Perhaps no environmental phenomenon is as critical to the future of the Louisiana Gulf coast as sea level rise and the disappearance of our coastal marshes. A warming climate, a sinking coast and decades of unchecked assaults are driving the loss of coastal wetlands at unimaginable rates (almost 30 sq miles per year), a staggering reality for those who make their living here. The magnitude of forces driving wetland loss seems so far beyond human ability to control that we can be paralyzed into inaction. So it was with considerable enthusiasm that two weeks ago I joined GRN staff and donors for a drive down to Plaquemines Parish to explore a 10 year-old marsh reclamation project.
We headed downriver to Buras to see the results of a project established by the US Fish and Wildlife Service under the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act (CWPPRA). In Buras, we met up with Ryan Lambert, owner of Cajun Fishing Adventures, who is making his own marsh-recovery project happen. It was a gorgeous cool fall day and the sky was full of ducks and waterbirds. Ryan and his boatman piloted us out to the restoration project near Bay Denesse. On the lower river, the east bank of the Mississippi is bounded only by its natural levee. In 2006 the USFWS created a series of crevasses through the levee to permit silt-laden river water to flow into 1000 acres of open water that had once been freshwater marsh. To entice the river to drop its sediment load, its flow was slowed by a grid of low earthen terraces. This exciting new design for river diversions promised to increase effectiveness with which river diversions build new land, making it a very cost-effective approach for wetland restoration.
Today the terraces are working splendidly. What used to be open water are now shallow ponds. Reeds and grasses are colonizing the growing mudflats. Waterbirds, fish, and crabs are taking advantage of the new habitat. The restored wetland offered spectacular views of magnificent roseate spoonbills, flocks of white pelicans, rafts of coot and an abundant diversity of ducks.
At this halfway point in the 20 year project, Louisiana's Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority is reporting success. GRN’s Scott Eustis is monitoring the project by flying a kite-borne camera over the area. Ryan is so enthusiastic about the rapid success of the project that he is on track to duplicate the design. He is lining up the necessary grants and permits to establish a similar project and encourages other delta land owners and lease holders to do the same. It’s a great example of the success possible with smart creative approaches to a seemingly intractable problem and the importance of CWPPRA in stimulating such projects.
Julie Denslow is an ecologist, coastal advocate and long-time supporter of GRN.
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