Sugar Cane

The natural flooding of the Mississippi River has produced fertile wetland soils which farmers in Louisiana use to grow sugar cane. Sugar cane was introduced in the plantation region around New Orleans in the 1750s and succeeded due to the slave labor required to cultivate the crop. [1] Commercial farming hit its stride with the introduction of new technology for granulating sugar in 1795  at Étienne de Boré’s plantation. Ever since , Louisiana’s sugar cane industry has flourished and remained, to this day, one of Louisiana’s main agricultural products.

At least 25,000 Louisiana residents across 23 parishes grow, harvest, or process sugar cane from around 400,000 acres of farmland that are set in our fertile wetlands. Multiple effect evaporators, invented in 1834 by a Creole chemical engineer named Norbert Rillieux, a free man of color, are still used today. [2] New innovations in crop protection, hardiness of varieties, and processing techniques continue to rake in $645 million from exports alone, constituting 16 percent of total national sugar production. [3] Interspersed between sugar cane fields, one can find dual rice-crawfish fields as well as soybeans, cotton, and corn. Sweet potatoes and juicy Louisiana strawberries are among the state’s staple crops as well.

Even with new technologies and innovations, fertile soils are still one of the largest contributing factors to the success of agriculture in our wetland state. Land loss threatens to ruin the livelihood of Louisiana farmers. Salt water intrusion continues to penetrate our interior agricultural land as our coastal marshes vanish. More about salt water intrusion can be found in our post about the topic. [LINK] Restoring natural hydrology and preventing saltwater intrusion from harming our fertile wetland soils is imperative for Louisiana farmers. Protecting our coast has long-reaching benefits to our vital agricultural industry, our citizens, and our state, and CWPPRA is working alongside other groups to restore our natural coastline for a sustainable future.

[1] http://www.assct.org/louisiana/progress.pdf

[2] https://www.lsuagcenter.com/profiles/lbenedict/articles/page1503347392487

[3] https://www.lsuagcenter.com/portals/communications/publications/agmag/archive/2008/spring/sugar-processing-in-louisiana

Featured Image from https://www.trover.com/d/1zHAz-new-iberia-louisiana

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Pecan Island Terracing (ME-14)

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In the mid-1950s continuous dikes were constructed and water was pumped off the marsh, transforming it into dry pastureland. As a result of oxidation, the soil elevation has subsided 1 to 2 feet. Deterioration and loss of the perimeter levees in recent years has converted the entire area into a shallow, open water lake with a few small marsh islands resulting in a net loss of fisheries habitat.

The restoration project will reduce marsh erosion by creating emergent terraces designed to minimize wave fetch across open water and, at the same time, creating linear marsh features. Future marsh loss will be prevented and brackish marsh will be restored. Construction of the earthen terraces in shallow water areas will also convert areas of open water back to vegetated marsh creating more habitat for fish and shellfish. The project calls for constructing adjacent terrace cells in a staggered gap formation, each bordered by terraces made from dredged material. Terraces will be built and planted with smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora), and California bulrush (Scirpus californicus). Plantings may also occur on the north side of the terracing area.map.jpg

 

This project is located in southeastern Vermilion Parish, Louisiana, approximately 5 miles north of the Gulf of Mexico just south of Pecan Island and Louisiana Highway 82.

The project construction was completed in August 2003, initially creating over 122 acres of emergent marsh. The monitoring plan was finalized in November 2001 and data collection has been ongoing since that time.

This project is on Priority Project List 7.

The Federal Sponsor is NOAA

The Local Sponsor is CPRA

Biological Diversity

Today, CWPPRA celebrates the International Day of Biological Diversity and the variety of species Louisiana’s coastal wetlands! Louisiana’s wetlands boast a wide array of ecosystems, including upland hardwood forests, forested wetlands known as swamps, salt and freshwater marshes, and barrier islands, that allow for species to thrive and diversify into specialized niches.  Throughout the United States, we all benefit from Louisiana’s wetland biodiversity, especially the abundance of fresh fish and seafood species.

The fact that we have so many desirable species in our coastal waters is a huge benefit to the state’s economy, and the seafood industry provides many Louisiana residents with job opportunities. Louisiana fisheries contribute about $2.4 billion to our economy each year. About $1.3 billion of that sum is directly from the shrimp catch. Recreational fishing is a popular pastime in this area as well, which is supported by wetland habitats. Our rich diversity allows for people to choose from a variety of prey. Many fishermen diversify their catches so that if one species limit is reached or season is passed, they can collect other species. Limits are put in place to keep populations stable, which maintains ecological interactions and the vibrant ecosystems we are so proud of. For more information about limits and fishing licenses, visit the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

From the flavor of the meat, to the number of bones, each species has different value to fishermen and consumers. Differences in physiology and morphology between fish in our coastal waters are as abundant due to our biodiversity. We have bony fish and cartilaginous fish, plant- and meat-eaters, fresh and saltwater species, fish with or without spines, and the list goes on and on. These different types of fish coexist because our coast is so productive. Normally, ecosystems evolve predictably as populations move and change size and they are resilient to an extent. However, large-scale disturbances that interrupt the natural interactions and processes—like the sudden proliferation of an invasive species, man-made disasters like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and large weather events—can cause major problems for our native species.

