Echoes of the Marsh: Life on One Louisiana Coastal Island

Nestled on the outskirts of New Orleans lies a hidden gem, known as “the island,” where time seems to stand still amidst the encroaching  marsh waters. In a recent  article, The Advocate interviewed Milton Dudenhefer, an 85-year-old resident, who has witnessed the gradual disappearance of the marshland surrounding his home over the decades, replaced by the relentless tides of Lake St. Catherine. His reminiscence paints a picture of a life deeply intertwined with the rhythm of the water.

Yet, beneath the surface tranquility lies a pressing concern: the relentless erosion of Louisiana’s coast, a fate shared by the island and its surrounding marshlands. The stakes are high, not merely for the island’s residents but for the wider New Orleans region. As the marshland recedes, so too does the natural barrier that shields against storm surges, leaving densely populated areas vulnerable to nature’s wrath.

Efforts to combat this encroaching threat have been piecemeal at best, with limited resources allocated to address the broader challenges facing the region. Despite initiatives to rebuild marshes and mitigate the impact of tropical storms, the scale of the problem demands a more comprehensive approach—one that comes with a hefty price tag.

The island, steeped in history and tradition, serves as a microcosm of Louisiana’s coastal heritage. From the storied past of The Tally Ho Club to the fading remnants of Fort Pike, each landmark bears witness to a bygone era. Yet, amidst the nostalgia, there are signs of resilience, embodied by lifelong residents like Roy Vinot, whose deep-rooted connection to the land fuels his determination to weather the storm.

Vinot’s reflections offer a glimpse into the island’s evolution, from its heyday as a bustling commercial hub to its current status as a haven for those seeking solace by the water. His recollections paint a vivid portrait of a community bound by shared struggles and triumphs, united in their determination to preserve their way of life against the tide of change.

Zooming out from the island’s shores, the broader landscape reveals the intricate interplay of natural forces that haveshaped Louisiana’s coast over millennia. Richard Campanella’s insights into the region’s geological history provide a deeper understanding of the challenges facing the landbridge—a critical lifeline for the communities it serves.

As Joseph Wyble of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority underscores, the fate of the landbridge extends far beyond the confines of the island, impacting communities across the region. Marsh restoration efforts offer a glimmer of hope, yet the road ahead is fraught with uncertainty, requiring a concerted effort to secure the future of Louisiana’s coast.

In the face of mounting challenges, voices like Milton Dudenhefer’s serve as a poignant reminder of the urgent need for action. His lifelong connection to the island and its waters lends credence to his impassioned plea for awareness and solidarity in the fight against coastal erosion. The island may be a mere speck on the map, but its fate is intertwined with that of Louisiana’s coast—a story of resilience, adaptation, and the enduring bond between land and sea.

In the face of mounting challenges to the Louisiana marsh landscape, voices like Milton Dudenhefer’s serve as a poignant reminder of the urgent need for action. His lifelong connection to the island and its waters lends credence to his impassioned plea for awareness and solidarity in the fight against coastal erosion. As communities grapple with the complex interplay of natural forces, the island’s fate stands as a testament to the resilience of Louisiana’s coastal heritage, echoing a call to action for generations to come.

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From Vision to Reality: Bayou Region Incubator Welcomes Generous Support at Grand Opening

The Bayou Region Incubator and the Student Entrepreneur and Innovation Center celebrated a momentous occasion at their grand opening event, as they were presented with over $110,000 in generous support from various sponsors, as per this news release from Nicholls State University.

Among them, Chevron’s contribution of $50,000 played a pivotal role in furnishing the common areas and offices, ensuring that the space is equipped with essential furniture, office equipment, internet services, and mentoring platforms. Lisa Kliebert, the Executive Director of the Bayou Region Incubator, expressed immense gratitude, noting that without Chevron’s contribution, furnishing the space would have been a significant challenge.

