Rabbit Island Restoration Project Aims to Save the Pelicans and Coast

Louisiana engineers are banding together to restore the portion of Calcasieu Lake known as Rabbit Island and save dozens of brown pelican eggs in the process, as reported by The Daily Advertiser.  Details on the Rabbit Island restoration project are below.

Set forth as one of six projects by the Louisiana Trustee Implementation Group (LTIG) in January 2017, the Rabbit Island Restoration Project aims to add more land to the Cameron Parish island and ensure that the march island’s brown pelican population continues to thrive.

Reports indicate that since 1955 at least 89 acres of land have been lost, and the 200 remaining acres only consist of either open water or land that is at or below sea level. The excessively low elevation is a result of tidal effects from nearby shipping channels and wind-driven waves.

As a result of this continual land loss, the population of Louisiana’s official state bird, the brown pelican continues to lose half of its laid eggs annually. This is highly concerning considering that Rabbit Island is Southwest Louisiana’s only brown pelican rookery or dense nesting colony. In 2018 it was reported that the island hosted a population of over 1000 pelicans, but that number has since shrunken to a mere 400. Accordingly, this not only causes detrimental environmental effects, but the symbolic significance and implications of losing the state’s official bird cannot be understated.

The total effect of the project, which is spearheaded by the Lafayette company, Royal Engineering, will raise the island’s elevation from 1 foot to 3.5 feet, giving the pelican population more area for building nests. The process of raising the elevation consists of dredging 606,300 cubic feet of sediment from the nearby Calcasieu Shipping Channel and transporting it to Rabbit Island. The engineering team expects to add 88 acres back to the marsh island, which includes vegetation such as native grasses, shrubs, and plenty of room for the State’s official birds.

The $16.4 million Rabbit Island Restoration Project officially began in August 2020 with funds received from the BP oil settlement from the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The settlement gave the state of Louisiana $5 billion in natural resource damages with $220 million set aside specifically for bird restoration projects.

The restoration of Rabbit Island is the first rebuilding of a waterbird colony since the restoration of Queen Bess Island in early 2020. That project successfully restored 31 of the island’s total 36 acres available for pelican nesting. Located in Jefferson Parish, Queen Bess Island is the state’s fourth-largest Brown Pelican rookery, as it supports approximately 18% of Louisiana’s pelican nesting. The project was a resounding success, as it saw a dramatic increase in nesting activity since the project concluded just on the onset of the traditional nesting season for Brown Pelicans, mid-to-late February.

In light of Louisiana’s recent storm season, the effort to restore Rabbit Island had picked up considerable support from Louisiana officials. State Representative Ryan Bourriaque stated, “last year’s storm season was devastating for the people of Cameron Parish. As we continue to rebuild, I applaud the state for taking on this timely restoration project and for their continual investment in this region.”

Jack Montoucet, a secretary for the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, the group who initially announced the Rabbit Island project, said of its impact and importance: “by combining the habitat expertise of Wildlife and Fisheries and the restoration abilities of CPRA, we are making a big difference that will allow our native species to flourish as we continue the mission of restoring and protecting coastal Louisiana.”

As of early April 2021, the restoration of Rabbit Island is nearly complete, thus wrapping up a restoration effort years in the making and ensuring the flourishing of our state’s bird for many years to come.

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