Nicholls’ Educational Pioneers at the 2023 International Coastal Cleanup

In a resounding demonstration of environmental dedication, the Nicholls Department of Biological Sciences recently made waves at the 2023 International Coastal Cleanup. This event, conducted in partnership with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) and the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program (BTNEP), was hosted at Elmer’s Island Wildlife Refuge on Saturday, September 16. According to this informative news release from Nicholls, the results were nothing short of astounding, with the collective effort of 109 volunteers resulting in the removal of over 1,046 pounds of trash and debris, all from a mere 2-mile stretch of Elmer’s Island.

The International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) is a global volunteer initiative orchestrated by the Ocean Conservancy. Annually, this event unites countless participants worldwide in a mission to eradicate millions of pounds of waste and debris from our waterways, thus enhancing the safety of our beaches for both humans and wildlife. The magnitude of the challenge demands a massive collective effort, making volunteers an indispensable force in addressing the global issue of marine debris. Dr. Ferrara, a distinguished service professor and Jerry Ledet endowed professor of environmental biology at Nicholls, expressed their commitment to the ICC, emphasizing their delight in collaborating with numerous volunteers and local partners like BTNEP and LDWF to cleanse Elmer’s Island.

The cleanup effort on Elmer’s Island yielded impressive results, with the top 10 items removed reflecting the pressing concerns of coastal pollution. Plastic bottle caps, beverage bottles, utensils, bags, fishing lines, nets, traps, rope, food wrappers, foam cups and plates, and various other waste materials, including metal, paper, and plastic, were among the items retrieved during this cleanup. The diversity of these discarded items serves as a stark reminder of the multi-faceted challenges we face in protecting our coastal ecosystems.

What’s even more remarkable is the long-term impact of these cleanups. Each of the volunteers who participated in this year’s ICC event played a vital role in advancing Nicholls’ standing as Louisiana’s Coastal University. Situated uniquely amid the coastal landscapes, Nicholls has a golden opportunity to serve as a hub for research, education, and outreach in the field of coastal and estuarine efforts. The university’s commitment to its coastal environment extends far beyond this annual event. Through various academic programs and initiatives, students are offered a wide array of options to prepare themselves for careers in environmental stewardship and conservation.

Nicholls’ biology department, in particular, provides a comprehensive educational experience that equips students for future employment or further studies in professional schools. It’s an institution where students have the chance to explore the enchanting coastal waterways and swamps of Louisiana while gaining hands-on experience with state-of-the-art scientific equipment for investigating the intricate molecular mechanisms of cell biology. With 11 concentration areas to choose from, students can tailor their education to match their unique career aspirations.

But what’s truly inspiring is how Nicholls’ commitment to the environment transcends textbooks and lecture halls. It spills over into the real world, where students and faculty alike actively participate in events like the International Coastal Cleanup, making a tangible difference in the fight against coastal pollution.

In conclusion, the 2023 International Coastal Cleanup at Elmer’s Island was an exceptional display of Nicholls University’s dedication to environmental conservation. Through collaborative efforts, they not only removed over 1,000 pounds of trash but also inspired a new generation of environmentally conscious individuals. Nicholls’ Department of Biological Sciences stands as a shining example of how academic institutions can make a real-world impact on the preservation of our planet. As the 2024 cleanup approaches, we can only anticipate even greater accomplishments in the ongoing battle to keep our coastlines clean and safe.

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Coastal Center at Nicholls Partners with BALANCED Media | Technology

Nicholls State University has made another monumental step towards putting their soon-to-be-constructed Coastal Center on the forefront of technology development, according to this news release from the university. The monumental step being Nicholls State University’s recently signed an agreement with the award-winning technology company, BALANCED Media | Technology. The company, BALANCED, specializes in advanced data infrastructure and using AI technology in order to enable both humans and machines to work together, complementing one another’s strengths and countering their weaknesses. The agreement that was signed between the award-winning technology company and Nicholls was reportedly made possible through the Nicholls Foundation’s support.

Nicholls President Dr. Jay Clune commented on the agreement by saying, “this is a unique opportunity to change the trajectory of our region and Nicholls State University. The partnership of Nicholls State University and the Coastal Center with BALANCED Media | Technology will allow Nicholls State University researchers to use an Advanced Data Infrastructure and the patented HEWMEN technology platform to solve some of our most pressing coastal problems and create a working coast.”