In addition to Chevron’s support, Mosaic also stepped up with a substantial contribution of $50,000. This contribution focused on promoting diversity and inclusion within the incubator community. It encompassed crucial aspects such as diversity and inclusion training, roundtable cohorts, and sponsorship for the BRI to become a member of the River Region Chamber of Commerce. This sponsorship enables businesses associated with the incubator to attend River Chamber events as guests, fostering networking and collaboration opportunities. Kliebert emphasized the transformative impact of Mosaic’s contribution, highlighting its potential to benefit up to 17 businesses through various membership offerings, ranging from private office space to virtual memberships.

Premier Food Group’s donation of $7,500 was directed towards the creation of essential areas within the incubator, such as the kitchen and break room. These spaces are integral for fostering a conducive work environment, where members can recharge and enhance their productivity without having to leave the premises. Moreover, Premier Food Group has pledged to volunteer their time and expertise to conduct multiple training sessions at the BRI, further enriching the support ecosystem provided by the incubator.

Furthermore, Susanna Lamers, CEO of BioInfoExperts, contributed $3,300 to sponsor a Dedicated Desk membershipfor a full year. This sponsorship underscores the community’s commitment to supporting aspiring entrepreneurs on their journey towards success. To ensure transparency and accessibility, applications for all sponsored memberships or vouchers will be made available on the BRI website and social media platforms.

Reflecting on the significance of these contributions, Lisa Kliebert remarked, “The grand opening of this business incubator signifies the beginning of a powerful regional resource, fueled by the unwavering support of our sponsors. Chevron, Mosaic, Premier, and BioInfoExperts have fueled the Bayou Region Incubator to ignite movement – a movement dedicated to fostering innovation, launching dreams, and propelling the economic engine of our entire region.”

Looking ahead, the Bayou Region Incubator is poised to become a vital hub for entrepreneurial activity in the region. With plans to accommodate approximately 40 to 50 startups and small businesses, the incubator will offer a wide range of amenities and resources. From collaborative workspaces and meeting areas to private offices and multifunctional conference rooms, the incubator is designed to meet the diverse needs of its members at every stage of their entrepreneurial journey. Moreover, the incubator will serve as a platform for learning and growth, offering access to trainings, guest speakers, networking opportunities, mentoring, workshops, pitch competitions, and professional development initiatives.

Central to the mission of the Bayou Region Incubator is the promotion of a diverse, sustainable, and inclusive economy in Louisiana’s coastal community. By investing in entrepreneurship and small business development, the incubator aims to address the challenges posed by the coastal crisis and contribute to economic vitality in the aftermath of the pandemic and ongoing environmental threats.

In conclusion, the grand opening of the Bayou Region Incubator marks the beginning of an exciting new chapter for entrepreneurship in the region. With unwavering support from sponsors like Chevron, Mosaic, Premier Food Group, and BioInfoExperts, the incubator is poised to become a beacon of innovation, collaboration, and economic growth in Louisiana’s coastal community.

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Preserving Louisiana’s Coastline: Nicholls State University’s Environmental Research Efforts

Nicholls State University’s commitment to environmental research and education has reached new heights with the establishment of a dedicated wetland at the Nicholls Farm. As per this news release from the University, this initiative, which is made possible by the generous support of Ducks Unlimited and the Natural Resources Conservation Service(NRCS), aims to conduct research on coastal restoration and other related projects.

The wetland at Nicholls Farm plays a crucial role in the reduction of nutrients that find their way into the Gulf of Mexico. By pumping water from Bayou Folse into the wetland, the plants in this newly created ecosystem act as natural filters, effectively removing nutrients. The water, now free from these pollutants, is then returned to Bayou Folse. This process helps mitigate the impact of nutrient-rich runoff, which is a major issue faced by Bayou Folse due to factors like fertilizer use and home septic systems.

Ducks Unlimited, an organization dedicated to habitat conservation, is thrilled to be a part of this endeavor. Cassidy LeJeune, the Director of Conservation Programs – South Louisiana, expressed their gratitude to the NRCS for allowing Ducks Unlimited to contribute to this vital project. LeJeune also looks forward to future collaborations with Nicholls State University, highlighting the potential for further impactful work in the region.

