This hefty amount that will be used to research the Louisiana coastline is among eight Louisiana research grants announced recently by the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority and the Water Institute of the Gulf. These eight grants all together amount to a pledged $2.5 million.
The Water Institute of the Gulf is responsible for “vetting” grant proposals on behalf of the State of Louisiana. Afterward, they select recipients whose proposals will be funded by oil money, which is required to be spent on coastal restoration projects. In fact, the $495,368 research grant going to Nicholls students consists of funds originating from penalties and fines that have been levied against BP and other companies that were involved in the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
An assistant professor of biological sciences at Nicholls, Dr. Jonathan Willis, said of the aim of their research, “our understanding of how ridges function and the ecological and sociological communities they support is limited. By resolving targeted data gaps and providing conceptual models of ridge function, we can facilitate planning for coastal ridge restoration projects.”
The students at Nicholls will focus their research on ridges in particular. Ridges are strips of elevated land created by the Mississippi River, area bayous, and other waterways when collected sediment overflows their water banks. In most cases, that process ended sometime after flood-prevention levees were built along the Mississippi River and some of its connected tributaries in the late 1920s, and as a result, many of these ridges have since eroded and can no longer buffer communities and wetlands from flooding.
The Dean of Nicholls College of Science and Technology and the director of coastal initiatives, Dr. John Doucet said of the research grant, “this funding is recognition of the strong reputation of Nicholls scientists and students and the important coastal work they’ve been conducting over the years. This grant award is a win for Nicholls and the Coastal Center but it is also a win for the communities of the Terrebonne-Lafourche-Barataria region.”
Students at the University will conduct their research through a portion of south Louisiana between the Atchafalaya and Mississippi rivers known as the Barataria-Terrebonne Estuary, including all of Terrebonne and Lafourche. This area has lost 598,730 acres or 935 square miles of land to erosion and rising seas since 1935.
Contributing to the research will be multiple members of faculty and students from Nicholls’ Biology, English,Geomatics, and History departments. These contributors will be in the field conducting surveys, performing lab analysis, conducting historical reviews, using drones to take aerial video and photography, and interviewing estuary residents. Nicholls State University reports that the work will begin this upcoming fall and continue well through 2023.
With this multi-year research project beginning soon, Nicholls will be positioning itself as a leading center in the region for coastal education and research. In fact, the school will begin preliminary work in the next year on a $14.5 million Coastal Center that will serve as a hub for research on Louisiana’s eroding wetlands that will give guidance on how they can be preserved and eventually restored. Gov. John Bel Edwards announced in 2019 that Nicholls expects to receive bids by the year’s end to start groundwork on the 33,000-square foot building with the work being financed by $2.5 million from the state coastal agency. They are expecting to get to work and break ground early next year.
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