low wind. Just outside of the eye is the most severe weather, the eyewall, with winds reaching up to 210mph in the strongest storms! Hurricane “category” ratings are as follows:

  • Category 1: 74-93mph
  • Category 2: 96-109mph
  • Category 3: 110-129mph
  • Category 4: 130-157mph
  • Category 5: >158mph

Hurricanes develop over areas with warmer waters, typically nearer the equator, and move away from the equator. [1] Coastal Louisiana is hit by hurricanes on an increasingly regular basis, and those hurricanes all develop in the North Atlantic Ocean in late summer and fall. Our “Hurricane Season” occurs from June through November each year. [2] Several aspects of hurricanes pose major threats to our wetlands statewide. High winds can topple trees, rip up shrubs and grasses, and move sediments around. High rainfall can cause flooding in areas that are not well-adapted to high-water conditions. Storm surge can push saline seawater into brackish and freshwater systems. Hurricanes cause massive disturbance in coastal wetlands, but wetlands are a crucial barrier that protects major cities from taking as much damage. CWPPRA works to combat land loss and protect the future of coastal Louisiana.

Some CWPPRA projects restore barrier islands, which are natural defenses that develop in the Deltaic Cycle. Barrier islands lessen storm surge during hurricanes, bearing the brunt of the waves. Sadly, they cannot provide perfect protection because they are degrading, but they are not the last line of defense. We still have coastal marshes that are great at storing water and acting like a speed bump to storm surge. It is estimated that each mile of coastal marsh decreases storm surge by about a foot. Unfortunately, many coastal marshes are decaying into open water and are no longer protective barriers. CWPPRA will continue to restore wetlands and nourish barrier islands to #ProtectOurCoast!


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tropical_cyclone

[2] https://www.ready.gov/hurricanes

Featured image from [1]

Wetland Warrior: Nic Dixon

An avid birder, duck hunter, and critical thinker, Nic Dixon works to share his appreciation for Louisiana’s wetlands with communities along the coast.

Q:  What is your job title and affiliation? 

A:   Outreach Associate for the National Audubon Society

Q:  How did you get started in this field and how long have you been doing this type of work? 

A:   It began at Louisiana State University’s school of Renewable Natural Resources. I’ve been in this field of work for around 10 years – starting with the field and lab positions that I held in college, up to today, working in the environmental nonprofit sector.

Q:  Describe the part of your job/role that you enjoy the most. 

A:   An enjoyable part of my job is whenever I’m getting to share the beauty of Coastal Louisiana. Whether that is producing a video of a New Orleans chef cooking up wild game harvested from the marshes of Barataria Basin, or giving a boat tour of a novel Ibis rookery in a freshwater diversion outfall area – coastal Louisiana has a lot to offer, and it feels good to help people realize that.

Q: Describe the part of your job/role that you believe is the most impactful.   

A:   This question is something that I dwell on occasionally. Our work is part of a complex machine that aims to restore the coast, so it’s really hard to say what component contributes more or less. If I attended some meeting, or if I got one more community member to make a public comment, would that contribute to even an additional grain of sand being deposited? Each component of the coastal restoration complex is very alienated from the actual production of coastal land. Even if I was the person pulling the lever on a dredge, that action is just the end of a very long line – and besides, we can’t all have our hands on that lever. 

If I had to take a guess, the most impactful thing that I do is providing my perspective of what is happening around us, be that through some form of storytelling or reconnaissance of something I see in the field, or my interpretation of a policy proposal – and with that, I hope it gives people additional context when they make decisions on where to focus their energy in daily life.

Right now, I think the best way to preserve wetlands is to get out and be in them.

Nic Dixon, National Audubon Society

Q:  What do you think is the best/easiest way people can help restore or preserve wetlands? 

A:  My answer to this question relates to the answer that I gave above. Like, can’t folks just get out there and start shoveling? It wouldn’t have an impact. Solving the problem will take a massive amount of resources and centralized decision making, and combine that with the fact that this problem isn’t material for most people, individual action would never get the job done. It’s not like an issue of “Oh, I’m hungry. I’ll need to get some food now.” The issue of preserving wetlands still greatly affects us, but there are many degrees of separation between the issue and our perceived everyday survival. 

