2nd Annual Cook-Off for the Coast

Thanks to the Meraux Foundation, the second annual Cook-Off for the Coast played out beautifully on Saturday, February 9th, 2019. CWPPRA was one of many outreach and educational groups hosted at Docville Farm in Violet, LA for an afternoon of good food, good music, and great enthusiasm for coastal restoration. All profits raised by the event went to Chalmette High School and Nunez Community College coastal restoration organizations which will use the funds to continue propagating and planting black mangroves in St. Bernard Parish and installing artificial oyster reef breakwaters just north of Comfort Island east of the current delta. We were set up next to our partner CPRA and under the same tent as Louisiana Master Naturalists of Greater New Orleans, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and the LSU AgCenter. Across the lot from us were Restore the Mississippi River Delta, CRCL, and various other restoration-minded groups.

Chuck.jpg

The theme for this year’s cook-off was wild game so all the food that was prepared had some kind of wild game in it, including tuna, oysters, hog, etc. Each of the cooking groups brought something unique to the table, including duck tacos, crawfish eggrolls, and deer/hog gumbo. As the public got tastes of the coast, they could wander through the exhibition of restoration/protection groups. At our table we had our #ProtectOurCoast poster series and stickers, some relevant issues of WaterMarks, and activity books for our younger visitors. Visitors could also compete in Wetland Jeopardy. After learning about coastal issues and restoration efforts, visitors could enjoy more food or go into the dance hall where Michot’s Melody Makers were playing their traditional Cajun music.

As the day came to a close, everyone gathered in the dance hall to award the best dishes as decided by the public. Awards were given for the best overall dish as well as best dish in 3 categories: Crawl, Fly, and Swim. With so many good contenders, the decision must have been difficult for the voting visitors. We would like to congratulate all the participants for getting involved with such a meaningful cause and preparing such delicious food. We’d like to thank the visitors and other exhibitors, as well as the Meraux Foundation, for the opportunity to share our love of wetlands and food- we cannot restore our coast without them.

 

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Competitive Dominance

Ecosystems around the world are in a constant state of competition as inhabitants impact each other, whether directly or indirectly. The theory of competition deals with interactions between populations within a defined range or habitat. [1] Individuals with more beneficial adaptations are more “fit” and will often out-compete others for resources like food, territory, or sunlight. Today, we will look at how one species can become dominant over its competitors in wetlands and what conditions might disrupt or completely tear down dominant species.

Some of our readers may immediately think of monoculture farming as a sort of dominance, and they would be correct. Although it is through artificial selection, crop species present some trait that Homo sapiens deems worthy of cultivating. For example, huge swaths of land in the United States have been clear-cut to make room for corn farms, cattle ranches, or even sugar cane farms. Maybe not to the same degree as artificial selection, natural selection can also produce habitats with dominant plants and animals. Coastal Louisiana’s wetlands are great examples of this. From Cypress swamps to Spartina marshes, wetlands are home to some hardy species who have adapted to harsh and variable conditions.

Wetlands go through cycles of drought and flood conditions, which can prove fatal for many species. [2] Wetland plants have adapted to survive the cycles and even exploit them. Cypress trees are a useful example because they don’t necessarily need flooded conditions to grow, they just need space and a little bit of protection when they are young. [3] Instead of becoming competitive on dry land with the thousands of other obligate dry land trees, cypress ancestors developed the ability to survive in water where few other plants competed. More information about their adaptations can be found in our second post about flood stress tolerance. In the salt marshes along our coast, smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) and other graminoids (grass-like species) dominate with their salt tolerance and fast reproduction. More about how cordgrass and black mangroves dominate other coastal species can be found in our first post about salt stress tolerance.

Within a species’ endemic (native) habitat, populations are limited by food availability, competition, and predation. However, species can move to non-native habitats that have plenty of food, less fit competitors, or little to no predation, in which case that species can become problematic. Invasive species are detrimental by definition and coastal Louisiana has several examples, which can be found in our invasive species article. Unfortunately, many invasive species move to new habitats with the help of humans, sometimes by accident and sometimes on purpose.

If you want to learn more about how human impact and other factors can change dominance structures, be on the lookout for Dominance pt. 2 next Wednesday!

[1] https://www.nature.com/scitable/knowledge/library/species-interactions-and-competition-102131429

[2] https://www.worldwildlife.org/habitats/wetlands

[3] https://www.arborday.org/trees/treeguide/treedetail.cfm?itemID=787

Featured Image from https://www.flickr.com/photos/9428166@N03/2686432231

 

South Lake De Cade Freshwater Introduction (TE-39)

wordpress fact sheet banner TE-39-01

The project area is experiencing marsh deterioration due to subsidence, rapid tidal exchange, and human-induced hydrologic changes that result in increased salinities. Saltwater intrusion has caused a shift in marsh type and a conversion of over 30 percent of emergent vegetation to open water habitat. Shoreline erosion along the south embankment of Lake De Cade threatens to breach the hydrologic barrier between the lake and interior marshes.

