Coastal Cultures: Isleños

In a conference call with our Outreach Committee last week, a committee member reminded us to discuss the human component in our Habitat Toss outreach activity. We’re taking it a step further and turning our focus to various ethnic and cultural groups who settled the Louisiana wetlands and support themselves and their families through coastal industries.

Today, our focus is on the Isleños of Louisiana. During the late eighteenth century, these people originally immigrated to the United States from the Canary Islands, off the west coast of Africa. According to the official website, Los Isleños of St. Bernard Parish, Spain sent settlers from the Canary Islands to settle around New Orleans from 1778 to 1783 in response to British interest in Mexico. Since the Spanish had a large investment already in Mexico, they sent Canarians to establish settlements to counter British expansion towards Mexico, but instead, the new colonists formed communities that built strong ties to existing industry in the area. Four settlements were created by the Spanish for Canarians and other immigrants to live in and develop: Galveztown, Valenzuela, Barataria, and San Bernardo. For the first few years of each settlement, Spain subsidized costs and gave many of these new Canarian colonists (Isleños) land grants. Subsidies stopped in 1785 when the colonies became self-sustaining. San Bernardo became a successful agricultural community, thanks to the fertile soils of the lower Mississippi River Watershed. Under French Rule, the community was later renamed to St. Bernard.

In only seven short years, the Isleños established strong communities which later became major players in sugar, cattle, and several other farm crops. Some Isleños chose to leave their farms and joined the commercial fishing industry in the 1820s, ultimately becoming the Delacroix Island fishing community. Later in the century, the communities of Yscloskey and Shell Beach were founded through the same method.

Today, those communities are still heavily involved in the commercial fishing industry, but their homes are threatened by coastal land loss. CWPPRA has funded the design and implementation of several projects in that area. Though the history of St. Bernard Parish has been preserved for generations, it would be a tremendous loss to have such a historic area wash away due to preventable causes. It is for this reason that CWPPRA works to #ProtectOurCoast.

 

Find out more about the Islenos and their coastal legacy through the Los Isleños Heritage and Cultural Society website: http://www.losislenos.org/.

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Lafayette Family Adventure Day

On Saturday, March 16, as part of Family Adventure Day, a fundraiser for Healing House, a non-profit in Lafayette offering grief counseling for children, families explored 42 stations around town. Each station offered a free activity that could engage family members of all ages. Our table was set up at the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) headquarters near the Cajundome. Some of our neighbors were the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS, one of our managing agencies), the Acadiana Park Nature Station, and LDWF .

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At our station, families could hold baby alligators and touch a few different animal hides with LDWF; play with Einstein, the albino corn snake from the Acadiana Park Nature Station; practice their fishing technique, plant seeds for pollinators, or identify different bird species using binoculars with USFWS. Our public outreach office brought our habitat toss game that highlights the differences between wetland habitats in Louisiana and why an animal species would live in one habitat but not another, as well as give some examples of species that use more than one type of habitat. We also brought plenty of educational publications.

An estimated ninety families passed through the LDWF headquarters during the day , so we saw about 300 people over the course of the event. Families visited locations like the Lafayette Science Museum, the UL Marine Survival Training Center, Bayou Vermilion District, and more. Our posters, magnet sheets and stickers were popular with the kids, and several families signed up to receive WaterMarks.

Family Adventure Day is an annual event, so be on the lookout for next year! We had a great day and we appreciate LDWF and USFWS for hosting us this year. We would also like to thank all of the families who came to support Healing House and learn about our area’s wildlife. Please enjoy the attached photos of families engaging with us and our neighbors.