Dr. Clune’s mentioning of the school’s utilization of BALANCED Media | Technology’s HEWMEN® platform, ensures that Nicholls’ state-of-the-art research being conducted at The Coastal Center at Nicholls will be able to create unique opportunities that will be able to benefit the Gulf Coast region both economically and environmentally. The research conducted at the Coastal Center will focus on studies pertaining to the Atchafalaya River and the Terrebonne and Atchafalaya Basins, so now the conducted research will be aided by BALANCED’s HEWMAN® platform and the brevy of innovative technology solutions that come along with it.

This is because the soon-to-be-built Coastal Center at Nicholls is thought to become a leading research facility as it supports a “working coast” in the Coastal Center’s right against coastal land loss. The Coastal Center’s inception was originally established in 2019 thanks to a memorandum between both the State of Louisiana, through the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, and Nicholls State University. Dr. Clune commented on the historic agreement by saying, “this opportunity will allow our researchers to collaborate globally on an unprecedented scale by leveraging the advanced tools in data refinement to access information that has been out of reach until now.”

In speaking on what the agreement signing means for their award-winning technology company, CEO of BALANCED Media | Technology Robert M. Atkins said, “Nicholls has a wealth of data, and BALANCED has the technology to unlock that data. Through our partnership, solutions to the problem of coastal restoration will move from possibility to reality. As commercial partners join us in this effort, we not only protect our coast and the industries that rely on it but also pave the way for new industry and the preservation of our heritage.”

As of now, the Coastal Center at Nicholls State University is projected to be completed and open its doors in early 2024. The Coastal Center will focus its aims and sights on research, education, and solutions to the southeasternLouisiana Gulf Coast’s coastal problems. This will include community resilience and the preservation of community culture and history.

Nicholls Foundation President Christopher Riviere said, “This is an extremely exciting time for Nicholls State University to partner with a technology company like BALANCED. The Nicholls Foundation is committed to supporting endeavors like this one that will not only benefit Nicholls, but also the entire bayou region.”

In establishing this innovative partnership between their new Coastal Center and BALANCED Media | Technology,Nicholls State University is ensuring that their absolute best efforts are being put forward towards solving the detrimental coastal problems in Southeastern Louisiana.

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Surplus Funding for Louisiana Coastal Restoration and Protection

Alongside the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) and the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards recently announced a proposal to allocate $150 million in surplus funding toward coastal restoration and protection projects, as per the governor’s office.

During the April press conference, Governor Edwards announced his proposal by saying, “at this moment, we are reaping the rewards of over a decade and a half of planning and implementation efforts. We have invested in the science and directed every available dollar toward projects that deliver real benefits to our people. Our track record of investment and implementation has allowed CPRA’s program to grow steadily into the success story it is today. The confidence we have in our coastal program has now been reaffirmed by an even larger investment from the federal government. I am now asking the Legislature to help us recover further from the devastating hurricanes of 2020 and 2021 by dedicating $150 million of state surplus to projects that will make us safer and more resilient well into the future.”

At the press conference, Col. Stephen Murphy, the commander of the USACE New Orleans District, commented on the Governor’s office’s push toward coastal restoration. Col. Murphy said, “coastal Louisiana’s importance to the Nation is underscored by the Administration and Congress’ recent investment of more than $2.6 billion under the Disaster Relief Supplemental Appropriations and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs acts. We look forward to our continued partnership with the State of Louisiana in delivering their commitment to support the area’s recovery and improve its resiliency to future conditions.”

The $150 in surplus funding will be allocated to fifteen total coastal projects, with $84.5 million being directed toward restoration efforts and $65 million toward hurricane and flood protection projects across 13 parishes. The many projects range from $200,000 allocated for the LSU Center for River Studies in Baton Rouge to $38 million being allocated for the design and construction of the Northwest Little Lake Marsh Creation in Lafourche Parish.