Right now, I think the best way to preserve wetlands is to get out and be in them. Develop an understanding of them as they are, and over time, you will be able to identify what state they are in, and then be able to discuss that knowledge with your friends, family, and community. Science is a tool for having a standardized understanding, but you could also develop an academic or artistic understanding – there is a lot of literature and arts out there that can help us perceive the natural world. If you do not have the ability to get around in the wetlands, you can still observe the ecological indicators of wetland health. That’s one of the cool things about birds, since many species are migratory and rely on multiple habitat types, if you notice a change of birds in your own backyard there could be changes going on habitats that they rely on elsewhere, such as the wetlands!

Q: In your opinion why is coastal restoration in Louisiana important? For folks out of state, why is Louisiana’s coastal restoration work important for the nation? 

A:   Our ecological connections run deep and intertwine with the rest of the world. There are also good cases made on the societal and economic connections too. What more can I say? I don’t want to bore y’all with even more than what I wrote above.

Q: What is your favorite recreational activity to do in the wetlands?  

A:   Duck hunting on public land out of a pirogue. I like it because it’s something basically anyone can do with just a few hundred bucks, some courage, and a lot of trial and error – it feels more competitive than hunting on private land, or relying on machinery. But my opinion on this is probably just cope for not being able to spend money on all the nice stuff. I don’t want to be a hater because I’m just happy people are finding ways to get outside. And I do have to admit my current way of hunting is a real physical challenge – I’m sure I’ll get a boat or some land and join the petite bourgeois hunters, but for now, I’ll enjoy duck hunting on hard mode.

Seafood Spotlight: Dupuy’s Seafood & Steak Restaurant, Abbeville, LA

Dupuy’s has enjoyed over 146 years of success in its original location in Abbeville, Louisiana. World-famous for the oysters on the 1/2 shell and outstanding seafood, Dupuy’s is continuing the tradition and will continue to do so for many years to come.

Dupuy’s Seafood Gumbo

¾ cup oil
¾ cup flour
1 small bell pepper, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
4 cups water
Salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper to taste
1 pound headless shrimp, shelled and deveined
1 pound of claw crabmeat
¼ cup chopped parsley
½ cup chopped green onions
Cooked rice


  1. In a skillet, make a dark brown roux with oil and flour; add bell pepper, celery, and onion.
  2. Cook until onions are transparent.
  3. Gradually add water; continue to cook 1 hour.
  4. Adjust seasoning to taste.
  5. Add shrimp, crabmeat, parsley, and green onions: simmer 10 minutes.
  6. Serve over rice in bowl.
  7. Yields 6 to 8 servings.

Wetland Warrior: Dean Blanchard

Dean Blanchard has been working with the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program since 1997, where he now serves as the Deputy Director.

Q:  What is your job title and affiliation? 

A:   Deputy Director, Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program (BTNEP)

Q:  How did you get started in this field and how long have you been doing this type of work? 

A:   After graduating from LSU, I started with the Department of Environmental Quality-Criminal Investigation Section for 5 years. I then moved to BTNEP as the Habitat Enhancement Coordinator 24 years ago.

Q:  Describe the part of your job/role that you enjoy the most. 

A:   I enjoy working in the wetlands on coastal restoration projects that have multiple functions and impacts such as spending many hours planting with volunteers on the Port Fourchon Maritime Forest Ridge project.  This project has provided value habitat, storm protection, and educational opportunities for 20 years.

Q: Describe the part of your job/role that you believe is the most impactful.   

A:   I believe the most impactful part of my job is doing my part in securing the funding for BTNEP every year, by educating the Louisiana federal Congressional Delegation and working with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  This action helps to provide Louisiana with funding for one of the 28 National Estuary Programs in our country.

Q:  What do you think is the best/easiest way people can help restore or preserve wetlands? 

A:  I think people can help the most by educating themselves about the wetland’s functions and values, most importantly storm protection and provided valuable fisheries and habitat.

Q: In your opinion why is coastal restoration in Louisiana important? For folks out of state, why is Louisiana’s coastal restoration work important for the nation? 

A:   Coastal restoration is important to Louisiana for many reasons, but most importantly is storm protection.  Coastal restoration is important to the nation because the wetlands provide protection for the oil and gas infrastructure that in turn provides oil and gas to the nation.  Also important is the large percentage of seafood Louisiana wetlands provide to the nation.

Q: What is your favorite recreational activity to do in the wetlands?

