LSU’s Mission to Preserve Coastal Heritage

In the heart of Pointe-au-Chien, Louisiana, where the delicate land meets the Gulf of Mexico, the Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe (PACIT) faces the challenges of environmental threats, including storm surges that contribute to the rapid erosion of Terrebonne Bay. This historic settlement, established long before the arrival of Europeans, is not only one of Louisiana’s oldest but also one of the world’s most endangered areas. As per this article from Louisiana State University (LSU), the school has joined hands with PACIT since 2022, embarking on a mission to safeguard the tribe’s ancestral lands and coastal heritage through innovative nature-based solutions.

At the forefront of this crucial initiative for coastal heritage preservation is Matthew Bethel, the associate executive director of research at Louisiana Sea Grant. What started as a $100,000 planning grant has blossomed into a comprehensive $780,000 design project, thanks to the support from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Gulf Research Program. Bethel emphasized the importance of adopting a collaborative approach that integrates the Tribe’s perspective, drawing on traditional ecological knowledge and priorities. This holistic method, according to Bethel, can serve as a model for researchers addressing local issues in diverse communities.

Quoting Bethel, “The tribe tried and really liked the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana’s oyster shell recycling project.” This innovative approach involves placing oyster shells in areas needing protection, functioning not only as shoreline defense systems but also nurturing the growth of baby oysters and supporting thriving fish and crab colonies.

The Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana (CRCL) is a key partner in this expanded project. Highlighting the success of a previous oyster shell living shoreline project, Bethel notes how it withstood the forces of Hurricane Ida, prompting the Tribe to seek more such projects for enhanced protection.

The planning process for this coastal heritage preservation unfolds through inclusive focus group meetings with Tribe members of different generations, subject matter experts, parish officials, and various regional groups. Daniel Burger, senior program manager of the Gulf Research Program’s Gulf Health and Resilience Board, underscores the significance of nature-based solutions in bolstering community resilience. He believes that involving community members in the planning and design stages enhances the effectiveness of projects addressing weather and climate hazards.

Cherie Matherne, a Tribe member and Cultural Heritage & Resiliency Coordinator, commends the project’s first phase for seamlessly combining new technology with tribal observations. She describes a meeting where researchers used software to pinpoint areas most in need of protection. This technology, previously utilized along the Florida coast,identifies vulnerable locations and recommends specific interventions based on the Tribe’s experiential knowledge.

As the land diminishes, fishing, crabbing, shrimping, and oysters remain the primary sources of income in Pointe-au-Chien. Yet, these activities are now endangered due to the dwindling habitats for reproduction. Matherne explains, “The erosion not only affects us not being able to live here in this bayou community, but many of the resident fishermen rely on that income to raise their families.” A team of dedicated researchers, including Niki Pace, Melissa Daigle, Earl Melancon, Julie Falgout, DeWitt Braud, and Haley Gambill from Louisiana Sea Grant, along with partners from the Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe, the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, and other universities, collaborates on this vital project.

Founded in 2013 as part of legal settlements following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, the National Academies’ Gulf Research Program allocates $500 million over 30 years to assist communities relying on the Gulf of Mexico. This substantial funding underscores the program’s commitment to supporting struggling communities and fostering sustainable solutions.

In conclusion, the collaboration between LSU and PACIT exemplifies a proactive approach to address the environmental challenges faced by coastal communities. Through innovative nature-based solutions, the project not only aims to protect ancestral lands but also serves as a beacon of community resilience and adaptive strategies.

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