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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Louisiana Coastal Restoration Efforts Gain Support

After a recent environmental impact statement was publicly released by the Army Corps of Engineers, more and more support has accumulated for the Louisiana Coastal restoration efforts, specifically Louisiana’s Mississippi River Delta, according to an article from Biz New Orleans.

This drafted version of the Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) was released for a period of public review and comment, allowing for individuals and organizations to speak up and engage in the ongoing restoration efforts. The DEIS proposes that a sediment diversion is to be placed throughout a portion of the Mississippi River and its tributaries, extending into the Mid-Barataria Basin in Plaquemines Parish.

The Barataria Basin is currently experiencing one of the highest land loss rates in the world, and if approved, this sediment diversion could assist in the rebuilding and maintaining of tens of thousands of acres of land in the Plaquemines Parish area.

One group advocating for the implementation of the sediment diversion as a part of the Louisiana Coastal Master Planproject is “Restore the Mississippi River Delta,” which is a coalition of the National Audubon Society, Environmental Defence Fund, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, and the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation. The coalition refers to the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion as Louisiana’s “best shot” to turn the tide on the state’s coastal land loss.

Between 1932 and 2016, the Barataria Basin has lost approximately 295,000 acres of land, making its land loss rate among the highest worldwide. A loss of land on this massive scale affects more than just maps of the region, as it displaces entire communities, threatens essential infrastructure and associated jobs, and completely destroys an iconic wildlife habitat that was once abundant and diverse.

The coalition’s campaign director Steve Cochran spoke of the immediacy of the proposal by saying, “unless we act now, we risk losing it all. The future of our entire region is at stake. The Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion will build more wetlands than any other individual restoration project in the world, in an area experiencing some of the highest land loss rates on the planet. If our region is to have a fighting chance against land loss, hurricanes, and sea-level rise, we must put the muddy Mississippi back to work to rebuild our coast.”

The full Draft Environmental Impact Statement, released by The United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), consists of over 5000 pages, 10 chapters, and 20 appendices, detailing just how the proposed project could help to restore Louisiana’s coast. The full DEIS can be found on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ website.

David Muth is the director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Gulf Program, which is a part of the “Restore the Mississippi River Delta” coalition, and he’s called for immediate action to be taken. Muth spoke of the importance saying, “Louisiana’s unparalleled coastal habitat is at risk of near-complete collapse in the face of climate change-driven sea-level rise. The Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion, perhaps more than any other project now planned, is vital to the long-term health of our wildlife and fisheries resources. We are finally beginning to address the serious challenges we face at an appropriate scale, using the right tool — the river. If we act now, we can remain a world-renowned Sportsman’s Paradise.”

Louisiana’s iconic coast is home to over 2 million people, a provider of nearly 30 percent of the commercial fishing landings of the United States, and a producer of 90 percent of the country’s outer continental oil and gas. These statistics and plenty more released in the DEIS denote that the time to implement coastal restoration efforts is sooner- rather than later.

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Nicholls Farm Gets Donation For Coastal Restoration Efforts

For the fifth year in a row, the Nicholls Farm has received a sizable donation in order to advance their research into coastal restoration, as per a feature from the University’s press department.

Recently, The Port of South Louisiana once again displayed their support of Nicholls State University and their efforts towards coastal restoration by way of an $18,000 donation. The fund will reportedly be used to produce native coastal plant materials for restoration projects, to support student coastal research projects, and to help with all that is involved with actively maintaining and upkeep the Nicholls Farm.

Nicholls Farm is an educational research center located on a 277-acre farm three miles south of Nicholls’ campus. In addition to serving as an environmental research center, the property also serves as an education center for Nicholls and other partners. Labs, classrooms, greenhouses, shade houses, storage barns, and a 7.5 acre-pond for wetland plant production are all housed at the farm.

Coastal restoration efforts are spearheaded by Nicholls biology students and faculty, and together they have grown, harvested, and planted over 35,000 plants in coastal habitats in recent years.

