Archive for People

Restoring the Wetlands as Part of our Sacred Duty and History

June 8, 2016 | Posted by Emily McCalla in People

Guest post by The Very Rev. William Terry, M.P.S., M.Div. 

God of unchangeable power, when you fashioned the world the morning stars sang together and the host of heaven shouted for joy; open our eyes to the wonders of creation and teach us to use all things for good, to the honor of your glorious name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Source: A New Zealand Prayer Book, p. 569)

Rev. William Terry

Rev. William Terry

Before our city and coastlands were flooded by Hurricane Katrina, there was a cry to rebuild wetlands that were disappearing. Before I became a priest, I was involved in the shrimp-boat industry. I had the privilege to befriend Cajun and Vietnamese families that had been fishing for generations. “Saltwater incursion” was a term I learned about very early on. We knew then and did nothing or very little. The voices of a few fishermen echoed in an endless hymn of subsistence, in a void hemmed in by the greed of special interest.

I have also been involved with the offshore industry through various professional positions. My father was a marine surveyor, so I was brought along to shipyard after shipyard during my youthful summers. We were also a multi-generational boating family, so I came to know our coastlands and learned about all the potential bounty it provided.

I can even remember when Cat Island was big, and we’d camp on its peninsula. I remember steaming out to Chandeleur Island when it was an island and not a reef. I remember seeing vast schools of fish in Mississippi Sound and trolling for mackerel, fishing for white trout and watching the pogie boats set out their nets. But as the song says, “It ain’t der no more,” or at least not like it was.

Then I became a priest. Now my experience is filtered through the sacred lens of my faith. That experience includes all things created. If you think for a moment that the bayous, wetlands or offshore islands are not sacred, then you haven’t seen a sunrise in winter in a pond off of Lake Borgne. If you think that our linkage to nature is only a means to our personal ends, then you haven’t read the Gospels.

Somewhere and somehow, we lost our communion with creation. Nature, even our wetlands, became an object to an end – no longer a co-participant in creation and the cosmos, but rather “a resource” to be used without consideration of moral, ethical and even sacred thresholds.

The heart of a faith-based eco-theology stretches back to the very start of Christianity. Indeed, the harshest critic of abusive power and thoughtless human consumption was that little Rabbi Yeshua. He gives us a constant critique of wealth on the altar rather than God and humanity. So it is with eco-theologians. In the 12th century, a nun by the name of Hilda critiqued and catalogued the pollution of the Rhine River and called for a unification and cooperation with nature in her writings. In the early and into the mid 20th century, holy scientists like de Chardin would say:

“The day will come when, after harnessing space, the winds, the tides, and gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, we shall have discovered fire.”

Later in the 20th century, outspoken voices like Thomas Berry, a scientist-theologian, would seek to reunify nature and the sacred. He would claim that as Christians, our obsession with redemption history is out of sacred context and causes a chasm between God and humanity. He reminds us:

“The naïve assumption that the natural world is there to be possessed and used by humans for their advantage and in an unlimited manner cannot be accepted.”

If the sunrise on the sea and the wind in salt marshes are sacred, then such is also a litany of sacred expression. Just as holy people everywhere are called to care for sacred texts, churches, mosques and synagogues, then too we are called as people of faith to care for the even greater sacred text that is Nature.

So, is there confession of sin in the wetlands? Is there a movement toward reconciliation with creation? Is there a desire to repent and to “sin no more?” I hope so. I pray so. I dream of a day when our wetlands heal and in their health, we find our health.

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Caring for Creation—an Earth Day Sunday Field Trip

May 9, 2016 | Posted by Emily McCalla in coastal restoration, Meetings/Events, People

By Reverend Doctor Cory Sparks, Director of the Institute of Nonprofit Excellence, Louisiana Association of Nonprofit Organizations

When John Taylor was a boy growing up in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans, cypress trees were so thick in nearby Bayou Bienvenue that he didn’t need a paddle for his pirogue. He could pull himself along by grabbing the cypress knees.


Aaron Viles, Rayne Caring For Creation Committee member and Gulf Restoration Network board member discusses the state of advocacy efforts to restore the Bayou and Louisiana's coastal wetlands with John Taylor, Lower Ninth Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development.

Decades later, saltwater intrusion from the now closed Mississippi River Gulf Outlet has turned the same stretch of bayou into a “ghost swamp” of dead trees, open water and marsh.

