Land Loss and Human Impacts

Louisiana’s shrinking coastal zone is due to both natural causes such as rising sea levels and wave erosion, but human activity intensifies these evolutionary processes. Some of the most impactful land loss processes further increased by human activity include salt water intrusion, proliferation of invasive species, and subsidence.

Hurricanes and other storm events push salt water inland, increasing the salinity of wetlands to levels that damage local flora adapted to lower salinities, causing those plants to die, which in turn decreases their potential to reduce storm surge around human settlements. Dredged canals for oil and gas exploration provide easy pathways for salt water to move inland since these canals are often straight. [1] Healthy marshes decrease the distance that storm surges can infiltrate, so any man-made development that diminishes intermediate or salt marshes indirectly affects freshwater wetlands as well.

Invasive species are plants, animals, or other biota that are from other regions of the world that cause harm to our local native environment. One such invasive species with extensive ramifications for our coastal wetlands is the Coypu, or “nutria rat.” This large rodent devastates stands of native graminoids such as cordgrasses (Spartina spp) and bulrushes (Schoenoplectus spp). Coypu specifically target the base of stems and roots, digging for them in soft sediment platforms. [2] Lower root concentration in soils and active disturbance make for weakened substrates that are more susceptible to being washed away. Other invasive species have similar outcomes, but not necessarily by the same method. We have several invasive animals and plants in Louisiana, each introduced by humans either on purpose or accidentally, and each one has a destructive presence along our coast. CWPPRA actively works to counter the destruction of invasive species through research, engineering and reward-based mitigation, such as the Coastwide Nutria Control Program. [3]

Louisiana was built by the Mississippi River over the past several thousand years, depositing layer after layer of soft, uncompacted sediment. Naturally, that sediment will compact, causing the surface to sink. Developing human settlements might speed up this process due to increased weight. Some cities are sinking as fast as 12 millimeters per year. Combined with rising sea levels, these areas are getting 15 millimeters (.6 inches) closer to sea level each year. [4] Combining the natural subsidence rates with unnatural marsh degradation, flooding will continue to worsen in our towns and cities. The Coastwide Reference Monitoring System (CRMS) tracks subsidence as well as several other ecological conditions and CWPPRA project performance over 391 sites along the Louisiana Gulf Coast. [5] Human activity is an integral component of Louisiana’s coastal zone, and CWPPRA works with biologists, engineers, local governments, volunteers, and residents to study those adverse impacts and devise innovative methods to address and deter them.

 

Sources:

[1] http://web.mit.edu/12.000/www/m2010/finalwebsite/background/wetlands/wetlands-degradation.html

[2] http://www.columbia.edu/itc/cerc/danoff-burg/invasion_bio/inv_spp_summ/Myocastor_coypus.htm

[3] https://www.nutria.com/site9.php

[4] https://www.nola.com/news/environment/article_fc2fc043-f0a3-55a5-b1a5-ce96dc712c3e.html

[5] https://www.lacoast.gov/crms/Home.aspx#

 

Featured Image from JennyCuervo [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D

Cooperation is Key

The American Shore & Beach Preservation Association (ASBPA) celebrates America’s beaches annually by highlighting recently restored recreational coastal areas. The Caminada Headland’s beach restoration is one of the four winners of the ASBPA’s Best Restored Beach award, alongside South Padre Island in Texas, Waypoint Park Beach in Washington, and Duval County in Florida. [1] The Caminada Headland restoration project was spearheaded by our state partner, CPRA, and multiple CWPPRA projects preceeded it and work synergistically to  improve the entire Caminada barrier island system.

CPRA’s Caminada Headland Beach and Dune Restoration is a barrier island restoration project with two increments (BA-45 and BA-143) constructed in 2015 and 2017. Since the input of approximately 5.4 million cubic yards of sediment, the beach has improved habitat for shorebirds and plants. In addition to the direct benefits of the beach as a habitat, the healthy barrier island will better protect the marsh on the bay side as well as inland wetlands from storm surge and wave energy.

CWPPRA’s Caminada Headlands Back Barrier Marsh Creation increments 1&2 (BA-171, BA-193) is directly behind CPRA’s Caminada Headland Beach and Dune Restoration and greatly benefits from the project.  Together CPRA and CWPPRA have restored a complete barrier island, which would have been difficult and costly to do without partners. Our coast’s future depends on the cooperation of organizations and their projects. Louisiana’s land loss crisis is too large to tackle in one way or by one group, and successful collaboration leads to the best available science, innovative design, and systems-based approaches. CWPPRA and our state partners are working towards a common goal: a healthy coast for the future of our state.