A:   I am an avid hunter and fisherman and have enjoyed just being in the wetlands for most of my life.

Artist & Advocate: Brandon Ballengée

An artist and scientist, Brandon Ballengée, uses his unique background to highlight the biodiversity of Louisiana’s wetland ecosystems.

Q:  Please describe your work and the medium/media you use. Why do you make this type of art? 

A:  My work is inspired by biodiversity and ecosystems, as well as the loss of both. The medium, process, and materials are driven by the underlying idea of what I am trying to convey. The visual art itself is made from diverse mediums including large-scale light sculptures to spotlight arthropod diversity along with trans-species happenings, living plants and animals displaced in temporary enclosures to highlight local flora and fauna, large-scale high-resolution scanner photographs, monumental installations created from preserved marine life, depictions of species ‘cut’ from history because of extinction and framed to frame their absence, and many others.  

Q:  What is most striking or inspirational to you about the wetland landscape?   

A:  The diversity of life in wetlands, their variety and adaptations. Also, the relationships between species and their environments. What we can learn from these species and ecosystems.

Q:  In what ways has the Louisiana wetland landscape changed in your lifetime? 

A: Since my time on this planet, Louisiana has lost over 2000 square miles of wetlands, and at least 7 species of endemic Gulf of Mexico fishes (those found nowhere else in the world) have not been reported and are currently missing. The 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster remains the largest oil spill in modern history and the MC20/ Taylor spill has continued leaking crude into the Gulf since 2004.  More so, since I have been alive we have lost over 40% of the global population of amphibians and upwards of 70% of all wildlife. These environmental challenges are both local and global in scale and often very complex. To face this milieu of issues, we need the creativity of artists, scientists and those focused on other disciplines combined to creatively address such challenges we and other species currently face.

Q: Why is it important to you to create art about Louisiana wetlands? 

A:  To inspire others to appreciate and protect them! Louisiana is a special biologically rich part of our world! Louisiana wetlands and the Gulf of Mexico are our “Amazon rainforest” for us in North America. We should be proud of these natural resources and work hard to protect them for future generations!

Q:  In your opinion why is coastal restoration in Louisiana is important? For folks out of state, why is  Louisiana’s coastal restoration work important for the nation? 

A: We in South Louisiana are the Bellwether for climate change. If we adapt and survive there is hope for communities around the world. As bleak as many projections are, we should still have hope because restoration works, remediation works, conservation works. All of these scientific tools can and will help many of our coastal communities adapt. We need our collective will to bring these solutions to reality. Art is a powerful way to reach people and I believe it will be an important tool helping to lead us to adaptation.

Q: How does your art challenge existing barriers and assumptions about our environmental crisis? 

A: I strive to inspire discussion and actions toward conservation. Often people feel that environmental problems are too large and too widespread for individuals to make a difference. This is absolutely not the case. All of our individual actions every day have an influence on ecosystems and biodiversity: what we chose to eat; how we live; where we live; how we travel; if we own land, what to do with it; how we discuss these ideas with others; and on an on.  

We are part of a larger living community and can individually and collectively make large differences. In the words of Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”  

Following this concept, my family (my wife Aurore Ballengée and our two children Victor and Lily) and I have started the Atelier de la Nature project. Six years ago we began to transform heavily farmed land in south Louisiana (between Arnaudville and Cecilia) into a nature reserve and eco-campus. By sculpting the lands with specialized native species (helping to break-down pesticide residue and deter erosion), and are working to reestablish ‘Cajun’ prairie (ecosystems found here prior to modernity), planted over 1000 regional native trees (to regrow a forest), and created pollinator habitats from native hibiscus, swamp milkweed, and many more regional plants (to aid declining butterflies, like the Monarch which is in on the verge of endangered, native bees and others. 

The Atelier de la Nature project has already yielded results in the ecological sense with many dozens of species of birds and mammals returning, many species of amphibians and reptiles currently occupying the property, countless insects, all coming back to once barren land. In the human communal sense, hundreds of youth have helped with restoration of the lands or participated in our programs. As climate continues to change and species disappear, some of us, many of us will slow down and even halt this through creative solutions. Life will persist if we let it. Life will thrive if we give it a means. 

Q:  Where can people view your work (displayed in galleries or links to websites)? 

