Nicholls Awarded Nearly $500,000 For Coastal Research

In an effort to save the eroding coast of the state of Louisiana, students from Nicholls State University have been given nearly $500,000 to conduct coastal research, according to Houma Today.

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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Nicholls Partners with U.S. BOEM to Develop Database of Coastal Research

It was recently announced that Nicholls State University is partnering with the United States Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to develop a database for coastal research conducted on the Bayou Region and Gulf Coast, according to a press release from the school.

It was outlined that the $400,000 project would take place over a four year period, wherein a database and repository would be created for scholars, agency officials, and members of the community to contribute to and benefit from. The project is titled, “Digital Curation: Streamlining Access to Research Across Gulf of Mexico Communities.” Aptly named, the project’s title also stands as a concise mission statement for the goals set forth by the partnership.

Nicholls’ dean of the College of Sciences and Technology and director of coastal research initiatives, Dr. John Doucet remarked on this momentous collaborating, saying: “The Digital Curation Project will improve how levels of government from federal to local find key resources for environmental impact statements and other reports related to the Louisiana Gulf Coast, The Digital Curation Project will improve how levels of government from federal to local find key resources for environmental impact statements and other reports related to the Louisiana Gulf Coast.”

Dr. Doucet went on to say, ““The project is an important addition to our growing portfolio of coastal services at Nicholls as the Louisiana university ‘Closest to the Coast.’ It shows our continuing commitment to coastal communities.” He will oversee the project alongside Dr. Gary LaFleur, R.E. Miller Endowed Professor of Honors Studies and executive director of the Center for Bayou Studies.

Overseeing the day-to-day project operations and student training as project manager will be Dr. Shana Walton, Nicholls associate professor of English, modern language and cultural studies. Walton remarked to Nicholls press that the Center for Bayou Studies is notable in that it alone is uniquely qualified to develop the database because much of the research is composed of qualitative reports based on structured interviews, surveys, oral histories, field notes, and observations. Because of this variety of qualitative reporting, the accurate coding of coastal research reports requires a deep knowledge of the surrounding region and its culture.

The project initially started its work back in October by conducting studies that had been commissioned by the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and other agencies. In addition to the studies, the work involved archival material and projects, such as regional oral histories and information gathered, analyzed, and collected from local historical groups.

Dr. LaFleur remarked on the project’s meaning, saying: “this project represents a history of hard work laid down by Dr. Walton through her past BOEM projects, and Nicholls researchers taking the innovative step to work together within the Center for Bayou Studies.”

Not only will the project fund graduate fellows to help construct the database itself, but it will also allow for the professional utilization of that information. Additionally, opportunities will emerge for Nicholls faculty to develop their own research initiatives, allowing for undergraduates to take part in class-based projects.

This project opens the doors for accomplished faculty, graduate fellows, and inquisitive undergraduates to combine their eagerness for research and respect for their surrounding region. This pursuit of information, data, methods, and knowledge undertaken by the university and the U.S. Bureau stands tall as a perfect encapsulation of higher education at its best. The Center for Bayou Studies is housed at Nicholls State University, and it’s a multidisciplinary faculty collaborative focusing on the cultural and natural resources of the Bayou Region and its famed wetlands.

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