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

 

 

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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

Competitive Dominance

Ecosystems around the world are in a constant state of competition as inhabitants impact each other, whether directly or indirectly. The theory of competition deals with interactions between populations within a defined range or habitat. [1] Individuals with more beneficial adaptations are more “fit” and will often out-compete others for resources like food, territory, or sunlight. Today, we will look at how one species can become dominant over its competitors in wetlands and what conditions might disrupt or completely tear down dominant species.

Some of our readers may immediately think of monoculture farming as a sort of dominance, and they would be correct. Although it is through artificial selection, crop species present some trait that Homo sapiens deems worthy of cultivating. For example, huge swaths of land in the United States have been clear-cut to make room for corn farms, cattle ranches, or even sugar cane farms. Maybe not to the same degree as artificial selection, natural selection can also produce habitats with dominant plants and animals. Coastal Louisiana’s wetlands are great examples of this. From Cypress swamps to Spartina marshes, wetlands are home to some hardy species who have adapted to harsh and variable conditions.

Wetlands go through cycles of drought and flood conditions, which can prove fatal for many species. [2] Wetland plants have adapted to survive the cycles and even exploit them. Cypress trees are a useful example because they don’t necessarily need flooded conditions to grow, they just need space and a little bit of protection when they are young. [3] Instead of becoming competitive on dry land with the thousands of other obligate dry land trees, cypress ancestors developed the ability to survive in water where few other plants competed. More information about their adaptations can be found in our second post about flood stress tolerance. In the salt marshes along our coast, smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) and other graminoids (grass-like species) dominate with their salt tolerance and fast reproduction. More about how cordgrass and black mangroves dominate other coastal species can be found in our first post about salt stress tolerance.

Within a species’ endemic (native) habitat, populations are limited by food availability, competition, and predation. However, species can move to non-native habitats that have plenty of food, less fit competitors, or little to no predation, in which case that species can become problematic. Invasive species are detrimental by definition and coastal Louisiana has several examples, which can be found in our invasive species article. Unfortunately, many invasive species move to new habitats with the help of humans, sometimes by accident and sometimes on purpose.

If you want to learn more about how human impact and other factors can change dominance structures, be on the lookout for Dominance pt. 2 next Wednesday!

[1] https://www.nature.com/scitable/knowledge/library/species-interactions-and-competition-102131429

[2] https://www.worldwildlife.org/habitats/wetlands

[3] https://www.arborday.org/trees/treeguide/treedetail.cfm?itemID=787

Featured Image from https://www.flickr.com/photos/9428166@N03/2686432231

 

Environmental Education

This week is a big one for us in habitat conservation and restoration.  This past Saturday, we celebrated World Wetlands Day and took some time to appreciate the variety and importance of wetlands around us. In case you didn’t see it, we posted on Monday about our Friday spent with students in Houma, LA. This week is also the official start of National Green Week, a set of programs developed by the Green Education Foundation (GEF) in the United States!

Across the country, schools will be offering GEF programs between now and the end of April to foster greater environmental consciousness. Programs that are offered can be found on their website, listed in our “sources” section. Programs consist of 5 days of lessons and associated activities, and they explore multiple topics within themes such as green energy, waste reduction, and sustainable water. Our hope is that schools in our state implement similar lessons. Thanks to programs like National Green Week, we have more citizens who are conscious of human impacts on ecosystems than ever before. In Louisiana, programs like CWPPRA, BTNEP, and CRCL focus on telling the story of coastal land loss and all the potential consequences of letting it happen. Environmental awareness of topics like clean water, energy efficiency, and waste reduction has major benefits to the health of our coastal zone. For more information, feel free to check out our posts about measuring water quality and soil pollution.

The mission of environmental educational programs is to start conversations and lay a solid foundation of knowledge that students can build on. Being introduced to pressing environmental issues at early ages nurtures better stewardship and more productive attitudes when it comes to the challenges of coastal erosion, deforestation, pollution, and other issues. In Louisiana, legislators are already beginning to realize the severity of our disappearing coast and are making changes accordingly. For this, we are extremely fortunate. We are proud to work alongside CPRA and our other partners towards our mutual goal of a resilient Louisiana coastline, and we look forward to the younger generations adopting this mission.