A: Now through January 8, The Acadiana Center for the Arts in Lafayette has a large scale exhibition of my works.  This large-scale exhibition, curated by Jaik Faulk, showcases 10 years of my work related to the environmental crisis in the Gulf of Mexico, from Collapse (2012) to, for the first time, my most recent series of Crude Oil Paintings (2020-21) and new works related to the ongoing MC20/Taylor oil spill, as well as a selection of works from the series The Frameworks of Absence (2006-Ongoing), my new series VII (2021), and the outdoor light sculpture Love Motel for Insect: Monarch Variation (2021).

We welcome visitors to the Atelier de la Nature year around. Please contact us for an appointment and list of current programs.

You can also join me for a “Fantastic Fishes Workshop and Tour of the Royal D. Suttkus Fish Collection,” an art-science program on fish species diversity, natural history and learn to draw fish! These workshops will take place at the Tulane University’s Royal D. Suttkus Fish Collection (the largest collection of preserved fishes on the planet!) in Belle Chasse and happen monthly between November 2021 through January 2023.

Artist & Advocate: Dominic & Nadia Gill, Encompass Films

Dominic Gill is a former environmental consultant who formed Encompass Films with his producing partner Nadia Gill in 2011 who created a 5-part digital mini-series that looks at what it is like to confront the reality of Louisiana’s coastal crisis today.

Q:  Please describe your work and the medium/media you use. Why do you make this type of art? 

A:  We are documentary filmmakers that make both short-form and feature-length documentary films. It is an exciting area to work in, with the appetite for documentary content being larger than ever before. Documenting real life, and particularly where the natural world and humanity meet, has always interested me, and with today’s camera technology, the way in which we can capture these stories can be every bit as compelling as narrative films. 

Q:  What is most striking or inspirational to you about the wetland landscape?   

A:    The wetland landscape is unique and inspiring to me particularly because it hides in plain sight. The incredible patchwork of water, marsh, sand bars, and swamp all teeming with life is hidden behind grass curtains to all except those that can fly above it and see the maize of diversity they contain. 

Q:  In what ways has the Louisiana wetland landscape changed in your lifetime? 

A:  While I am not native to Louisiana, I have even in our short months working in the region seen marked change, whether that be on a micro level, seeing the edges of marshes falling away into increasingly saline waters, or macro, as storm such as Ida have all but destroyed the towns of those we have become close with through the work we’ve done. 

Q: Why is it important to you to create art about Louisiana wetlands? 

A:  The Louisiana wetlands have no overlook, like Yosemite or the Tetons. They don’t benefit from having their natural beauty on show for all to see. This is why we must work to bring these sights, no less awe-inspiring than the granite domes of the Sierra or the iridescent waters of Lake Tahoe,  to the public. People love what they know, and protect what they love.

Q:  In your opinion why is coastal restoration in Louisiana is important? For folks out of state, why is  Louisiana’s coastal restoration work important for the nation? 

A:  Louisiana’s coast is rich with life. It is a crucial breeding and migratory habitat for marine life as well as birds. This alone is reason enough to protect this land and water. However, for those with a more industrial bent, The Mississippi Delta is one of the busiest shipping terminals in the world, and a major artery for US commerce, including the extractive but still necessary oil and gas industry. As the wetlands disappear, the threat that storms pose to the Mississippi’s levees grows dramatically, and there may come a point if we don’t act when breaches to these levees will cripple the country’s economy.

Q: How does your art challenge existing barriers and assumptions about our environmental crisis? 

A: We chose to tell the stories of a selection of people that live and breathe Louisiana’s wetlands, people that are at the forefront of this dynamic and changing ecosystem. Many of these people need the wetlands to survive, but they also need in some cases the economic engine of some of the extractive industries that are degrading the land and water around them. Solutions are rarely as simple in cases like this as those observing from afar may choose to believe.

Q:  Where can people view your work (displayed in galleries or links to websites)? 

Wetland Warrior: Richie Blink

Captain Richie Blink has spent a lifetime on the bayous of Louisiana studying its wetlands, people, and economy. As a captain, pilot, and councilman, Richie works with his community to restore their home of Plaquemines Parish through the development of grassroots coastal restoration projects.

Q:  What is your job title and affiliation? 

A:   I am the Director of Delta Discovery Tours, and I’m an ecotourism operator and outfitter 
in the Mississippi River Delta.

Q:  How did you get started in this field and how long have you been doing this type of work? 

