Coastal Careers

Wetland career opportunities are as diverse as the ecosystems they focus on. Whether you want to restore, study, inform, or otherwise utilize the abundance of ecosystem services, wetlands can provide a lifelong, rewarding career.  Involvement in wetlands is not limited to the sciences; it includes numerous different disciplines. Wetland careers also span various organizations from local to the federal level and from the private sector, nonprofits, and public service positions.

Wetland restoration involves several professions within the bounds of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). Coastal biologists, hydrologists, botanists, engineers, modelers, and GIS specialists are all involved in planning, constructing, and monitoring CWPPRA restoration projects. In addition to STEM professionals, the coast needs professionals that work with the communities who are impacted by coastal wetland loss and policymakers who leverage the law to ensure local, state, and federal governments prioritize coastal wetland restoration. Coastal organizations also need grant writers and development professionals to generate funds for advocacy, engagement, and restoration projects as well as individuals who are involved in the day-to-day operations of the organization.

In addition to coastal restoration careers, many individuals benefit financially from the services and resources the wetlands provide. Wetlands supply jobs in fossil fuel production, the seafood industry, and agriculture production for Louisiana’s workforce and contribute billions of dollars to our state each year. These industries have a variety of careers within STEM, social sciences, administrative, and communication fields.

Tourism and education professionals are also invested in keeping wetlands healthy. These professionals are enthusiastic to share the splendor of our state with visitors from far and wide. Teaching both our native population and out-of-state neighbors the importance of keeping wetlands working properly is one of the main goals of the CWPPRA Outreach Office, alongside many great friends and partners from groups like BTNEP and RESTORE the Mississippi River Delta.

Wetlands can also inspire careers within the arts. Artists find some of their greatest stories and strongest inspiration in the wetlands of Louisiana’s. Painters such as George Rodrigue, photographers like Frank Relle, writers such as James Lee Burke, and musicians such as Lost Bayou Ramblers, to name a few, have all found inspiration in our charming, vibrant wetlands.

If you’re interested in wetlands, there’s probably a job for you that incorporates your other interests. The fight to restore and protect our wetlands is all encompassing and there’s numerous outlets for your curiosity, creativity and innovation!

 

 

 

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Evolving Study of Wetlands

From towing an airboat to a site, to driving the vessel, to taking samples in the hot, humid sun, there are many challenges for researchers as they study coastal wetlands.  Thanks to innovations in drone technology, researchers can study the wetlands a little easier. With free movement in every direction, a camera, and various other attachments, drones can gather enormous amounts of data in a fraction of the time that it would take more traditional methods. Drones are far from alone on the forefront of technological advancement. Innovations in drones sit alongside and often work synergistically with GIS/GPS, remote sensing, and machine learning breakthroughs, to name a few.

In addition to the evolution of drone technology, computer software and hardware systems evolve just as quickly, consistently streamlining data collection, processing, and analysis. The two go hand-in-hand, of course; complex software can only be run with more powerful or specialized computer hardware, tailored to the task it will be performing. Major game-changers challenge the norms and traditions of science increasingly more often. In the past several decades, satellite imagery has become more prevalent, drones have allowed scientists and others to access new perspectives, and machine learning has grown to process more parameters at higher speeds. All of this advancement in computing has allowed scientists to develop greater understandings of systems, connectivity, and changes in wetlands.

In addition to improvements in drones, software, and processing power, researchers have improved the development of environmental models. Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, one of CWPPRA’s managing agencies, joined with LSU to design, manufacture, and implement the Center for River Studies’ scale model of the Mississippi River in 2017. An amazing feat of engineering, the river model allows scientists to study several aspects of our coastal zone. Using a sediment medium that mimics Mississippi River sediments, studies can predict what will happen during a flood event, if a diversion gets installed, and so many other situations. Hydrology, sedimentation, and potential ecological impacts can all be measured on this 10,000 square-foot platform at approximately a 13:1-time scale, i.e. one full day running the model represents about thirteen full days on the real Mississippi River.