[1] http://asbpa.org/2019/05/20/celebrating-americas-beaches-asbpa-names-its-best-restored-beaches-for-2019/

https://www.lacoast.gov/reports/project/20180601_BI_lessons_learned_SOC18__Darin_Lee.pdf

 

Featured image from https://www.audubon.org/magazine/fall-2017/louisiana-restoring-its-barrier-islands-defend

GOMA All Hands Meeting

Community Outreach and Media Specialist Kacie Wright represented the CWPPRA Outreach Team at the Gulf of Mexico Alliance (GOMA) All Hands Meeting in Gulf Shores, Alabama. Like CWPPRA, GOMA highlights the importance of partnerships to enhance the health of the Gulf Coast. Similarly to CWPPRA being made up of five federal agencies, GOMA is led by leaders of the five Gulf States (Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida) and includes a network of individuals from nonprofits, federal agencies, businesses, and academic organizations throughout the Gulf Coast. At the All Hands Meeting, attendees broke into Priority Issue Teams to address issues such as Community Resilience, Data & Monitoring, Education & Engagement, Habitat Resources, Wildlife & Fisheries, and Water Resources. 

Because CWPPRA promotes the value of wetlands and engage the public in the importance of coastal restoration, we attended the Education & Engagement Priority Team meeting. At the meeting, individuals shared new ideas and projects to enhance the Gulf Coast. Team members from the Texas Aquarium shared their work engaging teachers to improve coastal curriculum in schools through NOAA’s Watershed Environmental Education Grants. One individual from the Galveston Bay Keeper detailed her project on changing the behavior of individuals who toss their fishing line into the bay.

The Director of the Mississippi State University Television Center, David Garraway, also presented to the Education & Engagement Team about best practices for crafting effective visual storytelling and going live on social media. Garraway shared the importance of understanding your audience and the message you want to share when creating video content for social media. A key message of his presentation was “show your audience, don’t tell them” when creating videos. 

The Education & Engagement Team also highlighted GOMA’s Embrace the Gulf 2020 campaign. Next year is the ten-year anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and the fifteen-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. GOMA will highlight the benefits gulf ecosystems bring to the communities along the coast. While these disasters have made us stronger, they do not define our communities. We all live and work along the Gulf Coast because we love it here. During Embrace the Gulf 2020, GOMAis planning 365 facts to share with their network and a blueways-paddling trail throughout all five Gulf States. This paddling trail will encourage people to get out on the water and enjoy the coastal ecosystems all along the Gulf Coast. 

The CWPPRA Outreach Team had a great time in Gulf Shores, Alabama, but we are excited to be back in Coastal Louisiana embracing all the new ideas about engaging outreach content and connections with other ambitious groups we formed at the GOMA All Hands Meeting. We are ready to Embrace the Gulf in 2020 and we hope to see you on the Paddle the Gulf paddle trail! We will keep y’all posted as it develops!

 

Airboats: A Tool for Restoration

Navigating wetlands can be difficult for traditional boats due to the changes in water depth and the amount of mud and muck, as well as the meandering of the waterways. Because of these complications, boats that travel both over land and water are needed to explore coastal wetlands. The creation of airboats and innovations in their design have allowed for greater exploration of wetlands and are vital to CWPPRA’s wetland restoration.

Airboats evolved since their introduction in 1905 by Alexander Graham Bell, who is also credited as the inventor of the telephone. His first model was named the “Ugly Duckling”, a crude test vehicle that incorporated an aircraft propeller mounted on the back of a simple pontoon boat. Over the next decade, further developments turned airboats into World War I reconnaissance vessels. Following the end of the war, commercialization led to a rise in popularity among civilians with companies designing taxis and recreation vessels alongside independent innovators creating their own airboat designs. One of the most revolutionary models was built in 1943 at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Utah and dubbed the “Alligator I”. This design was the first known to use air rudders rather than traditional rudders, and most airboats today replicate the Alligator I’s flat bottom hull with air rudders. [1]

Thanks to the inventors at Bear River, Louisiana’s wetlands are more navigable than ever. Further developments have allowed airboats to pass over land, increased passenger capacity and engine horsepower, allowing those in pursuit of recreation, scientific research, and sport hunting/fishing to reach previously inaccessible parts of our wetlands. CWPPRA teams visit project sites using airboats to help get an idea of problems to be addressed through the duration of projects, ensuring the best quality of restoration for our coast. Restoration and preservation have been made easier with creative solutions like airboats, so we would like to recognize the innovators who worked a century ago to improve upon each other’s designs. Once again, the land loss crisis and need for wetland restoration in Louisiana is too large for us to do it alone. We need all the help we can get from innovators like those at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge to help restore our coast.

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Airboat#First_prototypes

Featured image is from a CWPPRA site visit to our BA-34-2 project.