A:   I’ve been doing this work since at least 2015 when I incorporated, but a lot longer before that. Any time friends would have folks coming into New Orleans, they would say “You’ve got to go on a boat with Richie Blink. He’s going to bring you out into the delta and really help you understand what’s going on down there,” so that’s really how it all started out.

Q:  Describe the part of your job/role that you enjoy the most. 

A:   I enjoy just being out on the water and being in nature. I enjoy seeing the daily changes that are happening to the delta.

Q: Describe the part of your job/role that you believe is the most impactful.   

A:   I love bringing people into areas of new wetland growth to show them the land-building power of the Mississippi River.

Q:  What do you think is the best/easiest way people can help restore or preserve wetlands? 

A:  There’s different ways that folks can plug in. It just depends on their abilities and preferences. Some people might find it useful to contact our elected officials and tell them that this is important to them and their neighbors. Other folks might be able to do some volunteer work, like with Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana (CRCL). They have a number of different ways you can join in, whether it’s the oyster shell recycling program building reefs and community sites or tree planting. There are some really great programs that the Barataria Terrebonne National Estuary Program (BTNEP) has going on, like their beach sweeps down at Elmer’s Island, which is a really beautiful and dynamic environment.  

Q: In your opinion why is coastal restoration in Louisiana important? For folks out of state, why is Louisiana’s coastal restoration work important for the nation? 

A:   The port complex from Baton Rouge to Gulf of Mexico, while there’s five political sub-divisions, is the largest port complex on the planet by tonnage. There’s a massive amount of cargo that’s moved out of there. This wetland buffer helps create a layer of protection between the destructive forces of hurricane storm surges and those facilities. Also, the culture here is really unique and really important, and it adds to the gumbo pot of flavors we have here in Louisiana.

Q: What is your favorite recreational activity to do in the wetlands?

A:   I really love camping in the wetlands – going out into these uninhabited barrier islands or these really impenetrable places in the swamps and finding a little spot with your favorite folks and pitching a tent. 

Agency Spotlight: January Murray, NOAA

January Murray is a fish biologist for NOAA’s Southeast Regional Office – Habitat Conservation Division and project manager on CWPPRA restoration and protection projects.

Q: Describe the part of your job/role that you enjoy the most.

A: The part of my job I enjoy the most is working as team with other agencies and establishing partnerships and friendships with other likeminded environmentally conscientious individuals. I take pride in knowing my influences as a CWPPRA project manager facilitate the restoration of marsh habitat in Louisiana. 

Q: Describe the part of your job/role that you believe is the most impactful.

A: The best part of my job is visiting a restoration site before, during, and after construction. With aerial photography, we can tell the story of the restoration project overtime. The most impactful message about a project can be provided to the public through a time series of photographs and videos highlighting the construction process where they can see open water transform into marsh habitat. These newly created and nourished marsh habitats benefit the general public in many ways: recreation in the forms of boating, fishing, and experiencing nature; bird watching; and restoration of wetlands aids in the reduction of storm induced scouring and saltwater intrusion.   

Q: What do you think is the best/easiest way community members can help restore or preserve wetlands?

A: Getting the community involved in coastal restoration is step one. Step two is educating our youth on the importance of coastal habitats so they understand from an early age the value of these unique habitats and the ecosystem functions and services they provide. Instilling a sense of stewardship and connecting our youth with nature is the best way community members can help restore and preserve wetlands. Additionally, generating curiosity about wetlands and establishing STEM Programs for our youth will help to create the next generation of fisheries and wildlife biologists, coastal engineers, and educators. The CWPPRA Program invests in coastal restoration, but these projects do more than create habitats. Through education and outreach to our community, the Program helps to create the next generation of scientists to protect and restore coastal Louisiana. 

Q: What is your favorite recreational activity to do in the wetlands?

A: My favorite activities to do in wetlands are CWPPRA fieldwork, driving the boat, and being out on the water experiencing the joys of nature in the marsh and bayous. Seeing fish and wildlife thriving in their natural habitat is my favorite recreational activity. Exploring and appreciating nature and has a very calming effect on me.  

Q: Is there anything else that you’d like to tell us about yourself or your work in coastal protection and restoration? 