 

Watersheds and International Day of Action for Rivers

Water flows from the higher elevations of the northern United States to our low-lying wetlands. Surface elevation, on average, decreases from the northern border with Canada all the way to the mouth of the Mississippi River. What that means is that most of the water that falls between the Rocky Mountains and the Great Smoky Mountains drains into the Mississippi and eventually in the coastal waters of Louisiana. We call this area the Mississippi/Atchafalaya River Basin (MARB) or the Mississippi River Watershed. [1] A watershed, by definition, is an area that drains to a river or lake. The Mississippi River Watershed encompasses nearly 41 percent of the United States.

Streams and ponds in the higher elevations of our watershed are fed by precipitation (rain, snow, hail, etc.) or springs. Water always follows the path of least resistance, which is downhill. Even on gradual slopes, water will seek out lower elevations. Flow rate is dependent on the angle of the slope, also called the elevation gradient. This explains why rivers in more mountainous regions flows faster than in our very flat land. Of course, some water will evaporate, some water will seep into the ground, and the rest will continue downstream until it gets to the ocean. While there are some exceptions to that rule, such as the Great Salt Lake in Utah and other Endorheic basins (no outlets besides evaporation), most water that falls on land will follow the water cycle that we all learned in grade school.

In Louisiana, the MARB outlets are the mouths of the Atchafalaya and Mississippi rivers and their distributaries. Because the state receives this water runoff through our bayous and marshes, so too does it collect  the trash and other pollution from the watershed. This pollution includes not only typical litter and non-point-source runoff, but also agricultural runoff that carries an abundance of nutrients. Select groups across the state are employing litter collection traps in bayous and streams to prevent trash from ending up in our coastal waters. More about these issues can be found in our articles about hypoxia stress and soil pollution.

The International Day of Action for Rivers will be celebrating healthy watersheds worldwide tomorrow, March 14. [2] We encourage our readers to do a little cleaning in their local waterways year-round but especially tomorrow. There are several groups around the state who organize clean-ups in our local waterways for any who are interested. Some of these groups can be found in our sources. As the third largest watershed in the world, the MARB supports numerous ecosystems and human settlements, and it is crucial that we keep it healthy for all its constituents. Each day, our coastal wetlands protect our cities and ports, so we at CWPPRA strive to return the favor and #ProtectOurCoast.

 

[1] https://www.epa.gov/ms-htf/mississippiatchafalaya-river-basin-marb

[2] https://www.internationalrivers.org/dayofactionforrivers

Featured image from http://www.bayouvermilionpreservation.org/photos.html

 

Action groups:

 

City of Lafayette: http://www.lafayettela.gov/EQ/Pages/Environmental-Outreach.aspx

Bayou Vermilion District: http://www.bayouvermiliondistrict.org/

Sierra Club: https://www.sierraclub.org/louisiana/what-do-you-want-do

BREC: http://www.brec.org/index.cfm/page/GroupVolunteerOpportunities

BTNEP: https://volunteer.btnep.org/

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.

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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.

 

Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge Shoreline Protection (ME-09)

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The management levee between the GIWW and the
Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge was in danger
of breaching as a result of erosion from boat traffic in the
GIWW. If breaching had occurred, wave energy from the
GIWW and salt water would have entered the organic,
freshwater wetlands.

A 13,200-foot rock breakwater was constructed 50 feet
from the northern bank of the GIWW to prevent waves
caused by boat traffic from overtopping and eroding the
remaining spoil bank.
The project’s effectiveness is being evaluated by shoreline
movement surveys and by comparing pre-construction and
post-construction aerial photographs for changes in marsh
loss rates.

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This project is located in Cameron Parish, Louisiana, on
the north shore of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway
(GIWW), approximately 7 miles southeast of Sweet Lake
and to the east of Louisiana Highway 27 at its intersection
with the GIWW. It encompasses 640 acres of fresh marsh
and open water.

During 1993-97, while the project area had a 4.9% increase in
water coverage due to management for waterfowl, the
reference area remained unchanged.