In a dynamic landscape like coastal Louisiana, good equipment is a huge benefit to studies and planning for the future. Land loss is a complex issue with several moving parts that need to be studied and addressed. It is imperative that there is a good understanding of the full system before any changes are made that could have detrimental effects on any important aspects of our productive, populated, and protective coast.

 

Related articles:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1364815217311295

https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/earth-and-planetary-sciences/remote-sensing

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0925857417303658

 

Featured image from https://blog.nature.org/science/2016/09/27/flight-over-the-bas-ogooue-using-drones-to-map-gabons-wetlands/

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

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.

Wetlands Filtration

The United Nations celebrates World Environment Day today, June 5, to bring more awareness to issues of environmental protection and restoration. This year’s theme is combating air pollution. We rely on our wetlands for oxygen production, carbon sequestration, and physical protection from natural disasters. As humans aggravate and change our environments, we lose these life supporting benefits and the impacts of global climate change become a local occurrence. [1] CWPPRA works to restore Louisiana wetlands so they can continue to filter pollution and improve air and water quality.

Coastal Louisiana contains about 40 percent of the United States’ wetlands, but we are experiencing around 80 percent of the nation’s land loss. [2] Recent studies have found that wetlands are some of the most productive ecosystems in the world, including estuaries, swamps, and marshes, all of which are found throughout coastal Louisiana. [3] Productivity is important because the more plant and animal material an ecosystem accumulates, the more carbon is absorbed, or sequestered, from the atmosphere. Plants grow through photosynthesis, which is a process that uses sunlight to bind carbon dioxide from the air into sugars that the plants can use for food. Wetlands have an impressive ability to store carbon in diverse plant tissues, both living and dead.

Although all plants and animals need nutrients, agricultural runoff introduces huge amounts of excess nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus to our wetlands as well, which impact wetland ecosystems. Nutrient pollution can cause weakened plant roots that are less effective at retaining sediment. [5,6] Additionally, nutrient pollution leads to algal blooms that deplete oxygen in the water, a process known as hypoxia, which leads to dead zones that kill aquatic species and causes health concerns for humans. Wetlands do a great job at filtering water to improve water quality, but they have their limits. Restoring wetlands will have greater potential to reduce nutrient pollution in the Gulf that damages the seafood industry, poses threats to human health, and degrades Louisiana’s coastal zone. Healthy plant communities in wetlands will sequester excess nutrients as well as other pollutants, improving water quality and decreasing potential risks downstream. [7] Wetlands can even be used as wastewater treatment plants. [8]

Atmospheric and aquatic nutrients can be filtered and stored by wetland plants, with long-lasting benefits to the world’s oceans and climate. CWPPRA realizes how many benefits we receive from wetlands and we have been working since 1990 to protect and restore our critical coastal environments. Alongside our partners, we hope that our wetland projects help our marshes and swamps continue to provide social, cultural, economic, and environmental benefits.

 

  1. https://phys.org/news/2017-02-wetlands-vital-role-carbon-storage.html
  2. https://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/la-wetlands/
  3. https://globalchange.umich.edu/globalchange1/current/lectures/kling/energyflow/energyflow.html
  4. https://www.aswm.org/wetland-science/wetlands-and-climate-change/carbon-sequestration
  5. https://climateactiontool.org/content/restore-affected-estuaries-reduce-nutrient-pollution
  6. https://nicholas.duke.edu/about/news/dead-roots-not-just-waves-account-marsh-losses-gulf
  7. http://www.wetlands-initiative.org/nutrient-removal
  8. http://efc.web.unc.edu/2016/09/23/constructed-wetlands-wastewater-treatment-walnut-cove-nc/

Sugar Cane

The natural flooding of the Mississippi River has produced fertile wetland soils which farmers in Louisiana use to grow sugar cane. Sugar cane was introduced in the plantation region around New Orleans in the 1750s and succeeded due to the slave labor required to cultivate the crop. [1] Commercial farming hit its stride with the introduction of new technology for granulating sugar in 1795  at Étienne de Boré’s plantation. Ever since , Louisiana’s sugar cane industry has flourished and remained, to this day, one of Louisiana’s main agricultural products.

