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.

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World Oceans Day

In 2008, the United Nations designated June 8 World Oceans Day. World Oceans Day, an independent organization established in 2002 advocates for ocean preservation. Even earlier in 1992, there was discussion about a need to raise awareness across the world about the importance of a healthy ocean. Hundreds of visitors streamed through the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas on Saturday, June 8, 2019 to celebrate the oceans of the world.

We were excited to celebrate the health of our oceans at the Aquarium of the Americas because so many of Louisiana’s citizens rely on it for their livelihoods. Alongside partners such as BTNEP, our Outreach Team visited with hundreds of enthusiastic aquarium-goers from across the country. Our table was at the mouth of the Mississippi River section on the second floor, next to one of the Audubon Institute’s famed “leucistic” (partial loss of pigment, appearing white) alligators, Tchompitoulas.

Each family at the event was given an activity sheet as they entered, directing them to each of the different tables to collect stamps. To earn their butterfly stamp from CWPPRA, they had to learn the average number of minutes it takes to lose one acre, or a football field, of land in coastal Louisiana. On top of that, many of the younger participants were really excited to learn about the animals in our habitat toss game. Despite not being allowed to take the bean bags home, they still had fun learning about different coastal habitats and the resources they provide.

Writing on the Bayou

On Saturday, June 1, our CWPPRA Outreach Coordinator, Jennifer Ritter Guidry, attended the Bayou Culture Collaborative’s Writing on the Bayou workshop at the Terrebonne Parish Library in Gray, LA. Led by Nicholls State University English professor Dr. Michael Martin, the small group of writers shared their background in writing fiction, non-fiction and memoir, poetry and songs. After a discussion of types of writing styles and a brief examination of writing samples, we talked about Louisiana’s landscape and its sensorial aspects, and how to incorporate that in your writing. And then, we wrote about an experience within the Louisiana landscape and read our pieces to the group. Each story captured the essence of the landscape, from one person’s writing nook overlooking the bayou to another’s memory of pulling potatoes and driving the tractor with her father. Here’s Jennifer’s piece.

 

Louisiana’s landscape is its primary determining factor in all of its development—it drove early peoples to high ground to settle and offered multiple avenues for travel, dictated the types and variety of available food, discouraged European colonists who instead chose to impose control over the environment (New Orleans, anyone?). Landscape allowed for early roads to follow the numerous waterways and determined a mixed system for industry and transport.

The roads today in Lafayette seem to make no sense. The original grid of Vermilionville centered around the church has expanded into a tangled web of roads, intersections, alleys, and absurd traffic. The old joke is that the roads were mapped by a fellow who followed a car as it wandered through the area. In truth, first came the railroad, which avoided traversing the water at all coasts and instead paralleled it. Then came the roads, which had no other alternative than to mirror those riverine twists and turns.

It doesn’t matter where you are in Lafayette, you can always hear the late-night trains blasting through town, whistles at top volume. I grew up near the Vermilion River and as a determinedly introspective teen, my favorite thing to do was to sneak out of my bedroom window in the middle of the night and walk down to the river and watch the mist rising off the water.

 

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/

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

 

 

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

Competitive Dominance Pt. II

Last week, Wetland Wednesday focused on dominant species in wetlands and conditions that contribute to competition. Last week we talked a lot about plants, but animals can be dominant in wetlands as well, for example the American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis).

Alligators are one of the most recognizable predator species of swamp and marsh habitats, but they haven’t always been as numerous as they are now. Alligators were endangered as recently as 1987 due to human impacts, especially hunting. [1] Since their conservation proved so effective, they are no longer on the endangered species list, but instead are now “of least concern”. It is impressive to see such a strong recovery for an endangered species, and their recovery was successful for many reasons, including their lack of strong competitors. Very few animals compare in size or bite strength. As apex predators, they have essentially free reign over other species when they reach maturity, although there is some competition between individual alligators. Productivity in swamps and marshes is extremely high compared to other habitats, so there is plenty of food to go around, but they still compete with birds of prey and other large aquatic animals like alligator gar and alligator snapping turtles (those names probably aren’t coincidental…).

As we mentioned last week, dominant species are not always native. Invasive species like nutria, or coypu, often out-compete native muskrats for similar food sources and homes. Since nutria are larger than muskrats, fewer species can prey on them. [2] Invasive species like nutria can disrupt communities of native species to the point of local extinction in some cases, especially in island ecosystems. [3] Not all introduced species are invasive; some do not significantly impact their new homes. Invasive species are detrimental by definition. Nutria were originally introduced by humans, which means their dominance over native muskrats is a byproduct of human activity. Similarly, zebra mussels and apple snails were introduced by humans and out-compete native species in coastal Louisiana.

Many species face the threat of population decline due to human activity, whether directly or indirectly. In a way, nearly all species on the planet are in competition with humans for food, territory, etc. or compete against one another to survive amid human impacts like climate change. Humans have done a great job altering landscapes to become livable for us, but those landscapes aren’t always good for native species. This kind of disruption has consequences to our own safety, however. Degradation of coastal marshes in Louisiana has been a consequence of human activity, and the risk of lowered wetland protection from storms poses a threat to our settlements. Since we have invested so much in where we live, it is in our best interest to reverse some of the damage we have done to those areas. CWPPRA is dedicated to coastal restoration because it is a responsibility we owe to both the environments we have disrupted and our communities that have come to depend on these environments.

[1] http://www.endangered.org/animal/american-alligator/

[2] https://www.aphis.usda.gov/publications/wildlife_damage/content/printable_version/fs_nutria10.pdf

[3] http://www.pacificinvasivesinitiative.org/site/pii/files/resources/publications/other/turning_the_tide.pdf

Featured image from http://www.louisianaherps.com/american-alligator-alligato.html