Dustpan Maintenance Dredging Operations for Marsh Creation in the Mississippi River Delta Demonstration (MR-10)

wordpress fact sheet banner MR-10-01

Hopper dredges must dispose of their material in deep
water, making the spoil material unavailable for direct
marsh creation, although the material may still provide
nourishment for the system. In comparison to hopper
dredges, spoil from dustpan and cutterhead dredges can be
disposed of in shallow, open waters for marsh creation.

The project demonstrated the safe operation of a dustpan
hydraulic dredge in the critical Head of Passes reach of the
Mississippi River. This demonstration enables the use of
this type of dredge for the maintenance of this reach and
additional opportunity for the beneficial use of the dredge
material. Over the course of this demonstration project,
approximately 40 acres of deteriorated marsh that had
converted to shallow open water was restored with
approximately 222,000 cubic yards of dredge material
over the course of 8 days or 192 operating hours with the
expectation of an increase in marsh.

map.jpg

The project is located in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, in
the Mississippi River Modern Delta. Dredging took place
near Cubit’s Gap, Head of Passes, and Southwest Pass.

The demonstration was completed in June 2002.
This project is on Priority Project List 6.

Earth Day 2019

This past Monday, we celebrated the 48th annual Earth Day. Since the inaugural Earth Day in 1970, we have made huge strides in environmental protection and restoration but there are activities at the local, state, and federal level we can continue do to help the environment.  As we work to protect our environment, it will continue to provide us with food, clean water, protection, and recreational activities.

As an individual, you can plant native plants, pick up litter, and bike to work. At the local level, you can work with your municipal government to install green infrastructure and set up local farmers markets and composting/recycling programs. At the federal level, there are numerous organizations working towards large scale restoration projects and formulating policy that protects the environment, and regulatory agencies that make sure environmental laws are enforced. CWPPRA, made up of five federal agencies and the state of Louisiana, was signed into law specifically to reverse some of the human and natural damages across Louisiana’s coastline. At both small and large scales, our restoration and protection projects work to bolster our defenses against storm winds and wave energy.

Everyday is Earth Day for the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act as we are always working to restore our coastal wetlands. As the land loss crisis in Louisiana becomes more intense, we need to work to restore our wetlands so that they will continue to provide us with protection from storms, natural resources, and preserve our way of life. CWPPRA is committed to this mission and we hope you can join us in supporting a healthy Louisiana for generations to come. Happy Earth Day from all of us at CWPPRA.

First Day of Spring

Spring is in the air! That means a burst of life in our coastal wetlands. You may already see flowers blooming, new leaves on trees, and a variety of migratory birds returning to their nesting habitat. Today, on the first day of spring, let’s explore the annual rebirth of Louisiana’s coastal habitats.

As plants proliferate in the warmer temperatures, so too a riot of colors joins the landscape. Some coastal favorites are seaside goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens), buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), and salt marsh morning glory (Ipomoea sagittata) for good reason: they produce attractive flowers that saturate the wetlands with color. Other plants have less colorful flowering and fruiting structures but are more prevalent. Many sedges (Family Cyperaceae) are beginning to put out their iconic inflorescences, the branching flower clusters, as are several grasses (Family Poaceae). Other popular marsh plants including Juncus and Spartina species also begin their pollination cycle. The reliable reproduction of these graminoid (grass-like) plants is helpful in CWPPRA marsh creation projects because those species repopulate new land more quickly than woody plants. Once they move in and put down healthy roots, they demonstrate the effectiveness of CWPPRA projects and their success!

Plant enthusiasts aren’t the only ones excited for springtime; wildlife watchers, especially birders, see an infusion of new plant growth and wildlife offspring. Many birds return from their wintering grounds in South America to the warm nesting grounds along the Mississippi Flyway. Songbirds like the beloved prothonotary warbler (Protonotaria citrea) fly across the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, and our coastal waters to take advantage of the new plant life and insect population booms. South American migrants use the flyway to get further north alongside other species that use our coastal zone as a wintering habitat. Whether they are just stopping over or will be staying for the summer, Louisiana’s spring is one of the most exciting times to birdwatch. [1] Ultimately, birdwatching success diminishes at the same rate as our disappearing coastal wetlands. Habitat loss has major implications for population declines of bird species. Because birds have “favorite” wintering and nesting habitats, they are especially susceptible. Both their wintering and nesting habitats face the threat of deterioration and require protection. This part of the year is great for exploring all the natural areas that Louisiana has to offer, we suggest that you find a day that works in your schedule and visit a wetland near you; you’re bound to find something interesting. [2] We wish you all a happy spring and encourage environmental stewardship each and every day!

 

[1] https://www.birdwatchersdigest.com/bwdsite/explore/regions/southeast/louisiana/louisiana-birding-season-spring.php

[2] https://www.crt.state.la.us/louisiana-state-parks/maps/index