Proposed project components include installing three control structures along the south rim of the lake and enlarging Lapeyrouse Canal to allow the controlled diversion of Atchafalaya River water, nutrients, and sediments south into project area marshes. Outfall management structures are planned in the marsh interior to provide better distribution of river water. In addition, approximately 1.6 miles of foreshore rock dike is planned to protect the critical areas of the south lake shoreline from breaching.

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The project is located in Terrebonne Parish, approximately 15 miles southwest of Houma, Louisiana.

After initial engineering investigation, the project was divided into two construction units. Construction unit one consisted of the shoreline protection only and was completed in July 2011. Construction unit two consisting of the freshwater introduction component was further investigated and due to uncertainty of benefits was not constructed, and therefore, the project is considered completed.

This project is on Priority Project List 9.

The Federal Sponsor is NRCS

The Local Sponsor is CPRA

Environmental Education

This week is a big one for us in habitat conservation and restoration.  This past Saturday, we celebrated World Wetlands Day and took some time to appreciate the variety and importance of wetlands around us. In case you didn’t see it, we posted on Monday about our Friday spent with students in Houma, LA. This week is also the official start of National Green Week, a set of programs developed by the Green Education Foundation (GEF) in the United States!

Across the country, schools will be offering GEF programs between now and the end of April to foster greater environmental consciousness. Programs that are offered can be found on their website, listed in our “sources” section. Programs consist of 5 days of lessons and associated activities, and they explore multiple topics within themes such as green energy, waste reduction, and sustainable water. Our hope is that schools in our state implement similar lessons. Thanks to programs like National Green Week, we have more citizens who are conscious of human impacts on ecosystems than ever before. In Louisiana, programs like CWPPRA, BTNEP, and CRCL focus on telling the story of coastal land loss and all the potential consequences of letting it happen. Environmental awareness of topics like clean water, energy efficiency, and waste reduction has major benefits to the health of our coastal zone. For more information, feel free to check out our posts about measuring water quality and soil pollution.

The mission of environmental educational programs is to start conversations and lay a solid foundation of knowledge that students can build on. Being introduced to pressing environmental issues at early ages nurtures better stewardship and more productive attitudes when it comes to the challenges of coastal erosion, deforestation, pollution, and other issues. In Louisiana, legislators are already beginning to realize the severity of our disappearing coast and are making changes accordingly. For this, we are extremely fortunate. We are proud to work alongside CPRA and our other partners towards our mutual goal of a resilient Louisiana coastline, and we look forward to the younger generations adopting this mission.

 

Sources:

https://www.worldwetlandsday.org/

http://www.greeneducationfoundation.org/greenweek.html

Featured Image from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cypress_Lake_(Lafayette,_Louisiana)

World Wetlands Day Outreach Event

Getting out and working with students is one of our favorite things to do in the public outreach office, so we are so glad we were hosted by the South Louisiana Wetlands Discovery Center this past Friday, February 1, for World Wetlands Day. Located in downtown Houma, Louisiana, the SLWDC has a beautifully curated wetlands museum exhibit as well as warm and friendly staff. The event was mostly open to Houma area schoolchildren ranging from 3rd to 7th grade with a short period at the end during which the public could participate. Students cycled through and engaged with 7 tables that each had a different focus.

Going around the room, Restore or Retreat taught about coastal erosion with a small model of a barrier island’s sandy beach, then the USDA Agricultural Research Service had students match seeds to pictures of their parent plants. The next table was our host, the South Louisiana Wetlands Discovery Center, with a presentation about invasive species. They brought their resident nutria, Beignet, as an example. Next, the LSU Veterinary Teaching Wildlife Hospital brought two hawks and a screech owl, all of whom are residents at their school due to injuries. T Baker Smith demonstrated some restoration techniques like shoreline protection, vegetative planting, and marsh creation. After those techniques, Louisiana’s Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) presented how it is important to treat wastewater and how wetlands act as filters, and BTNEP shared a few examples of animals with shells. We brought a game that uses bean bag animals to teach about how some species are confined to a specific habitat, but some animals can use more than one habitat.

The celebration started in response to the Feb 2, 1971 signing of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance Especially as Waterfowl Habitat, which is an international treaty to recognize wetlands as vitally important ecosystems. [1] On this day, organizations worldwide share a mutual goal to raise awareness and spread appreciation for wetlands near them. We appreciate the opportunity to get out and interact with students and we are proud to have worked with so many other enthusiastic and educational groups. Many thanks to our hosts, visitors, and colleagues- we appreciate all of the work you do to #ProtectOurCoast.

 

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LSU Veterinary School Students taught about wildlife rehabilitation with amputee birds of prey.
Beignet
Beignet, the resident nutria, cannot cause massive marsh damage from his little cage, but he can tear up some carrots.

