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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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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