The results of shoreline monitoring indicate that the project
has protected 13,200 feet of shoreline, along with 247 acres of
marsh north of the dike. This protection is expected to accrue
throughout the life of the project for a net restoration of at
least 23 acres. Monitoring has shown that the GIWW’s
northern shoreline advanced 9.8 feet per year in the project
area while retreating at a rate of 3.0 feet per year in the
reference area, indicating that low sediment availability does
not prohibit wetland creation behind rock dikes on navigation
channels.

To date, the project has exhibited success. It is expected that
the project area will continue to accrete new wetland area
between the spoil bank and the rock dike, further
safeguarding the adjacent wetland area from encroachment by
the GIWW.

This project is on Priority Project List 1.

 

The Federal Sponsor is USFWS

The Local Sponsor is CPRA

Little Vermilion Bay Sediment Trapping (TV-12)

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High winds and waves prevent GIWW sediments transported down the Freshwater and Schooner bayous from settling and forming the basis of vegetated marsh. This same wind and wave energy also increases shoreline erosion rates.

This project involved the construction of a series of vegetated terraces to diminish waves in Little Vermilion Bay, helping to increase sediment deposition and reduce the rate of shoreline erosion. A pattern of channels was dredged 100-feet wide and 6-feet deep to beneficially distribute sediment from the GIWW through the Freshwater and Schooner bayous. Dredged sediments were used to construct 23 earthen terraces with a combined length of 23,300 feet. After settling, the average height of the terraces was 3.5 feet above mean sea level.

The bases of the terraces were planted with 20,450 containers of smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora).

The design allows commercial and recreational fisherman to access the project area, and it stimulates fishery production by creating new habitat and increasing shoreline length.

In 1998 alone (prior to the project’s completion) 40 acres of wetland habitat were created.

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This project is located in the northwestern corner of Little Vermilion Bay at its intersection with the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GIWW) in Vermilion Parish, Louisiana. The project area encompasses 964 acres.

Monitoring is underway and preliminary observations show that the terraces are growing in width, and bay depth between terraces is decreasing indicating marsh expansion in the project area.

This project is on Priority Project List 5.

The Federal Sponsor is NOAA NMFS

The Local Sponsor is CPRA

Thankful for Wetlands

When celebrating Thanksgiving tomorrow, be sure to think about all of the ways wetlands provide for you and yours. Whether you enjoy the serene experience of watching a sunset through bald cypress trees, catching redfish in the marsh with your family, or simply love a good shrimp po-boy, Louisiana wetlands provide a huge number of services to millions of people daily.

In addition to protecting our cities from storm surge, wetlands of all kinds host tremendous species diversity, are highly productive, and allow for many types of recreation. Louisiana provides seafood nationwide. All of our most profitable species use wetlands for some part of their life cycle. [1] For example, shrimp spawn in estuaries, crawfish spend their whole semi-aquatic lives in freshwater wetlands, and oysters occupy coastlines while providing some wave attenuation and water filtration. CWPPRA and our partners see oysters as an alternative method to protect our some parts of our coast with artificial reefs that can also be harvested, making them a highly sustainable food source. Some foods we receive from wetlands aside from seafood include turtles and ducks in some cases, rice (a staple in many cultures worldwide), and a wide array of other plants for their tubers or berries.

Beyond the food, though, wetland benefits include flood protection to our major cultural hubs and carbon sequestration. Sequestering carbon makes wetlands wildly productive and an ally in the fight against global climate change. [2] CWPPRA was written into law in 1990 to help preserve these bountiful ecosystems so they can continue to thrive and benefit people in Louisiana and beyond. This holiday season, even if you are not eating any seafood during your feasts, you are benefitting from wetlands, so say a thank you for all of those natural areas that give us so much.

[1] https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-02/documents/economicbenefits.pdf

[2] https://imedea.uib-csic.es/master/cambioglobal/Modulo_V_cod101611/Coastal%20sinks%20(seagrasses_mangroves_saltmarshes)/Bibliography_coastal/Chmura%20et%20al%202006.pdf