 

Sources:

https://www.worldwetlandsday.org/

http://www.greeneducationfoundation.org/greenweek.html

Featured Image from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cypress_Lake_(Lafayette,_Louisiana)

World Wetlands Day Outreach Event

Getting out and working with students is one of our favorite things to do in the public outreach office, so we are so glad we were hosted by the South Louisiana Wetlands Discovery Center this past Friday, February 1, for World Wetlands Day. Located in downtown Houma, Louisiana, the SLWDC has a beautifully curated wetlands museum exhibit as well as warm and friendly staff. The event was mostly open to Houma area schoolchildren ranging from 3rd to 7th grade with a short period at the end during which the public could participate. Students cycled through and engaged with 7 tables that each had a different focus.

Going around the room, Restore or Retreat taught about coastal erosion with a small model of a barrier island’s sandy beach, then the USDA Agricultural Research Service had students match seeds to pictures of their parent plants. The next table was our host, the South Louisiana Wetlands Discovery Center, with a presentation about invasive species. They brought their resident nutria, Beignet, as an example. Next, the LSU Veterinary Teaching Wildlife Hospital brought two hawks and a screech owl, all of whom are residents at their school due to injuries. T Baker Smith demonstrated some restoration techniques like shoreline protection, vegetative planting, and marsh creation. After those techniques, Louisiana’s Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) presented how it is important to treat wastewater and how wetlands act as filters, and BTNEP shared a few examples of animals with shells. We brought a game that uses bean bag animals to teach about how some species are confined to a specific habitat, but some animals can use more than one habitat.

The celebration started in response to the Feb 2, 1971 signing of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance Especially as Waterfowl Habitat, which is an international treaty to recognize wetlands as vitally important ecosystems. [1] On this day, organizations worldwide share a mutual goal to raise awareness and spread appreciation for wetlands near them. We appreciate the opportunity to get out and interact with students and we are proud to have worked with so many other enthusiastic and educational groups. Many thanks to our hosts, visitors, and colleagues- we appreciate all of the work you do to #ProtectOurCoast.

 

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LSU Veterinary School Students taught about wildlife rehabilitation with amputee birds of prey.
Beignet
Beignet, the resident nutria, cannot cause massive marsh damage from his little cage, but he can tear up some carrots.

 

[1] https://www.ramsar.org/about-the-ramsar-convention

Looking Back

Former President George H.W. Bush signed Public Law 101-646, Title III CWPPRA into law in 1990 to combat the national issue of coastal land loss. Over 25 years after he left office and a week after the late President’s day of mourning, this legislation is still providing protection to billions of dollars’ worth of industry, major human settlements, and beautiful ecosystems.

At 28 years of projects and counting, CWPPRA is among the longest-standing federally-funded restoration ventures in the country, as well as one of the most successful. To date, 210 projects have been authorized across Louisiana’s coastal zone to restore 100,000+ acres of wetlands. Each year of operation, CWPPRA has approved funding on multiple projects scattered across our coast. The locations of our projects can be found at https://lacoast.gov/new/About/Basins.aspx.

CWPPRA projects are proposed by anyone and developed in conjunction with one of our 5 federal managing agencies and Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. The process of project selection is always a rigorous competition between candidate projects across Louisiana’s coast. Each proposal presents estimated ecological benefits, cost estimates, and a detailed plan for the desired project. At the beginning of each calendar year, Regional Planning Team meetings are held across the coast to hear proposals. The proposed projects are compiled into an annual Project Priority List (PPL). Upcoming proposal meetings can be found Jan 29-31, 2019 on our calendar at https://lacoast.gov/calendar/. Over the next year the CWPPRA Technical Committee and Task Force narrow the list of candidate projects. In December, the Technical Committee recommends their top 4 projects to the Task Force. The Task Force finally votes in January on the 4 projects they will fund for Phase I Engineering and Design. This annual cycle will complete its 28th round in late January 2019.

CWPPRA is excited about wrapping up PPL 28 next month and starting on PPL 29! Be on the lookout for announcements about projects chosen for funding at the January 24th Task Force meeting. We look forward to continuing our efforts to #ProtectOurCoast!

 

Featured image from https://projects.propublica.org/louisiana/