Situated just three miles south of Nicholls’ campus, the 277-acre Nicholls Farm serves as an exceptional environmental research and education center. Equipped with state-of-the-art facilities such as labs, classrooms, greenhouses, shade houses, and storage barns, the farm also boasts a 7.5-acre pond specifically dedicated to the production of wetland plants. These resources provide an ideal setting for students and faculty to engage in hands-on research and learning experiences.

Nicholls biology students and faculty members have already been actively involved in coastal restoration efforts through the farm. They have successfully cultivated and harvested over 35,000 plants, including black mangroves, beach dune grasses, and coastal oak trees. These plants are then replanted along the coast and barrier islands, contributing to the preservation and restoration of these vital ecosystems.

Professor and Head of Biological Sciences, Quenton Fontenot, recognizes the wetland’s significance beyond nutrient removal. He emphasizes that the wetland will serve as a valuable resource for student learning activities and community engagement. By providing multiple opportunities for research and educational initiatives, the wetland at Nicholls Farm becomes a catalyst for fostering environmental stewardship among students and the local community.

The urgency of coastal restoration efforts in Louisiana cannot be overstated. Over the years, the Barataria-Terrebonne basins alone have lost around 600,000 acres of land. Louisiana faces the highest rate of wetland loss in the country, with approximately 80% of the nation’s coastal wetland loss occurring in the state. This alarming trend has led to the conversion of over 2,000 square miles into open water, an area roughly equivalent to the size of Delaware.

To address these challenges and safeguard the coast from future storms, Nicholls is planning to open its Coastal Center. The groundbreaking for this $21 million project is scheduled for the fall of 2023. The Coastal Center, located at the corner of Colonel Drive and Ardoyne Drive on the Nicholls campus, will work in conjunction with the Nicholls Farm. The center will serve as a real-world testing ground for coastal research, ensuring that the knowledge gained can be directly applied to restoration efforts in the region.

Collaboration lies at the heart of the Coastal Center’s mission. Scientists from various organizations, including the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, the Water Institute of the Gulf, and Nicholls’ Biological Sciences and Geomatics departments, will have a shared space to collaborate and advance research. By pooling their expertise, these experts aim to repair and rebuild Louisiana’s receding coastline, contributing to the long-term sustainability of the region.

The Nicholls Farm and the upcoming Coastal Center exemplify Nicholls State University’s dedication to becoming a leading center for coastal restoration research in Louisiana. These initiatives highlight the university’s commitment to environmental stewardship and its proactive approach to addressing the pressing challenges facing the coast.

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Glass Half Full: Turning Waste into Coastal Restoration

Glass Half Full, a grassroots recycling program based in New Orleans, is making significant strides in the realm of glass recycling, according to this feature article from The Advocate. Founded in 2020 by Franziska Trautman and Max Steitz, this innovative initiative is dedicated to transforming glass waste into eco-friendly sand and gravel. The primary goal of Glass Half Full is to contribute to Louisiana’s storm relief and coastal restoration efforts, all while reducing the burden on landfills and promoting sustainability.

Franziska Trautman, a native of Carencro, Louisiana, shared the inspiration behind the creation of Glass Half Full. As a chemical engineering student at Tulane University, she witnessed the lack of glass recycling programs in the state and felt compelled to make a difference. Trautman and Max Steitz realized that their recycling efforts could not only address the glass waste issue but also provide a valuable resource for coastal restoration and disaster relief projects.

The journey began in Trautman’s backyard, where the duo started collecting glass. They initiated a GoFundMecampaign to raise funds for the necessary equipment, and their initiative quickly gained momentum. Today, Glass Half Full operates out of a sprawling 40,000-square-foot facility, having successfully diverted an impressive four million pounds of glass from landfills. Their reach extends beyond New Orleans, as they now offer glass collection services to residents and businesses in Baton Rouge and the Northshore.

