While there are some people who cannot spend enough time outdoors, enjoying all of nature’s gifts, there are others who need a little more motivation to get outside and seek the beauty of our outdoors. What better time for either party to embrace the outdoor spirit of America than in the month of June, Great Outdoors Month. The month kicks off with a Presidential Proclamation, which advocates for all Americans to visit the great outdoors and to protect our nation’s legacy by conserving our lands for future generations. The Proclamation discusses the numerous possibilities for Americans to explore, play, and grow together through outdoor activities. Any activities from hiking to canoeing to wildlife watching, hunting, or fishing can involve kids by being healthy, active, and energized.
More and more Americans are seeking healthy and fun outlets as ways to stay active. The outdoor recreation community is situated in an exemplary position to help people lead a healthier lifestyle by welcoming them and providing guidance on how to take advantage of the great outdoors. Wetlands provide recreational opportunities such as fishing, canoeing, hiking, bird watching, and waterfowl hunting, just to name a few. One of the largest and most avid groups of people using wetlands is waterfowl hunters. There are an estimated 3 million migratory bird hunters in the United States. This year, new studies by the recreation community will record data on the key role outdoor recreation plays in local, state, and national economies. Outdoor recreation is an economic powerhouse in our country generating nearly $887 billion in consumer spending each year and creating 7.6 million jobs. Great Outdoors Month is designed to highlight the benefits of getting involved with our great outdoors and enjoying natural resources, such as forests, parks, refuges, and other public land and waters.
Oceans are often seen as the blood of our planet. Oceans flow over nearly three-quarters of the planet, providing 97% of the Earth’s water. Not only are oceans a home to an array of marine wildlife, they create a livable environment for land-bearing organisms like humans. Even though most people do not venture far beyond the coast, the open ocean produces a massive scope of goods and services that are a fundamental part of our health, economies, and even our weather.
Marine fisheries, shipping routes, oxygen, carbon dioxide sinks, temperature, weather control, and the water cycle are all provided by the ocean and are essential to a functioning world. Ocean-based businesses contribute more than $500 billion to the world’s economy and approximately half of the world’s population resides in the coastal zone. Oceans supply food, transportation, jobs, and products that aid in keeping people warm, safe, informed, and entertained. Around 90% of all trade between countries is carried by ship. If the ocean cannot produce it, it can at least transport the goods.
Tomorrow, June 8th, people from around the world will join together in celebration to honor, help protect, and conserve the world’s oceans. The theme for this year’s World Oceans Day is “Our Oceans, Our Future.” What a suiting theme! Regardless of our distance from the ocean, our lives are still highly affected by the health of Earth’s oceans. Oceans generate most of the oxygen that we breathe, provide food for us, regulate our climate, and clean the water that we drink. Without maintaining healthy oceans, our future will be affected dramatically.
Celebrate World Oceans Day by adopting the practice of appreciating our oceans through plastic pollution prevention and cleaning the ocean of marine litter. Take care of the oceans that give so much to us in return!
Families enjoying a Saturday adventure together on March 11th had the chance to explore different aspects of the ecosystems around them, including ways that wetlands help them and native wildlife. Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection, and Restoration staff exhibited materials and games at the Estuarine Habitats and Coastal Fisheries Center as part of 2017 Family Adventure Day to benefit the non-profit Healing House in Lafayette, LA. This annual event sends families to different locations throughout Lafayette for experiences that range from face painting to coming face-to- face with a snake.
Over 250 people stopped by the Center where they had the opportunity to see a demonstration of how coastal wetlands protect interior communities and wildlife habitat from storm surge. Visitors could pick up recent issues of WaterMarks and other materials on wetlands restoration projects in coastal Louisiana. Kids also received Henri Heron’s activity book and helped match Louisiana wildlife with the wetland habitat they need to survive.
Other exhibitors, including US Fish & Wildlife Service and Louisiana Dept. of Wildlife & Fisheries, focused on topics like bat conservation, beekeeping, endangered species in Louisiana, and fishing. Helping families understand and appreciate the diversity of natural environments in Louisiana helps ensure that those environments will be present in the future.
Louisiana’s shorelines are eroding at a drastic pace, some at rates up to 50 feet per year. The fertile but fragile soils found in the wetlands are susceptible to wave energy. As land is lost, water bodies merge together, which can increase wave fetch and shoreline erosion. Behind these shorelines lie communities, highways, and infrastructure that are at risk of washing away.