 

[1] https://www.ramsar.org/about-the-ramsar-convention

Regional Planning Teams

This week, CWPPRA was scheduled to hear proposals for potential projects that will compete for funding in the upcoming fiscal year. FY19 is bound to have some fierce competitors, including some projects that may not have been awarded funding in previous years. In our Dec 12, 2018 post, we outlined a bit of the project selection process and we hope to see new and innovative ideas soon. At this time, the Regional Planning Team (RPT) meetings have been postponed following the government shutdown.

To reiterate the RPT process from the December 12th post, new projects are proposed annually across the coast. If any of our readers wish to propose a project this year, watch our newsflash for rescheduled meeting times in your region. Project proposals guidelines can be found on our Newsflash announcement. After each RPT meeting, the projects from each of CWPPRA’s 4 regions are compiled by RPT members and submitted to the next phase of competition. Each Parish and CWPPRA personnel submit a ranking of important projects, which helps the Technical Committee narrow down the list to 10 of the most promising projects. These 10 projects are further evaluated by CWPPRA working groups to look at environmental impact, engineering concepts, and other important aspects of each proposal, then the Technical Committee selects 4 to recommend to the Task Force for Phase I Engineering & Design.

In December 2018, the CWPPRA Technical Committee narrowed 10 potential Phase I projects down to 4 and the list for Phase II approval to 2 projects. The Task Force was scheduled to meet January 24th, 2019 to approve the recommended projects but, since the federal government was still partially closed, some of the critical task force representatives were unable to meet that day and so that meeting will be replaced with an electronic vote.

This latest government shutdown may have thrown a wrench into the CWPPRA process, our commitment to the coast is as strong as ever. We will continue to hear proposals, select projects, and work with our partners to construct projects that support the state of our coastline and all who live there. Watch for our Newsflash if you want to participate in our Project selection process; we look forward to helping you #ProtectOurCoast!

 

Featured image from https://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2016/05/03/science/isle-de-jean-charles-resettlement-plan.html

Plankton

We talk a lot about the health of marine life in terms of fish, oysters, crabs, and other large organisms that we can observe with the naked eye, but we often look past the microorganisms that, in some cases, can be better indicators of water quality, productivity, and overall ecosystem health. [1] The microorganisms in question often fall under the umbrella term of “plankton”. Directly translated from Greek, the root word “planktos” means wandering and describes how these organisms move through ecosystems. There are many varieties of plankton, including producers (phytoplankton) and predators (zooplankton).

One key characteristic that all plankton share is that they do not move very far on their own; they rely on currents and other movement in the water column for most of their migration. While some planktonic organisms can move with a flagellum (tail made of proteins), most of the movement for all plankton comes from external forces. [2] Currents and mixing often occur in the pelagic (uppermost open water) layer because of wind, temperature variation, and a variety of other factors. Phytoplankton thrive in the shallower layers of the pelagic zone where abundant sunlight and gas exchange are available. Higher concentrations of carbon dioxide at the surface allow phytoplankton to photosynthesize, removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and giving off the oxygen we breathe. Phytoplankton produce about half of the oxygen in our atmosphere by some estimates, which makes them just as important as our rainforests and other terrestrial ecosystems. [3]

Plankton do not all fit into one taxonomic group; there are plankton from each kingdom. [4] Our coastal waters contain species from each, including microcrustaceans like copepods, bacteria like blue-green algae (cyanobacteria), and juvenile life stages of larger animals like oysters and fish. Jellyfish in their most recognizable form, the medusa, are technically plankton, too: they have no locomotion so they just drift. As easy, plentiful prey, plankton often form the base of marine food webs. Unfortunately, having too many phytoplankton is a very real, very dangerous issue in coastal Louisiana where excess nutrients coming down our waterways provide lots of food for phytoplankton. An overgrowth of phytoplankton can cause an algal bloom [5] and associated hypoxic or dead zone. See our post ‘Stress pt. II: Flooding and Hypoxia’ for more information on how too many producers can decrease the amount of oxygen.

CWPPRA projects help to decrease the area of the Gulf of Mexico dead zone by restoring wetlands. The more wetlands we have in our Mississippi river watershed, the more filtration of excess nutrients we have. Filtration is a major benefit of wetlands and can prevent phytoplankton from accessing these excess nutrients. Hopefully one day nutrient filtration and other pollution reducing practices will allow the gulf to return to its former glory.

 

[1] https://academic.oup.com/plankt/article/36/3/621/1503238

[2] http://www.biologyreference.com/Ph-Po/Plankton.html

[3] https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/06/source-of-half-earth-s-oxygen-gets-little-credit/

[4] http://www.seafriends.org.nz/enviro/plankton/class.htm

[5] https://www.epa.gov/nutrientpollution/effects-dead-zones-and-harmful-algal-blooms

Featured image from http://blueplanetsociety.org/2016/04/studying-phytoplankton-with-citizen/