A: I am the federal project manager for the Breton Landbridge Marsh Creation (West) River aux Chenes to Grand Lake (BS-0038) project located in Breton Basin, Plaquemines Parish. The specific goals of the project are: (1) to create and nourish 561 acres of intermediate marsh, (2) to maximum the amount of time the created marsh platform is intertidal throughout the 20-year design life of the project, and (3) to use three lake dike designs to provide enhanced containment along the southern perimeter of Grand Lake. The overall landbridge concept incorporates marsh and shoreline restoration in a west-to-east configuration across the basin to reduce storm induced scouring and saltwater intrusion, to reduce marsh loss due to wind induced erosion, and to raise the marsh elevation with dredged sediment to reduce the coalescence of water bodies. This project will be competing for Phase II construction funding in December 2021.  

Project Spotlight: NOAA Fisheries’s Delta Wide Crevasses (MR-09)

The Delta Wide Crevasses restoration project mimics the natural process of crevasse formation that was responsible for building much of the Mississippi River Delta.

Q: What is the name of the project, and where is it located? 

A: The Delta Wide Crevasse (MR-09) project is located in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, within the Pass a Loutre Wildlife Management Area (Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries) and the Delta National Wildlife Refuge (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service).

Q: What was the timeline for this project (start date – completion date)? 

A: The first dredging cycle of construction was completed in 1999. There were three construction phases from 1999-2014 where 28 crevasses were constructed or had received maintenance dredging​. The project is currently in construction phase IV where seven crevasses will be constructed: four crevasses on the Delta National Wildlife Refuge​ and three crevasses on the Pass-a-Loutre Wildlife Management Area.

Q: How many acres of wetland does this project benefit/create? 

A: The Phase IV construction is estimated to create 120 acres. By project year 15, benefits analysis estimated 935 acres of land gained from the Phase I to III crevasses.

Q: What is most important/impactful about this project? 

A: Crevasses are breaks in the levees that allow the river to deposit sediments into adjacent shallow bays. The wetlands formed from the deposition of these sediments are called crevasse splays. This restoration project mimics the natural process of crevasse formation that was responsible for building much of the Mississippi River Delta. Crevasse splays create a variety of habitats for all fishery, waterfowl, and other wildlife species.  Habitats created range from intertidal marsh to high elevation forested islands. 

Q: Is there anything unique about this project you would like to bring attention to? 

A: The Delta Wide Crevasse (MR-09) project is very cost effective. The cost effectiveness is $3,637/acre. Recent CWPPRA projects (2009-2019) approved for funding averaged in cost effectiveness at $95,774 per acre.

Environmental Educator: Valerie Nehrbass-Vidrine

Valerie Nehrbass-Vidrine uses hands-on lessons and activities in her classroom to facilitate deeper connections between her students and our environment.

Q:  What subject(s) & grade(s) do you teach? 

A:  I teach 5th, 6th, and 7th-grade science at Berchmans Academy in Grand Coteau. 

Q:  Why is it important to you to teach about Louisiana wetlands, and how does it align with your teaching philosophy?   

A:  Our wetlands are our first defense against hurricanes and while humans can’t control hurricanes, we can control how we protect and restore our wetlands. My teaching philosophy essentially boils down to educating students to a social awareness that impels them to action. The Sacred Heart Schools Goals and Criteria state under goal 3, criterion 4  “all members of the school community accept accountability for the care of God’s creation, practice effective stewardship of the earth’s resources and work to alleviate the climate crisis.” It’s not enough to teach students concepts; it’s imperative that they be able to apply learning to new situations and understand when it’s their responsibility to step in and do what they can. 

Q:  In what ways do you encourage your students to be proactive/involved in environmental stewardship? 

A:  Personal and hands-on application is key! My students grow and plant native trees in conjunction with the LSU Coastal Roots program to help restore black bear habitat on Avery Island. Our school garden and bee hives provide students with the opportunity to nurture and observe the natural world in our own backyard. The LDWF’s Native Fish in the Classroom program provides us with the opportunity to raise native paddlefish in the classroom and release them back into the wild in an effort to restore their population. Our prep science curriculum is geared towards environmental stewardship specifically; it’s a natural union. 

Q: Describe your favorite lesson/activity that you use in your classroom to teach about Louisiana  wetlands.   