Dr. Allyse Ferrara, a distinguished service professor and Jerry Ledet Endowed Professor of Environmental Biologysaid of the donations to the farm, “Support from organizations like the Port of South Louisiana is absolutely critical for our native coastal plant materials program. Without support from the Port, we would not have the ability to hire students to maintain the farm and produce plants for restoration projects, and we would lose an important source of supply funds for the farm. We very much appreciate the support we have received from the Port and look forward to continuing this valuable relationship.”

The Nicolls Farm will continue to play an important, key role in the University’s growing commitment to restoring coastal Louisiana. The university is helped in these efforts by public-private partnerships. One such effort is to rebuild a bridge that will expand faculty access to farmland which can be used to plant rare and native Louisiana plants; additionally there are plans to expand research as well as educational capabilities at the farm. There are also plans for the site to partner with the planned Nicholls Coastal Center for conducting coastal research.

These donations are greatly needed and thus appreciated, as they show support for the restoration to one of the most vital aspects of Southern Louisiana’s culture and environmental landscape. The Port of South Louisiana is the premier sea gateway for U.S. export and import traffic, and it stands within American’s largest tonnage Port district.

The Port of South Louisiana has its headquarters located in LaPlace, Louisiana, and it stretches 54 miles along theMississippi River, making it the largest tonnage port in the entire Western Hemisphere. This single stretch of river contains 67 industries, thus supporting over 30,000 jobs.

With these statistics, the need for coastal restoration cannot be understated, so it is imperative that institutions take direction from Nicholls State University’s Nicholls Farm in order to rebuild the Louisiana Coast. Thus, with donations annually coming in from The Port of South Louisiana, strides are appreciated made in these efforts.

Paul Sucoin, the executive director of the Port commented on such importance by saying, “it’s important for everyone to get involved in coastal protection and coastal restoration. Our future depends on it, and this contribution is our small way of contributing to that effort. I we don’t do this, we will lose our coast. We will lose Thibodaux. We will lose Louisiana,” Aucoin said. “We are not in the business of coastal restoration. So we help by contributing to programs like Nicholls State University that are.”

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Louisiana Expects to Build More Coastline in 2020 Than It Loses

In 2020, the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority expects to build more to it’s coastline and coastal wetlands, ridges, and marshes than Louisiana will lose. CPRA Chairman Chip Kline said “2020 for the coastal program is going to be the year that we’ve been waiting on.” We have many large scale projects that have been studied for years ready to come off the drawing board and into the construction process, Kline added.

One of those projects includes a plan to use dredge material to nourish the marsh south of the town of Jean Lafitte. This 1,4000 acre project represents the largest marsh creation project the state has ever attempted. A large portion of the funding comes from the fines and settlements that are associated with the Gulf of Mexico oil spill that occurred in 2010.

In the next few days, the $10 million project to restore 37 acres of Queen Bess Island is expected to wrap up. Queen Bess Island is an important brown pelican nesting area that was heavily affected by the oil spill and is hugely important to our coastline.

Aside from those projects, the state is going to deploy 18 dredges on a variety of other projects. This means the state will move more dirt in 2020 than in any other given year. “We will actually build more land in coastal Louisiana over the next four years than we will lose,” Kline said.

The Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority projects that while Louisiana will lose around 48 miles of coast this year, the state will build 68 square miles.

It’s important to note that hurricane season can heavily affect these projections. Hurricane Katrina that occurred in 2005 wiped out 300 square miles of land in just 30 hours.  Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast of the United States on August 29, 2005. She was a category 3 rating on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale, brought sustained winds of 100–140 miles per hour and stretched about 300 miles.

Hundreds of thousands of people in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama were displaced from their homes, and experts estimate that Katrina caused more than $100 billion in damage.

The Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority is established as the single state entity with authority to articulate a clear statement of priorities and to focus development and implementation efforts to achieve comprehensive coastal protection for Louisiana.

