It’s National Volunteer Week and to celebrate, we encourage all our readers to get your hands dirty for a good cause. Joining a group of people working towards a common goal fosters a supportive community and instills a sense of pride and accomplishment. Volunteer opportunities in our coastal wetlands are abundant as the days grow warmer and longer.
Volunteer jobs that specifically benefit our coastal zone are vegetative plantings and trash cleanups. Vegetation is important in wetlands to filter excess nutrients and pollutants, to hold sediment during storms, and to provide habitat for wildlife. Litter is not only an eyesore; even a small piece of trash can have a major impact on the health of any animal that mistakes it for food. Other debris leaches toxic chemicals into the soil, which then accumulate in plant tissues and spread throughout an ecosystem.
Even small acts here and there add up, so get out and pay respect to your community. Whether it’s volunteering with an organization or picking up trash as you walk through a parking lot, your small act can go a long way. We appreciate all volunteer efforts because they directly impact our community and strengthen our connection to the environment, even if they don’t relate directly to Louisiana’s coast. We extend a very heartfelt thank you to those volunteers who do more than their fair share to ensure the health of our coastal zone!
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.  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.
In honor of National Estuaries Week, we have information on how to care about the health of estuaries near you!
Twenty-two of the thirty-two largest cities in the world are located near estuaries, and with good reason. The ecosystem benefits of estuaries are massive, including major shipping channels, fisheries, agriculture, and tourism. The high productivity in these areas means that they are hugely beneficial to societies near them. In coastal Louisiana, many jobs and industries are directly dependent on a healthy estuarine system.
We in Louisiana are lucky to host one of the 28 National Estuary Programs supported by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Each National Estuary Program focuses on a different estuary, each one distinct and complicated, but they all share concerns about water quality and ecological integrity. Together the programs have restored or protected over 2 million acres across the nation since 2000. Our local NEP, the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program (BTNEP), seeks to maintain the breeding habitat of shrimp, blue crabs, and many fish species that have come to be a huge industry in the state. Other estuaries host different fisheries and different industries, for example the Puget Sound Partnership Comprehensive Plan includes support for salmon fisheries, resident orca populations, and goals for reducing shore armoring. BTNEP is based out of Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, LA, and they have a bounty of information on their website about their work, worries, and successes in maintaining one of the most productive ecosystems on the gulf coast. Anyone interested in protecting and restoring the estuary is welcome to participate in the BTNEP Management Conference which meets three times a year. People can also take part in beach clean ups, water quality monitoring, and local events to highlight recreational opportunities in the Barataria-Terrebonne area.