National Volunteer Week

It’s National Volunteer Week and to celebrate, we encourage all our readers to get your hands dirty for a good cause. Joining a group of people working towards a common goal fosters a supportive community and instills a sense of pride and accomplishment. Volunteer opportunities in our coastal wetlands are abundant as the days grow warmer and longer.

Additionally, festivals often recruit volunteers to maintain trash and recycling as well as operations and logistics, urban areas organize tree plantings and beautification projects, and trash cleanups are becoming a popular activity combined with exercise–like plogging. Along the coast, several organizations offer volunteering opportunities throughout the year. Some of the organizations who work on or near CWPPRA project sites are Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program (BTNEP), Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana (CRCL), The Meraux Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, and Keep Louisiana Beautiful. If none of these organizations pique your interest, there are bound to be local organizations in your community who need help.

Volunteer jobs that specifically benefit our coastal zone are vegetative plantings and trash cleanups. Vegetation is important in wetlands to filter excess nutrients and pollutants, to hold sediment during storms, and to provide habitat for wildlife. Litter is not only an eyesore; even a small piece of trash can have a major impact on the health of any animal that mistakes it for food. Other debris leaches toxic chemicals into the soil, which then accumulate in plant tissues and spread throughout an ecosystem.

Even small acts here and there add up, so get out and pay respect to your community. Whether it’s volunteering with an organization or picking up trash as you walk through a parking lot, your small act can go a long way. We appreciate all volunteer efforts because they directly impact our community and strengthen our connection to the environment, even if they don’t relate directly to Louisiana’s coast. We extend a very heartfelt thank you to those volunteers who do more than their fair share to ensure the health of our coastal zone!

 

Featured Image from http://mississippiriverdelta.org/earth-day-2016-planting-trees-to-restore-louisianas-coast/

 

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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/.

Marsh Madness

Buckle up sports fans, because things are heating up, and not just on the college basketball court. CWPPRA projects are putting their best foot forward to land a spot in the next round of competition. There are 22 contending players going into a free-for-all to win a spot on CWPPRA’s roster. This draft means a lot to the strength of our team, so it is important that all the potential projects are in peak condition.

The CWPPRA project selection process is all about fundamentals. Projects are evaluated on how strong they would be on the defense for the United States national team and ranked accordingly. Task Force “coaches” are looking for projects that can block opponents such as hurricanes, will continue to develop after they join the team, and will work well with with other projects. Today, our contenders are practicing and refining their fundamentals before they have a shoot-out on April 11th on the technical committee’s home court in Baton Rouge. Technical Committee members will select a subset of 10 player projects that they think will be well-rounded to benefit team Louisiana and all its fans. That list of 10 projects will go on to the final round of the competition, and up to 4 will make the cut.

If you are a fan of coastal restoration, feel free to send us your draft picks for the upcoming vote! All the current stats for the candidate list can be found on our March 11 newsflash at https://www.lacoast.gov/ocmc/MailContent.aspx?ID=10119. We look forward to signing some of these exciting new prospects and we wish the projects luck!

 

Featured Image from https://www.pinterest.es/pin/380413499743991365/?lp=true

 

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

 

 

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/

Mardi Gras is Like Coastal Restoration

We hope our readers had a safe and enjoyable Mardi Gras! This week’s Wetland Wednesday is about consuming, growing, and persisting in honor of our signature holiday. Mardi Gras is traditionally a festival celebrates life and resources before the coming Lenten fast. While fasting during Lent, the calories and nutrients your body stored during Mardi Gras are used to keep your body functioning properly. [1] In a way, Mardi Gras is an investment in the future.

In this regard, CWPPRA has a similar goal to Mardi Gras. We are building up coastal Louisiana’s sediment reserves to keep our state safe during trying times in the foreseeable future. We can compare Lent to a storm event like a hurricane (and not the kind you find on Bourbon Street), because they both deplete the invested material: fat and nutrient reserves during lent and land during a hurricane. While our coast deteriorates to open water, CWPPRA is trying to keep our historic culture and settlements from succumbing to the lack of new sediment. It is our hope and our mission to strengthen Louisiana’s coastline to the point where it can protect our coast and our way of life, including our festival celebrations.

Louisiana has such a diverse set of cultures that reside in our coastal zone, and we would hate to see any more of these cultural hubs be displaced like the Isle de Jean Charles Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Tribe. [2] We are observing the consequences of coastal land loss in real time now more than ever before. There will be more land lost and more severe consequences from failing to protect our coast. Louisiana’s cultural diversity and supportive nature are things we are all proud of, so join CWPPRA in restoring some of the natural buffer that helps us weather the storms and keeps us functioning properly.

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mardi_Gras

[2] https://www.thevermilion.com/news/like-a-cancer-isle-de-jean-charles-land-loss-forces/article_7eba1bf6-235b-11e9-b859-3f310ddf6acb.html

Featured Image by John Rowland from https://www.theadvocate.com/acadiana/entertainment_life/mardi_gras/article_62177a9e-fe09-11e6-97ad-db4c0116fc38.html

Cooking with Invasive Species

Louisiana is a great place to institute a culture of dining on invasive species because, in addition loving good food, we’ve got plenty of them.  In a state where hunting is common and nutria are rampant, the Coastwide Nutria Control Program (LA-03b, nutria.com) pays people to harvest nutria. There are many benefits to a program like this, including food, environmental protection, and partial income for indulging in a hobby for many sportsmen. On the science side, our nutria program maintains a database of regions where nutria are trapped or hunted that can aid in assessing their damage. [2] The tasty meat from nutria can also be used in cooking, so it doesn’t go to waste. The 2017 documentary “Rodents of Unusual Size” features coastal Louisiana natives, chefs, and others trying to limit the damage done by Louisiana’s nutria population. [3]

There are also plenty of recipes for feral hogs since they are the same species as domestic pigs, Sus scrofa, a staple in American cuisine. Feral hog meat can be substituted into any recipe that calls for domesticated pork, like a classic roast (pictured from Cook-off for the Coast 2019), however it’s important to make sure the hog was thoroughly inspected after harvest since they can carry parasites and diseases harmful to humans. Other invasives that have accessible recipes with a quick search on the web include apple snails (a delicacy in some parts of the world), water hyacinth, and multiple species of Asian carp.

Creative solutions to growing problems come in many forms. Harvesting invasive species as a food source is a multi-benefit solution in the fight against damage from invasives. While some scientists disagree with this method of invasive control, saying it has too little of an effect on invasive populations [1], putting invasive species on the dinner plate can help spread awareness of the issue and provide incentive for increased harvests. CWPPRA embraces new solutions to land loss in Louisiana, and we urge our readers to explore alternative food options that may help in our fight to #ProtectOurCoast. Who knows? You might find a new favorite food.

 

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/world-on-a-plate/2015/feb/06/cooking-cant-solve-the-invasive-threat

[2] https://nutria.com/site24.php

[3] https://boingboing.net/2013/04/29/meat-from-a-20-kb-swamp-rat-t.html