A:  I love letting students explore the resources on watchthedeltagrow.com. The Mississippi River Paths video makes a concept that can be abstract (for kids) tangible and comprehensible. When we talk about coastal restoration and how we can protect the wetlands and coastline that we do have, students also build physical coastlines and model different defense systems. It all boils down to making it relevant for students and letting them explore for themselves. 

“It’s all connected – everything that you love and enjoy about being a Louisianan can be connected back to our wetlands.”

Valerie Nehrbass-Vidrine

Q:  What would you say to a student who is hesitant or not interested in participating in a lesson about  Louisiana wetlands? 

A: It’s all connected – everything that you love and enjoy about being a Louisianan can be connected back to our wetlands. 

I think ultimately a student hesitant and unwilling to participate in a lesson about Louisiana wetlands is just unaware of the effect that wetlands have on their existence as a Louisiana resident. Finding out what is important to them and connecting it to our wetlands is a great way to get student buy-in.


Wetland Warrior: Dr. Eva Hillmann

Dr. Eva Hillmann of the Pontchartrain Conservancy has been planting trees to help restore coastal swamp forests in Louisiana for over ten years. 

Q:  What is your job title and affiliation? 

A: Coastal Scientist with the Pontchartrain Conservancy and Instructor at Southeastern Louisiana University (Biology, Ecology, Coastal Plant Production)   

Q:  How did you get started in this field and how long have you been doing this type of work? 

A: I had a general interest in wetlands for years, but no idea of how to actually break into and do this type of work. I went back to school in my late 30s and got a Masters at SELU under Dr. Gary Shaffer – who immerses his students in wetlands work. After I graduated I was fortunate to get picked up by the Pontchartrain Conservancy . My work at the PC allows me flexibility, so while maintaining my job I also started a PhD program at Louisiana State University, in the School of Renewable Natural Resources and the Agricultural Center under Dr. Megan La Peyre, focused on submerged aquatic vegetation along the northern Gulf of Mexico. After I graduated, I stayed with the Conservancy and also became an Instructor at SELU. I’ve been doing this work for about 15 years.   

Q:  Describe the part of your job/role that you enjoy the most. 

A:  I love telling a story with data – I enjoy designing a plan, getting in the field and collecting data, analyzing it and figuring out what it really means – what are the main take-aways that I want people to remember. 

Q: Describe the part of your job/role that you believe is the most impactful.   

A:   Two things: 1) every planted tree at every tree planting event is a piece of the puzzle that helps restore, conserve and maintain these critical freshwater swamp habitats in coastal southeast Louisiana that provide habitat for priority fish and bird species, protect communities from storm surge and flooding and sequester and store carbon to blunt the impacts from climate change, and 2) taking students into the marsh and exposing them to these habitats, species and techniques ecologists use. It gives them an appreciation for their environment in an applied, visceral sense and hopefully they will take that with them into their future careers.

Q:  What do you think is the best/easiest way people can help restore or preserve wetlands? 

A:  Donate your money and time (if you are able) to environmental organizations you believe in, quit littering because it all ends up in our waterways and wetlands and vote for political candidates that believe in science and make these issues a priority. 

Q: In your opinion why is coastal restoration in Louisiana important? For folks out of state, why is Louisiana’s coastal restoration work important for the nation? 

A: Coastal restoration in Louisiana is important because these habitats – this gradient of habitats from freshwater swamp and marsh, to tidal marshes, then mangroves and barrier islands – form a connected system that provides ecological services (habitat, storm protection, better water quality, carbon storage, flood control) that are at times hard see or grasp or monetize, until these habitats are gone; then their benefits become more clear. For instance, healthy tidal marshes in southern Louisiana  support Louisiana’s robust seafood industry by providing spawning grounds, food and refuge for shrimp, crab and fish. Without these habitats our fishing industry would suffer, but the impacts would be felt outside of Louisiana too.

Q: What is your favorite recreational activity to do in the wetlands?  

A:   I’ve been planting trees in the wetlands of southeast Louisiana with the Pontchartrain Conservancy for almost 10 years now, my favorite thing to do it to take boat rides and revisit some of earlier planting sites and just take in how much the trees have grown and imagine what the area will look like in another 10, 20 or 50 years. Although Hurricane Ida wreaked so much damage in this area, a recent visit to our sites confirmed the planted trees withstood the storm beautifully. Imagining them full grown, providing a modicum of protection to the surrounding communities is satisfying.  

I’m also finally learning to fish.