Once the glass is collected, Glass Half Full undertakes a meticulous in-house processing procedure at their New Orleans facility. With the capacity to convert two tons of glass per hour, the team transforms the material into sand and gravel. These recycled products are then supplied to various industries, with a significant portion allocated to coastal restoration projects.

According to Trautman, Louisiana faces the constant threat of coastal erosion, losing a substantial amount of land each passing hour. To combat this issue, numerous organizations and agencies are actively engaged in restoration efforts that heavily rely on sand. Traditionally, sand for such projects is sourced through dredging or importing from other regions. However, recycled glass sand offers a more sustainable and readily available alternative, effectively meeting the vast demand.

In collaboration with Tulane University and the National Science Foundation, Glass Half Full is conducting research to explore the additional benefits of recycled glass sand. Preliminary findings suggest that it could exhibit enhanced erosion resistance and the potential to remediate harmful algal blooms. These exciting prospects open up new possibilities for maximizing the effectiveness of coastal restoration initiatives.

Furthermore, Glass Half Full plays a vital role in disaster relief efforts. In anticipation of flooding, homes, and businesses often require sandbags for protection. The finest and most absorbent sand produced by Glass Half Full is used to fill these sandbags, which are then distributed ahead of storms, mitigating potential damages.

The impact of Glass Half Full continues to expand, with their pickup services now available in Baton Rouge and the Northshore. Future plans include introducing commercial pickups and establishing free drop-off points in these areas. Looking ahead, Glass Half Full aims to extend its operations into Mississippi, further amplifying their positive influence on coastal restoration and environmental sustainability.

Through their dedication and innovative approach, Glass Half Full is not only transforming glass waste into functional materials but also making a tangible difference in storm relief efforts and coastal restoration. Their commitment to sustainability and proactive response to environmental challenges serve as an inspiration to individuals and communities alike. As Louisiana battles the ongoing threat of coastal erosion, initiatives like Glass Half Full prove that even seemingly small actions can contribute to significant positive change.

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Louisiana’s Largest Marsh Creation Project On Track to 2025 Completion

Louisiana’s largest marsh creation project, which will create approximately 2,800 acres of marshland near Shell Beach, recently received a project update, according to this article from The Advocate.

The Lake Borgne Marsh Creation Project is a $115 million project that began its construction last year and is set to conclude in August 2025. The $115 million is being financed with settlement funds related to the 2010 BP oil spill; however, the federal government will be paying for a separate plan to restore wider wetlands that have been degraded by the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet, or MRGO. The Lake Borgne Marsh Creation project is Louisiana’s single largest marsh creation project currently under construction. The area was visited by St. Bernard Parish officials, Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) representatives, and members of the Louisiana Legislature in order to gain a perspective on the project’s current level of completion ahead of the Coastal Protection Authority’s annual plan and the update of the state’s 50-year, $50 billion master plan.

Recently, the chair of the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, Chip Kline, and other state and parish officials were able to visit the Lake Borgne Marsh Creation Project in order to provide an update ahead of the Coastal Protection Authority’s five-decade master plan that is updated every six years. Kline and other state and parish officials were able to visit St. Bernard Parish’s Shell Beach as well as take an airboat ride so that they could survey the eroded marsh that’s located between the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet and Lake Borgne.

This specific area has seen drastic erosion and changes over the past few decades thanks to saltwater intrusion, erosion, and subsidence that has been gradually degrading the area. It’s generally understood and accepted that most of Shell Beach’s erosion can be attributed to the MRGO after it fully opened in 1968 as a shipping shortcut from New Orleans to the Gulf of Mexico. Unfortunately, this shortcut channel was also labeled as a “hurricane highway”after 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, when the channel was responsible for helping expedite the storm surge that hit New Orleans.

One member of the local community, Robbie Campo, spoke about the drastic need for a new marsh environment by saying, “if we don’t do something over here, the lake is going to be into the MRGO. We’re going to lose it all.” Campo’s family operates Campo’s Marina at Shell Beach, and the marina has existed for 120 years, meaning that he has slowly observed the wetlands eroding over his lifetime. While Campo is concerned that the area’s fishing environment will be changed on account of future separate river diversions, he is reportedly relieved to see progress on the new marsh construction.