Diversity is an important factor in a healthy ecosystem and Louisiana is fortunate to have our abundant and protective coastal zone, but we are losing these important habitats to land loss. Land loss affects the diversity of our species and the industries that rely on these species. CWPPRA is dedicated to make sure our projects have a positive impact on our native species of plants and animals before construction begins. CWPPRA strives to protect the natural splendor that makes Louisiana the “Sportsman’s Paradise” for generations to come.

 

Featured Image from https://beckyeldredge.com/shrimp-boats

Endangered Species

Vanishing wetlands pose a threat to species who reside in these unique habitats for all or part of their life cycle. Population decline can be caused by a variety of threats, including invasive species competition, habitat loss, and overharvesting or over-predation. There are species who rely heavily on constant or predictable conditions in specific parts of the year such as seasonal rainfall, temperature cycles, and sometimes other species who migrate for part of the year. Populations subjected to too much stress for an extended period often experience population decline as well. In some cases, those species become threatened, endangered, or even extinct.

CWPPRA and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will celebrate and observe Endangered Species Day on May 17th, 2019, to celebrate and highlight the species and habitat protection efforts throughout the coast. Louisiana is home to 11 endangered species, including three species of bivalve mollusks, three species of sea turtle, two species of birds, two plants, and one fish. Of these, every single one is reliant on wetlands. All three bivalves (fat pocketbook, pink mucket, and tan riffleshell) are freshwater filter feeders who live in flowing water. They clean pollutants from the water before it reaches our coastline, improving water quality for our coastal residents. Sea turtles are among the most popular sea creatures and they rely on our coast for their nesting grounds. Leatherback (largest, deepest-diving, and most migratory), hawksbill (thickest scutes/shells), and Kemp’s ridley (smallest and rarest) feed on different creatures, but they seem to all agree on jellyfish. The two bird species on the list are the interior least tern and the red-cockaded woodpecker. Terns are fishing birds that enjoy the banks of the Mississippi River, whereas the woodpeckers utilize the upland hardwood forest ecosystems of northern Louisiana. The two plants are American chaffseed and Louisiana quillwort. Chaffseed is a semiparasite that relies on fire to proliferate in longleaf pine forests. Louisiana quillwort is a semiaquatic graminoid (grass-like plant that spends some time underwater). The lone fish species, the Pallid Sturgeon, is a ray-finned, bottom-feeding, freshwater fish that can live up to a century. They like the turbid waters of the Mississippi River and its distributaries.

Clearly, these 11 native species have adapted to Louisiana’s dynamic landscape and they each fill a different niche within their respective habitats, so a one-size-fits-all solution does not exist for their preservation. CWPPRA funds projects that help maintain or restore vital habitat for these species and the other species they rely on for food. If a species goes locally extinct, it can have a ripple effect that throws off pre-established balances throughout the ecosystem. Coastal protection has an extensive impact, protecting areas further upstream as well, so CWPPRA indirectly eases pressure on the inland species. Endangered species are one of many reasons our coast deserves to be restored and protected.

For more information about these species and other threatened and endangered species, visit the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s website: https://www.fws.gov/endangered/.

The featured image is from https://www.nature.org/en-us/explore/animals-we-protect/leatherback-sea-turtle/

Native Tribes of the Coast

Numerous Native American tribes call coastal Louisiana home. Our productive wetlands provide food, shelter, and numerous resources for tribes to successfully live in such dynamic environments. The connection these cultures have to our wetlands are threatened by coastal land loss and climate change. As seas rise and our land washes away into the Gulf of Mexico, some of these groups will have to decide to relocate. The Isle de Jean-Charles band of the Chitimacha-Biloxi-Choctaw tribe is among the first groups currently in the process of resettling away from their tribal lands. With the land loss we are experiencing along our coast, they won’t be the last.

There are four federally recognized Native American tribes in Louisiana: the Chitimacha Tribe of Louisiana, the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana, the Jena Band of Choctaw Indians, and the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana. Louisiana is also known for the Atakapa, Caddo, Houma, Natchez, and Tunica tribes. [1] Many parts of Louisiana are named for the tribes that lived there or named after words in native languages, including the city of Houma, Bayou Teche, Caddo Parish, and the Atchafalaya Basin.

Food, shelter, and navigation are some of the greatest benefits to these groups living in the wetlands. Wetland soils are great for agriculture, which is crucial to grain and corn production. Hunting and fishing were and still integral to the livelihoods in many native tribes across the coast, accomplished by nets, traps, and other tools made from bone, stone, or gar scales. [2] Bayous and lakes allowed people to travel steadily and safely before the introduction of roads, which encouraged extensive trade throughout the various webs of waterways sprawling across our landscape. With such widespread fertile land, there were plenty of natural resources to sustain communities coastwide.