The full list, which can be viewed here, includes $30 million for construction of the Pailet and Crown Point Basin polders of the Lafitte Tidal Protection project in Jefferson Parish, $12 million for construction of the LaBranche Shoreline Protection project in St. Charles Parish, $2 million toward funding the Atchafalaya Basin Program for environmental restoration efforts and enhanced recreational opportunities, and $10 million toward the Southwest Coastal Project in Cameron, Calcasieu, and Vermilion parishes. Additionally, $5 million will be allocated toward various Vermillion Parish projects, including funding for shoreline protection and ridge restoration projects at Cheniere au Tigre as well as an increment of the North Vermilion Bay Shoreline Protection Project.

The mandate of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority is to develop, implement, and enforce a comprehensive coastal protection and restoration master plan. As per its website, the CPRA’s 2023 Coastal Master Plan “will build upon previous master plan efforts and strive to ensure that the collective effects of project investments reduce storm surge-based flood risk to communities, provide habitats to support an array of commercial and recreational activities, and support infrastructure critical to the working coast. This will be achieved by harnessing natural processes, focusing protection on key assets, and adapting to changing coastal conditions.”

As revealed by CPRA Chairman Chip Kline, the 2023 Annual Plan is the largest in CPRA history. Chairman Kline stated, “this is a pivotal moment for the coastal program. Our 2023 Annual Plan is the largest in CPRA history, with over a billion dollars allocated for construction and major investments in hurricane protection, sediment diversions, and 23 dredging projects across our coast. We are excited to see the prioritization of vital coastal restoration and protection projects in this year’s surplus funding.”

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Two Endowed Professorships for Coastal Studies Created at Nicholls

Nicholls State University is positioned to have new endowed professorships in coastal studies thanks to the generosity of the Callais sisters, a press release from the university announced.

The Callais sisters, Rachel and Leah Callais, have been supporters of Nicholls State University for years, having recently awarded $200,000 to the University’s College of Nursing for the creation of a computer lab in Ayo Hall. More recently, it was announced that each sister is donating $60,000 for a total donation gift of $120,000 that will be used to create two professorships in honor of their father, Mike Callais.

Their donation will be matched by the University of Louisiana System Foundation with an additional $80,000 added to the Callais Sisters’ donation. This total $200,000 gift will create two endowed professorships in coastal studies, each named:

  • The University of Louisiana System Foundation and C. Michael Callais Endowed Professorship in Coastal Studies.
  • The University of Louisiana System Foundation and Charles M. Callais Endowed Professorship in Coastal Studies.

A joint statement from the Callais sisters read, “our family has always been involved with the coast and the Gulf of Mexico, and that is why it was so difficult to drive around after Hurricane Ida and see the impact to our community. We know that someday it could all be gone, so we believe it’s important to preserve the coast, to do our best to keep it around and keep it alive.”

The University of Louisiana System Foundation gifted their matching donation of $80,000 in an effort to support and fund new STEM professorships. In 2019, the Chicago Community Trust had gifted the ULS Foundation $800,000 in order to support new professorships concerning STEM fields, or fields focusing on the subjects of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Along with their matching donation, the ULS Foundation emphasized that one professorship is to be awarded to a male and the other to a female.

The Nicholls press release also detailed that the Callais sister’s donation could not have come at a better time. This is due to the fact that a new Coastal Center is set to come to Nicholls’ campus to study the effect of land loss in the Terrebonne and Atchafalaya Basins, and according to Dr. John Doucet, the director of coastal studies and the dean of the College of Science and Technology, “these professorships will help the university attract and retain top coastal scientists.” The announcement of the new Coastal Center came from Nicholls State University and the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority back in 2019.

Dr. Doucet shared more about how the two new endowed professorships will directly impact those scientists in saying, “those professors will, in turn, develop solutions to restore and protect coastal communities where the Callais and other families live and work. The Callais family settled in the coastal marshland of the Lafourche Basin in the early 20th century. Over several generations, they have seen first-hand the changes and challenges of our coast that Nicholls will address through the Coastal Center.”

Rachel and Leah Callais’ donation will be highly beneficial for the future of coastal studies at Nicholls and the Louisiana Gulf Coast for years to come, and the Callais sisters reported in their joint statement that it’s all thanks to their father. “If it wasn’t for our dad then we wouldn’t have what we have, we wouldn’t be where we are and we wouldn’t know what we know. He showed us how to be a part of a community, how to live the right way and he instilled in us that we have to do whatever we can to help because it’s the right thing to do.”

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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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