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

 

 

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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

Looking Back

Former President George H.W. Bush signed Public Law 101-646, Title III CWPPRA into law in 1990 to combat the national issue of coastal land loss. Over 25 years after he left office and a week after the late President’s day of mourning, this legislation is still providing protection to billions of dollars’ worth of industry, major human settlements, and beautiful ecosystems.

At 28 years of projects and counting, CWPPRA is among the longest-standing federally-funded restoration ventures in the country, as well as one of the most successful. To date, 210 projects have been authorized across Louisiana’s coastal zone to restore 100,000+ acres of wetlands. Each year of operation, CWPPRA has approved funding on multiple projects scattered across our coast. The locations of our projects can be found at https://lacoast.gov/new/About/Basins.aspx.

CWPPRA projects are proposed by anyone and developed in conjunction with one of our 5 federal managing agencies and Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. The process of project selection is always a rigorous competition between candidate projects across Louisiana’s coast. Each proposal presents estimated ecological benefits, cost estimates, and a detailed plan for the desired project. At the beginning of each calendar year, Regional Planning Team meetings are held across the coast to hear proposals. The proposed projects are compiled into an annual Project Priority List (PPL). Upcoming proposal meetings can be found Jan 29-31, 2019 on our calendar at https://lacoast.gov/calendar/. Over the next year the CWPPRA Technical Committee and Task Force narrow the list of candidate projects. In December, the Technical Committee recommends their top 4 projects to the Task Force. The Task Force finally votes in January on the 4 projects they will fund for Phase I Engineering and Design. This annual cycle will complete its 28th round in late January 2019.

CWPPRA is excited about wrapping up PPL 28 next month and starting on PPL 29! Be on the lookout for announcements about projects chosen for funding at the January 24th Task Force meeting. We look forward to continuing our efforts to #ProtectOurCoast!

 

Featured image from https://projects.propublica.org/louisiana/

Soil Pollution

Today is World Soils Day, time to talk about soil pollution and wetlands! Soil pollution is often referred to as “invisible” because, although pollution can be detected through testing, it is much more difficult to see with the naked eye. Some of the biggest players in soil pollution today are improper waste management, agricultural runoff, and industrial processes. You may not think you are directly impacted by soil pollution, but you are.

Polluted soil in agricultural fields is arguably the most direct impact to humans because the pollutants are taken into the crop, whether it is a plant or animal, and make it into our food stream. [1] Pollutants in soils are also less hospitable to plant recruits, which is terrible news for coastal Louisiana. Our coastal wetlands provide us with many things that we rely on, and we cannot afford to lose our wetlands to preventable pollution. When soils do not incorporate healthy plant roots, they are much more susceptible to erosion. When moving sediments around, CWPPRA wants to make sure that plants can re-establish effectively, so they want healthy soils. [2]

Areas with unsustainable levels of pollution are spreading, and non-point source pollution, which includes road and agricultural runoff, is very hard to track and very hard to remedy. Pollutants are not easily scrubbed from soils on a mass scale and so they follow the flow of water. Runoff travels through watersheds just like clean water and makes its way into our coastal wetlands with damaging consequences. Coastal wetlands are resilient ecosystems, but they have limits. We cannot overburden them with harmful, carefree attitudes towards pollution. Our coast deserves to be protected. Our coast deserves to be respected.

[1] https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/documents/bioaccumulationbiomagnificationeffects.pdf

[2] https://www.lacoast.gov/crms/crms_public_data/publications/CRMS_FactSheet_Web.pdf

Featured image from https://soilsmatter.wordpress.com/2017/12/15/are-wetlands-really-the-earths-kidneys/

America Recycles And So Do We

Recycling is a great practice at home, but it reaches far beyond taking materials out of the waste stream. Tomorrow, November 15th, is designated as America Recycles Day, so today’s Wetland Wednesday is hopeful about the future of sustainability.

New materials require exploration and processing that can be destructive to ecosystems. Plastics, some of the most common materials in the product stream today, are largely recyclable. As a crude oil byproduct, producing new usable plastics requires a lot of energy. The same goes for many other recyclable materials. Paper products, various metals, and glass all take a lot of energy to produce, then they quickly find their way into landfills instead of being reused. Landfills produce a wide array of chemicals that often leach into the ground due to poor containment practices, and they can contaminate watersheds. Once those chemicals get into a watershed, they can significantly decrease the health of wetlands across huge swaths of land over time. To further the polluting effects, drilling for oil to meet a growing desire for fossil fuels is one of the most detrimental practices to wetlands. More than 5 years after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Louisiana wetlands continued to lose ground due to the spill’s impact. [1]

