Project Front Yard EcoSTEAM Camp

From July 16th-18th, the CWPPRA Public Outreach Team and special guests helped educate children about wetland resources during the inaugural Project Front Yard STEM summer camp at Girard Park in Lafayette, LA. Project Front Yard is an organization within Lafayette Consolidated Government that seeks to educate the public towards a more sustainable future. Our activities this week covered wetland plants, endangered species, and birding with groups split by age: 5-8, 9-10, and 11-14 years old.

On the first day, our team demonstrated how wetland plants transport gases through their tissues with the help of Carrie Salyers of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Using plastic cups, straws, and a tray of water, campers had to get air into and out of the “leaves” (cups) and the “roots” (straws) while they were inundated. We also brought our Wetland Jeopardy board to test campers’ knowledge of Louisiana’s wetland flora, fauna, and benefits.

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Campers use pressure through straws to put air into a submerged leaf-cup

Tuesday morning, the children walked into their meeting room to a toothy surprise. Gabe Giffin from LDWF brought several young alligators from Rockefeller NWR for the campers to hold and examine. In another room, Carrie Salyers taught the campers about the biology of endangered whooping cranes. After discussing how Whooping Cranes use their beaks to catch food, Salyers, her CWPPRA helpers, and ULL’s Sam Hauser led an activity exploring how bird beak shapes are suited to eating different types of foods.

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Campers posing with an alligator hatched in 2017
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Each participant had a different utensil to attempt picking up different types of food and putting them into their “stomachs”

For our last day with the camp, Jessica Schulz, an ornithologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, brought a mist net to demonstrate how birds are captured and processed in the field. We set up outside in Girard Park and allowed the children to retrieve fake birds from the mist net, band their legs, and record some measurements to measure the health of the birds. While we were setting up, we accidentally caught a real house sparrow! The bird was released quickly and campers were able to see firsthand how effective mist nets can be!

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Carefully removing a male cardinal from the mist net
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House Sparrow that made its way into our mist net

The Watershed Flood Center

On May 4, 2018, the University of Louisiana introduced an important new venture: The Watershed Flood Center. [1] In response to massive flooding in August of 2016 in Southern Louisiana, experts will come together to develop a better understanding of flooding in the area. Torrential downpours hit the state consistently on August 12 and 13 of 2016, amounting to more than 31 inches in Watson, LA, and more than 20 inches in Lafayette, the new home base for the Center. Atmospheric conditions caused a series of storms to form and stay over southern Louisiana for those two days, dropping and estimated 2 inches of water per hour. [2] Across the state, an estimated 7.1 trillion gallons of rain came down on August 12th and 13th, more than three times the volume Louisiana received during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  The flooding caused an estimated $10-15 billion dollars in damages across the affected parishes, including almost 150,000 homes and businesses. [3] This catastrophe was called a 1-in-1000-year flood because meteorologists attributed a .1% chance to something of this scale happening in any given year based on past events. The Watershed Flood Center seeks to study how much that chance may be increasing with projected changes in atmospheric and climatic conditions.

Basins that will be researched at the new center | Source [1]

Wetlands are adapted to flooded conditions, so they are great for mitigating floodwaters. Mitigation allows water to be stored and released when needed, so they act like a sponge. Unfortunately, the sheer volume of water that came and stayed was too much to redirect into neighboring wetlands. Wetlands used to be more prominent but as towns and cities expand into wetlands, mitigation potential of those wetlands diminishes. Thanks to development and decreased wetland area, much of the flooded area was inundated and impassable for over a week even after the rain had stopped.

The new center at The University of Louisiana at Lafayette is far from the only research venture the university funds. ULL has many research centers and partners, including LUMCON, the Ecology Center, and the Informatics Research Institute, to name a few. These centers study many branches of science, including infectious diseases, immersive technologies, ion beams, and soon the list will include the flood-condition hydrology of Louisiana. The Watershed Flood Center is currently in development and, once completed, will study flood events with real-time monitoring to develop better forecasts to protect public interests. [4]

 

[1] https://thecurrentla.com/2018/a-new-flood-research-center-launched-to-put-fractured-regional-efforts-on-the-same-page/

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2016_Louisiana_floods

[3] https://weather.com/forecast/regional/news/rain-flood-threat-south-mississippi-ohio-valley

[4] https://floodcenter.louisiana.edu/research/projects

Featured image from http://www.theadvocate.com/louisiana_flood_2016/article_dbfba072-7148-11e6-a7b4-0f0b3863c31e.html