Just as people rely on wetlands for survival, wetlands are beginning to rely on us for survival. CWPPRA and other restoration efforts value the importance of preserving historic sites located across our coast. More protection to historic sites, current civilizations, wildlife habitat, industrial property, and our communities are all reasons to improve our coastal wetlands. Healthier and stronger wetlands mean increased protection during large-scale disturbances like hurricanes. CWPPRA has been working since 1990 to do just that because we know how valuable our wetlands are for so many groups of people, plants, and animals alike.

[1] http://www.native-languages.org/louisiana.htm

[2] http://www.chitimacha.gov/history-culture/tribal-history

Featured Image by Josh Haner with the New York Times, found at https://www.wired.com/story/how-to-save-a-town-from-rising-waters/

 

Lake Hermitage Marsh Creation (BA-42)

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The project is within the West Pointe a la Hache Mapping Unit which lost 38 percent of its marsh from 1932 to 1990. By the year 2050, 28 percent of the 1990 marsh acreage is expected to be lost. That loss is expected to occur even with operation of the West Pointe a la Hache Siphon (State project BA-04). Significant marsh loss has occurred south and east of Lake Hermitage and along the eastern lake shoreline. Deterioration of the lake rim has exposed interior marshes to the wave energy of Lake Hermitage and increased tidal exchange. Based on USGS land-water data from 1985 and 2006, the project area has an annual loss rate of -1.64%.

The original project features included dredging in the Mississippi River and pumping sediments via pipeline to create 549 acres of marsh. Additionally, 6,300 feet of shoreline restoration using river material and 7,300 linear feet of terraces were included. Fortunately, a favorable bid on the construction contract allowed for project expansion and the marsh creation feature was increased to encompass a total of 795 acres.

Funding from the Louisiana Oil Spill Coordinator’s Office, the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources – Office of Coastal Management, and Deepwater Horizon Early Restoration allowed construction of an additional 215 acres of marsh. Terraces were removed from the CWPPRA project to provide an area for marsh creation with Deepwater Horizon Early Restoration funding.

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The project area is located in the Barataria Basin, south and east of Lake Hermitage in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana near the community of West Pointe a la Hache.

The Louisiana Coastal Wetlands Conservation and Restoration Task Force approved funding for engineering and design in February 2006 and approved construction funding in January 2009. Construction began in February 2012 and was completed in June 2015.

This project is on Priority Project List 15.

The Federal Sponsor is USFWS

The Local Sponsor CPRA

Oysters

Oysters aren’t just delicious to eat, they are also a versatile tool to restore and protect the Louisiana coastline! Oyster reefs protect shorelines from wave energy, filter water, and improve habitat quality. Unfortunately, much of our country’s oyster production is unsustainable because of a combination of activities including over-harvesting, pollution, and habitat destruction through dredging and collection practices. As we restore oyster reefs, they will have positive environmental, economic, and cultural impacts.

In other areas of the United States, these harmful extraction methods have all but ruined the oyster industry. According to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, their estuary has lost more than 98 percent of its oysters with major economic consequences. [1] In Louisiana, we have not experienced nearly as much damage, so we can more readily restore our reefs. Some benefits we could gain from healthier reefs, according to our partners at BTNEP, include wave energy absorption, reduction of the Gulf Dead Zone, and improved habitat for nearly 300 species of fish, crustaceans, and mollusks. By supporting oyster reefs, you support fisheries as well as resiliency. A single adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day, removing excess nutrients and lessening the coast’s eutrophication (nutrient pollution that leads to algal blooms) and dead zones (areas of low dissolved oxygen). [2]

Aside from the numerous important ecological benefits, the price tag for oyster reef restoration is cheaper other protection techniques. According to an article in Scientific American, the adaptation strategy of raising houses onto stilts costs more than the damages it will prevent. [3] Some of the most cost-effective protection methods cited in the article included wetland restoration (nearly a 10:1 protection to cost ratio), oyster reef restoration (just over 7:1) and barrier island restoration (about 5:1). Many of these restoration and protection strategies have been utilized by CWPPRA since the 1990s.

CWPPRA projects are synergistic approaches to protecting and restoring our coast, using the best available science to implement projects in areas of most need, as well as emphasizing cooperation between projects and their managing agencies.  Sustainable innovations in oyster reef restoration is just one way in which CWPPRA achieves its goal of wetland restoration.

[1] https://www.cbf.org/about-the-bay/more-than-just-the-bay/chesapeake-wildlife/eastern-oysters/

[2] web.archive.org/web/20170802173757/http:/www.noaa.gov/media-release/gulf-of-mexico-dead-zone-is-largest-ever-measured

[3] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/rebuilt-wetlands-can-protect-shorelines-better-than-walls/

Featured Image from https://www.nature.org/en-us/about-us/where-we-work/united-states/florida/stories-in-florida/floridas-oyster-reef-restoration-program/