Recycling is not a perfect alternative to single-use plastics, and there are other ways to reduce our consumption of resources. For example, mitigating loss of byproducts by finding new and inventive applications can greatly reduce consequences. Large-scale food manufacturing leaves plenty of byproduct as leftover plant material that can be used as livestock feed, potentially as biofuels, or fertilizer. In the meat industry, byproducts are often further processed and commercialized to maximize the use of all parts of animals. CWPPRA and our partners have changed some practices in recent years to be more efficient when using resources, for example beneficial use of dredged material (yes, we recycled our header image). Mandatory dredging of shipping and navigational channels produces a bounty of sediment that was lost in the past, but we can now use that material in restoration projects. This exciting new practice has already been implemented in a few CWPPRA projects to restore marshland and nourish pre-existing wetlands.

Our coast faces many human-caused threats, and its future depends, in part, on practices becoming more sustainable. By using new technologies to better use resources, CWPPRA hopes that Louisiana’s natural splendor and resilience can continue to benefit future generations.

[1] https://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/70178409

 

Whiskey Island Back Barrier Marsh Creation (TE-50)

wordpress fact sheet banner TE-50-01

Gulfside and bayside erosion has resulted in the narrowing of Whiskey Island (and the entire Isles Dernieres chain) as the two shorelines migrate toward each other, resulting in a 68 percent decrease in average width for the Isles Dernieres. Within 100 years, the entire subaerial portion of the Isles Dernieres barrier island system is expected to disappear except for small land fragments associated with the western end of Whiskey Island and the eastern end of East Island. However, some estimates project the Isles Dernieres will disappear much earlier. Other predictions suggest that, without restoration, Whiskey Island could become a subaqueous sand shoal by 2019. Another CWPPRA restoration project, Whiskey Island Restoration (TE-27), which included placement of dredge material, vegetative planting, and sand fencing, was completed in 2000.

The goal of the TE-50 project is to increase the longevity of the previously restored and natural portions of the island by increasing the island’s width. Increasing the island’s width will help to retain sand volume and elevation. Approximately 319 acres of back barrier intertidal marsh habitat, 5,865 linear feet of tidal creeks, three 1-acre tidal ponds and 13,000 linear feet of protective sand dune were created by semiconfined disposal and placement of dredged material. The sediment was dredged from a sediment source in the Gulf of Mexico near the island. The area was planted with native marsh vegetation to colonize and protect the newly-placed marsh soil.

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Whiskey Island, one of five islands that make up the Isles Dernieres barrier island chain, is located 18 miles southwest of Cocodrie in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana. The island is surrounded by Coupe Colin to the west, Whiskey Pass to the east, Lake Pelto, Caillou Boca, and Caillou Bay to the north, and the Gulf of Mexico to the south.

The CWPPRA Task Force approved funding for construction (phase 2) at the February 13, 2008 Task Force meeting. Construction began in March 2009 and initial construction was completed in November 2009.Vegetative plantings were installed at the project site in June of 2010 and October 2011.

This project is on Project Priority List 13.

Federal Sponsor: EPA

Local Sponsor: CPRA

Living Shorelines

According to NOAA, one of our managing agencies, a living shoreline is “A protected and stabilized shoreline that is made of natural materials such as plants, sand, or rock.” [1] In some situations, living shorelines are a better option than hardened shoreline protection because they have more movement of natural sediment, the ability to grow, and the obvious aesthetic value of a natural area.

‘Living shorelines’ can refer to multiple restoration techniques and coastal environments; for CWPPRA, a living shoreline can mean vegetative planting on a marsh creation cell or using a shoreline protection barrier that promotes oyster reef growth. Living restored shorelines help maintain the integrity of ecosystems, but they also provide benefits to recreation and potentially to commerce. One big push in restoration over the past few years has been artificial oyster reefs which provide wave attenuation, natural water filtration, and a harvestable population of oysters for the seafood industry. [2]

Illustration, Courtesy of NOAA [1]
Vegetated marsh provides similar benefits to artificial oyster reefs and is a tried-and-true restoration strategy. Many marsh creation projects will naturally revegetate thanks to seed banks in borrow sites but some need management to limit invasive species. In more vulnerable sites, CWPPRA actively plants native species like smooth cordgrass and California bulrush to give them an advantage against invasive populations.

CWPPRA understands that successful restoration projects, including shoreline protection, help keep ecosystems intact and productive. A changing coast means we need changing solutions, and we will strive to find better alternatives to maintain the natural environment.

[1] https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/living-shoreline.html

[2] https://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/storms-get-bigger-oyster-reefs-can-help-protect-shorelines-180967774/

Featured image from https://oceanbites.org/oyster_reef_restoration/