At least 25,000 Louisiana residents across 23 parishes grow, harvest, or process sugar cane from around 400,000 acres of farmland that are set in our fertile wetlands. Multiple effect evaporators, invented in 1834 by a Creole chemical engineer named Norbert Rillieux, a free man of color, are still used today. [2] New innovations in crop protection, hardiness of varieties, and processing techniques continue to rake in $645 million from exports alone, constituting 16 percent of total national sugar production. [3] Interspersed between sugar cane fields, one can find dual rice-crawfish fields as well as soybeans, cotton, and corn. Sweet potatoes and juicy Louisiana strawberries are among the state’s staple crops as well.

Even with new technologies and innovations, fertile soils are still one of the largest contributing factors to the success of agriculture in our wetland state. Land loss threatens to ruin the livelihood of Louisiana farmers. Salt water intrusion continues to penetrate our interior agricultural land as our coastal marshes vanish. More about salt water intrusion can be found in our post about the topic. [LINK] Restoring natural hydrology and preventing saltwater intrusion from harming our fertile wetland soils is imperative for Louisiana farmers. Protecting our coast has long-reaching benefits to our vital agricultural industry, our citizens, and our state, and CWPPRA is working alongside other groups to restore our natural coastline for a sustainable future.

[1] http://www.assct.org/louisiana/progress.pdf

[2] https://www.lsuagcenter.com/profiles/lbenedict/articles/page1503347392487

[3] https://www.lsuagcenter.com/portals/communications/publications/agmag/archive/2008/spring/sugar-processing-in-louisiana

Featured Image from https://www.trover.com/d/1zHAz-new-iberia-louisiana

Biological Diversity

Today, CWPPRA celebrates the International Day of Biological Diversity and the variety of species Louisiana’s coastal wetlands! Louisiana’s wetlands boast a wide array of ecosystems, including upland hardwood forests, forested wetlands known as swamps, salt and freshwater marshes, and barrier islands, that allow for species to thrive and diversify into specialized niches.  Throughout the United States, we all benefit from Louisiana’s wetland biodiversity, especially the abundance of fresh fish and seafood species.

The fact that we have so many desirable species in our coastal waters is a huge benefit to the state’s economy, and the seafood industry provides many Louisiana residents with job opportunities. Louisiana fisheries contribute about $2.4 billion to our economy each year. About $1.3 billion of that sum is directly from the shrimp catch. Recreational fishing is a popular pastime in this area as well, which is supported by wetland habitats. Our rich diversity allows for people to choose from a variety of prey. Many fishermen diversify their catches so that if one species limit is reached or season is passed, they can collect other species. Limits are put in place to keep populations stable, which maintains ecological interactions and the vibrant ecosystems we are so proud of. For more information about limits and fishing licenses, visit the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

From the flavor of the meat, to the number of bones, each species has different value to fishermen and consumers. Differences in physiology and morphology between fish in our coastal waters are as abundant due to our biodiversity. We have bony fish and cartilaginous fish, plant- and meat-eaters, fresh and saltwater species, fish with or without spines, and the list goes on and on. These different types of fish coexist because our coast is so productive. Normally, ecosystems evolve predictably as populations move and change size and they are resilient to an extent. However, large-scale disturbances that interrupt the natural interactions and processes—like the sudden proliferation of an invasive species, man-made disasters like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and large weather events—can cause major problems for our native species.

Diversity is an important factor in a healthy ecosystem and Louisiana is fortunate to have our abundant and protective coastal zone, but we are losing these important habitats to land loss. Land loss affects the diversity of our species and the industries that rely on these species. CWPPRA is dedicated to make sure our projects have a positive impact on our native species of plants and animals before construction begins. CWPPRA strives to protect the natural splendor that makes Louisiana the “Sportsman’s Paradise” for generations to come.

 

Featured Image from https://beckyeldredge.com/shrimp-boats