Thankfully, the $115 million Lake Borgne Marsh Creation Project is set to use approximately 13 million cubic yards of dredged soil to create around 2,800 acres of marsh. It’s estimated that this project, like others of its kind, will have an expected lifespan of 20-30 years. Chip Kline spoke about what Louisiana’s experience with detrimental storms has taught it by saying, “I think one of the greatest lessons that we’ve learned over the last few decades is that a natural buffer is just as important as your hurricane risk reduction system. This natural buffer – our marshes, our wetlands – are helping protect us.”

During the visit, parish and state officials were able to see construction excavators work to build a containment dike and mud berms to hold in sediment. After the tour concluded, a press conference was held, and St. Bernard President Guy McInnis spoke about the project by saying, “it’s all for the resilience of our community, and to keep our culture and our heritage for future generations.”

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Nicholls Farm has New Bridge Allowing Access for More Research

Thanks to a partnership with ConocoPhillips and the Lafourche Parish Government, Nicholls State University recently celebrated the rebuilding of the Nicholls Farm Bridge, a project that will have massive implications for the research conducted on Nicholls Farm. According to this statement from the school, the newly rebuilt bridge will be used to grant Nicholls Biology faculty members access to the land on the opposite side of Bayou Folse for research, ecological, and educational purposes.

The rebuilding of Nichols Farm bridge was a $300,000 project that was deemed “critical” by the University for its impact. Funding for the project was gathered over the past two years with the Lafourche Parish Government donating $200,000 towards the project and ConocoPhillips donating an additional $100,000 to see the project come to fruition.

It was in 1969 that Nicholls first purchased from Harvey Peltier the land that would eventually become Nicholls Farm, an integral part of the school’s plans to become the center for total restoration research in Louisiana. In just the past decade alone, Nicholls Biology has produced over 30,000 black mangroves at Nicholls Farm. These mangroves were eventually planted along coastal areas for the purpose of maintaining our coastal wetlands. A complete master plan for Nicholls Farm outlines plans for a classroom space, additional land, and areas to test coastal restoration projects, so the completion of this bridge is only one component of a much larger vision for the University.

Because of the bridge’s placement, Nicholls Biology faculty will now have access to the other end of Bayou Folse, allowing them to plant and grow several species of trees and coastal plants. These plants and trees will then be transferred to the Louisiana coastline to help defend coastal erosion.

Nicholls Biology department head Dr. Quenton Fontenot commented on his vision for the bridge at Nicholls Farm by saying, “our dream for the Farm is a place that brings people together for coastal restoration initiatives, and so to have the support of partners such as ConocoPhillips and the Lafourche Parish Government means we are going to be able to do that. Without that help the project is likely not finished today.”

As of the time of the university celebrating the completion of the bridge, the Biology Department already had several Louisiana irises ready to plant in the ponds on the other side of the bridge through a collaboration with the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry. One of the objectives for planting the irises is for seed harvest production. This is due to the versatility and essentialness of the plant, as it is native to the Bayou Region and sustainable in coastal habitats. These features make plants such as these native Louisiana irises absolutely vital to maintaining coastal wetlands and barrier islands.

John Harrington, the Coastal Wetlands director for ConocoPhillips, said of the essential need to protect the Louisiana coastlands, “the vast wetlands in southeast Louisiana are ideal for coastal restoration research. We are proud to support key partners like Nicholls State University to drive habitat-enhancement research and promote coastal resiliency and sustainability.”

A vital partner in this project coming to fruition is ConocoPhillips, which is one of the world’s leasing exploration and production companies when concerning production and reserves. They also have a globally diversified asset portfolio, and through their subsidiary The Louisiana Land and Exploration Company, they are the largest private wetlands owner in Louisiana. ConocoPhillips has long been a supporter of Nicholls State University and helps to steward their support of the coastal wetlands through their Houma office.

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