They work with federal, state and local political subdivisions, including levee districts, to establish a safe and sustainable coastline that will protect our communities, the nation’s critical energy infrastructure and our bountiful natural resources for generations to come.

The CPRA has a multitude of coastal programs that are funded through a variety of federal and non-federal programs, each of which has different requirements, parameters and processes of implementation.

Those programs are Berm to Barrier, Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), Coastal Impact Assistance Program (CIAP), Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act (CWPPRA), Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction System (HSDRRS), Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Restoration, State-Only Projects, Non-State Projects.

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Nicholls Makes Strides In Coastal Restoration Efforts

Nicholls State University has once again made its place known as an official part of Louisiana’s efforts toward coastal restoration, preservation, and water management.

In a press conference held on the university’s campus in September, Nicholls President Dr. Jay Clune, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, and the President and CEO of the South Louisiana Economic Council (SLEC) Vic Lafont announced the new Louisiana Coastal Technical Assistance Center (CTAC). The CTAC will be located on the Nicholls campus and will assist local companies and organizations that are competing to work as contractors, subcontractors, and suppliers on various coastal restoration projects in the state.

Other organizations represented at the press conference wereLouisiana Economic Development (LED), the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA),  and The Water Institute of the Gulf. The organizations came together to sign a memorandum of understanding for the creation of the CTAC.

Governor John Bel Edwards stated that the Pelican State will be funding hundreds of millions of dollars into coastal restoration throughout the next fifty years. In addition to preserving the coast, coastal restoration also helps Louisiana businesses by creating a market for them to compete in for work along the coast. It is the state’s way of making sure Louisiana businesses are at the forefront of the coastal restoration process.

The center will be overseen by the South Louisiana Economic Council, which will also help companies gain the necessary qualifications needed for coastal recovery bidding processes. Similarly, Nicholls will provide vast technical support and research services as its role as the CTAC’s higher education partner. Nicholls will also provide a shared office and business space that will be specifically dedicated to coastal restoration.

This is not the first time Nicholls State University has taken a stand in the realm of coastal restoration and preservation. The university has previously partnered with the University of New Orleans, Water Institute of the Gulf, and the Coastal Preservation and Restoration Authority. Just this past spring, Nicholls and the CPRA announced a joint effort to build a Water Research Center for Coastal Restoration on the university’s campus.

LED and CPRA is providing a combined $750,000 initially to establish the new center. After that, each agency will give $125,000 every year for three years. The first year will be the 2020 fiscal year.

“CPRA’s investments will transform the coast,” said CPRA Chairman Chip Kline Jr. “By teaming up with LED, Nicholls, SLEC, and the Water Institute, we believe we have a real shot at transforming the economy of South Louisiana as well. CPRA is measuring success in restored land and reduced flood risk, but CTAC also gives us the opportunity to measure our impact in jobs and business development.”

The Water Institute of the Gulf will join the newly established Coastal Technical Assistance Center in boosting employment and business opportunities within the water management sector. The Institute, which is based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is a leading applied research center with a focus on coastal and deltaic solutions across the world.

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Mississippi River Stopping Louisiana From Coastal Restore

The Mississippi River isn’t nearly as muddy as it used to be, and that could be bad for Louisiana coastal restoration. According to a recent article written by nola.com, “A new study indicates the concentrations of sediment in the lower Mississippi River have decreased by more than half in recent decades. That’s not good for Louisiana, which depends on a constant supply of river silt, sand and mud to rebuild land on its ever-eroding, ever-sinking coast.”

Although this is devastating news for coastal restoration warriors around Louisiana, there are many who are prepared for what this new study shows. The article written by nola.com also reveals, “The Mid-Barataria and Mid-Breton diversions the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) plans to build in Plaquemines Parish would channel sediment-rich water from the Mississippi into estuaries and bays that have been starved of sediment by the river’s levee system. The two diversions, which would cost a combined $2 billion, are expected to restore marshes lost to erosion, subsidence and sea level rise.”

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