Various techniques to defend the coastline have been tested and applied under CWPPRA. Rock revetments, oyster reefs, concrete panels, and other fabricated materials have been constructed along otherwise unstable shorelines to abate wave energy and reduce erosion. These structures are designed to break waves, and they often trap waterborne sediments behind the structures that, over time, can become new land.
Through the course of the CWPPRA program, advancements have been made in shoreline structures that have helped maintain natural processes while providing critical protection. Such advancements have included using lighter-weight materials that require less maintenance and can be constructed on organic sediments. Other advancements include low-relief structures that are designed to trap sediments and natural breakwaters such as reefs that can self-maintain and support other ecological functions. Other natural shoreline protection measures include vegetative plantings, whose roots help secure soils and can promote accretion. These projects are implemented with consideration for minimizing impacts to the surrounding environment. Although some shoreline structures may look foreign in a natural landscape, they are necessary features that physically protect communities and hold wetlands in place by mitigating the harsh forces that move to destroy them.
Environmental Studies students in Christina Hidalgo’s class at the Episcopal School of Acadiana do more than learn about general environmental issues; they also get outside and participate in direct monitoring of the ecosystems around them. On February 21st and 23rd they were joined by Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act staff to discuss coastal habitats, the mammal species that call them home, and different wildlife monitoring techniques.
On Tuesday CWPPRA staff and ESA students discussed the importance of barrier beach systems for both human and wildlife communities, and students were given training in how researchers trap small mammal populations in those locations for monitoring. After students deployed small mammal traps around the ESA Cade campus on Wednesday, CWPPRA staff returned Thursday morning to help with trap collection and see what students had captured. In addition to trapping a variety of insects drawn to the oatmeal-soybean bait and several traps which had been moved by larger animals, ESA students successfully captured a marsh rice rat (Oryzomys palustris)!
These rodents are found throughout the Gulf and mid-to-south Atlantic coasts and as far inland as Illinois and Kansas. As the name suggests, marsh rice rats are generally found in wetland areas, although drier areas with dense grasses and sedges, while not ideal habitat, are also utilized. A native species in Louisiana, marsh rice rats can even be found out on barrier islands where their omnivorous diet lets them take advantage of both terrestrial food resources and items that wash ashore. The rat captured on the ESA campus was trapped near a stream and probably forages along that water body at night. Finding a marsh rice rat on a school campus is a reminder that wetland habitats come in a range of sizes and types and that we share those habitats with many different species.
More than one-third of threatened and endangered species in the United States live only in wetlands, and nearly half use wetlands at some point in their lives. Estuarine and marine fish, shellfish, various birds, and certain mammals must have coastal wetlands to survive.
CWPPRA has protected, created, or restored approximately 95,954 acres of Louisiana’s vanishing coastal wetlands in its first 25 years. Those restored swamps, marshes, and barrier islands/headlands and associated open-water habitats provide foraging, nesting, breeding, wintering, escape cover, and nursery habitat for a myriad of coastal fish and wildlife. Species that benefit include threatened, endangered, at-risk, and rare species, as well as commercially and recreationally valuable species and state and national fish and wildlife trust resources. Habitats restored through CWPPRA have aided in the delisting of our national symbol, the bald eagle, and the Louisiana state bird, the brown pelican, from the endangered species list.
Number of acres CWPPRA projects have benefited for fish and wildlife habitat:
Known to be one of the most easily recognizable species of waterfowl, the mallard duck is majestic, distinctive, and a wintering resident of the bayou state. The mallard is one of the most common ducks in the United States. With great variation between the two mallard genders, drake or male mallards have a bright yellow bill, prominent emerald green head, and white neck-ring, followed by a chestnut colored chest and dark colored rear. The hen or female mallards have a dark colored bill and are a mottled brown color with a dark brown stripe across the eye. Both drake and hen mallards have the characteristic violet-blue speculum with black and white borders. Mallard ducks are a migrating waterfowl species that can be found in Louisiana during winter. Among the dabbling ducks, mallards are one of the latest fall migrants with one of the most extended migration periods, lasting from late summer to early winter. During their migrant stay, mallards are found in agricultural fields, shallow marshes, oak-dominated forested wetlands, and coastal inlets with aquatic vegetation. Louisiana sits in the Mississippi Flyway, North America’s greatest and most heavily-used migration corridor. Louisiana’s coastal wetlands provide habitat for more than 5 million migratory waterfowl, approximately half of the wintering duck population of the Mississippi Flyway. Now, more than ever, restoration and protection of coastal wetlands is critical; if wetlands continue to diminish, Louisiana will no longer be known as “sportsman’s paradise”.