Located in the heart of South America is the world’s largest wetland that has not been significantly modified by humans, the Pantanal. The Pantanal is often referred to as South America’s biggest biodiversity star. However, it is also one of the continent’s best-kept secrets, often overshadowed by the Amazon Rainforest. This massive wetland covers an area estimated at 75,000 square miles across Bolivia, Paraguay, and (mostly) Brazil. The Pantanal is home to over 4,700 species of plants and animals.
The array of life in the Pantanal relies on an annual flooding cycle. When it rains, about 80 percent of the floodplain is submerged underwater; throughout the dry season the water lessens. This process is essential to nurturing a biologically diverse collection of plants and providing nutrients that the wetlands need to flourish. An area that is the size of Belgium, Switzerland, Holland, and Portugal combined needs a lot of water to guarantee that it continues to flood and a healthy ecosystem is preserved. The quality of the water is also important to maintaining a nourishing environment. Recently, human activity has been threatening this precious wetland. The Pantanal is threatened by intensive farming, deforestation, and pollution. Few signs of this situation improving are shown, and environmental issues are difficult to resolve quickly. Conservation of the biodiversity and natural resources of the Pantanal is essential.
The coastal restoration community has long recognized the benefits of vegetative plantings in restoration. Many marsh creation and most terracing projects require plantings to insure success. Coastal shoreline plantings have also proven to be very effective and some have demonstrated the ability to not only stop shoreline erosion but to facilitate accretion, the process of increasing sediments. Recent hurricane events have exposed a need to have a mechanism in place where large-scale planting efforts can be deployed in a timely manner to specifically targeted areas of need, anywhere along the coast. Although the CWPPRA program can fund specific large-scale planting projects, the normal program cycle for individual projects can delay needed restoration plantings for a number of years.
The goals of this project are to facilitate a consistent and responsive planting effort in coastal Louisiana that is flexible enough to routinely plant on a large scale and be able to rapidly respond to critical areas of need following storm or other damaging events. This project set up an advisory panel consisting of representatives from various state and federal agencies who would assist in the selection of projects for funding. The project also set up a mechanism by which project nominations would be submitted for consideration. The equivalent of 90 acres of interior marsh and 40,000 linear feet of coastal shoreline will be planted per year over a 10 year period to effectively create/protect a total of 779 net acres of marsh over the 20-year project life.
The project features are located in the coastal zone of Louisiana.
This project is on Priority Project List (PPL) 20.
The Coastwide Vegetative Planting project sponsors include:
Plants are a vital piece of healthy and sustainable wetland ecosystems. Plants are the base of the food chain and can build new layers of organic material on top of wetlands which helps them keep pace with subsidence and rising waters. Wetland vegetation reduces erosion primarily by dampening and absorbing wave and current energy and by binding and stabilizing the soil with roots. Coastal wetland plant species are indicators of soil and hydrologic conditions. The amount and salinity of water in an area influence which plants grow there. Scientists often classify Louisiana marshes into four types: fresh, intermediate, brackish, and saline.
The Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act puts native wetland plant benefits to use through restoration techniques that include vegetative plantings. Vegetative planting projects are used both alone and in conjunction with barrier island restoration, marsh creation, shoreline protection, and sediment and nutrient trapping restoration techniques. These projects use flood-and salt-tolerant native marsh plants that will hold sediments together and stabilize the soil with their roots as they become established in a new area.
CWPPRA has protected, created, or restored approximately 96,806 acres of wetlands in Louisiana.
The Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act has funded coastal restoration projects for 26 years. Presently, CWPPRA has 153 total active projects, 108 completed projects, 17 active construction projects, 23 projects currently in Engineering and Design and has enhanced more than 355,647 acres of wetlands . These projects provide for the long-term conservation of wetlands and dependent fish and wildlife populations. Projects funded by CWPPRA are cost-effective ways of restoring, protecting, and enhancing coastal wetlands. CWPPRA has a proven track record of superior coastal restoration science and monitoring technique in Louisiana. The success of the CWPPRA program has been essential in providing critical ecosystem stabilization along Louisiana’s coast and has provided pioneering solutions for land loss.
Found at the interfaces of land formations and water, smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) is an herbaceous, native grass that densely inhabits shorelines. Compact, vegetative smooth cordgrass colonies grow along shorelines and inter-tidal flats of coastal wetlands such as canal banks, levees, marshes, barrier islands, and other regions of soil-water interface. This grass is highly adaptable to a variation of water depths and salinity levels making it a resilient species heavily used for coastal restoration. With an extensive rhizome system, smooth cordgrass is also highly effective as a soil stabilizer for loose soils, contributing to anchorage of the plants and sediment, as well as decrease of erosion effects. Smooth cordgrass acts as a natural buffer which dissipates energy of storm surge and wind impact to interior lands.
The Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act frequently uses smooth cordgrass plugs during vegetative plantings due to the plant’s insensitivity to water and salinity levels, and its success in significant erosion protection to shorelines.
Louisiana contains approximately 40% of the wetlands of the continental United States, but it experiences about 80% of its wetland losses.
Although the greatest amount of wetlands are located in Louisiana, subsidence, sea level rise, and anthropogenic activities are among the major factors contributing to the current state of Louisiana’s fragile and diminishing coastal wetlands. Louisiana loses wetlands at an average rate of one acre per hour. If the current rate of loss is not slowed by the year 2040, an additional 800,000 acres of Louisiana’s wetlands will disappear, advancing the shoreline inward as much as 33 miles in some areas. CWPPRA is fighting to combat the speed of land loss by protecting, restoring, and creating the nation’s wetlands.