Taylor recently spoke to a field trip group from the Rayne Memorial United Methodist Church in New Orleans. Church members, including the youth group, gathered at the Bayou Bienvenue viewing platform in the Lower 9th Ward. They learned about the saltwater intrusion damaged the bayou, and the way this loss contributed to Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of the Lower 9. Rayne Memorial organized the field trip to help their members learn more about the issue.

Rayne Memorial United Methodist Church group learning about coastal issues and restoration methods.

Rayne Memorial United Methodist Church group learning about coastal issues and restoration solutions.

Helen Rose Patterson, faith outreach coordinator for the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition, then connected the story of Bayou Bienvenue to the larger issue of coastal land loss in Louisiana. Louisiana has lost an area of land the size of Delaware since World War II. And while it’s hard to comprehend that 2,000 square miles of land have disappeared, it’s easy to see the change in the now-degraded bayou. Patterson and Taylor hope that soon visitors will not only learn about the effects of wetlands loss, they’ll also view ways to restore the coast – all without having to travel outside the city.

The Rayne Memorial field trip also celebrated Earth Day Sunday, a national celebration of creation care that features special worship services and environmental talks. In Louisiana, Earth Day Sunday is coordinated by the Louisiana Interchurch Conference (LIC). The LIC is made up of 17 different Christian denominations. Members include the Roman Catholic dioceses of the state as well as historically African American denominations, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Presbyterians and United Methodists, among others.

Rayne Memorial UMC children exploring Bayou Bienvenue.


Kids playing on the CSED Labyrinth during the field trip.

The LIC has worked for decades to raise awareness of the threat to coastal wetlands. In 1988, the LIC hosted the first statewide hearings on wetlands restoration. A driving force of that effort, Rob Gorman, became founding board chair of the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, a member organization of the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition.

This year, the LIC partnered with the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition to publish a wetlands bulletin insert for Earth Day Sunday. The flier reminded worshipers that God made the heavens, the earth and the seas – and our beautiful wetlands. It called on Christians to care for this part of creation by supporting the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition and its goal to utilize the natural power of the river to support our wetlands and wildlife.

Rayne Memorial United Methodist Church showing their support for coastal restoration.

Members of Rayne Memorial United Methodist Church.

If your church, synagogue, mosque or temple would like to schedule a field trip to the Bayou Bienvenue viewing platform, please contact Helen Rose Patterson via email at

If you would like to stay up-to-date on coastal issues and receive information relevant to your area, sign up for the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition email list here!

Rev. Dr. Cory Sparks is Director of the Institute of Nonprofit Excellence of the Louisiana Association of Nonprofit Organizations. In this role he strengthens nonprofits to strengthen the state. He is an ordained United Methodist minister of the Louisiana Conference who has served churches in New Orleans and suburban Lafayette, Louisiana. Rev. Dr. Sparks is the Chair of the Commission on Stewardship of the Environment of the Louisiana Interchurch Conference. He also is a board member of the ecumenical group Christian Renewal New Orleans and President Elect of the New Orleans Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Rev. Dr. Sparks holds an A.B. from Columbia University, an M.Div. from Southern Methodist University, and a Doctorate in American History from Louisiana State University. During seminary he was a Ministry Fellow of the Fund for Theological Education (now the Fund for Theological Exploration).

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Remembering Rita: 10 Years Later

September 24, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in coastal restoration, Community Resiliency, Economy, Hurricane Rita, Hurricanes, People, Profiles in Resilience, Restoration Projects

Today, September 24, marks 10 years since Hurricane Rita – the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Gulf of Mexico – slammed ashore sending a storm surge up to 18 feet in some locations, killing 120 people, damaging areas stretching from Plaquemines to Cameron Parishes and into Texas and causing over $10 billion in damages.

Rita demonstrated that the best offense against future storms is strong “Multiple Lines of Defense” that begins with restoring and preserving the wetlands that buffer wind and waves working in conjunction will structural risk reduction measures and non-structural measures, such as levees and home elevation.

This week, Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition welcomes guest authors to our “Delta Dispatches” blog to share their perspectives of Rita and where things stand ten years later.

Hurricane Rita – A palpable shift in the evolution of sustainable housing in Coastal Louisiana.
by: Peg Case, Director of TRAC (Terrebonne Readiness & Assistance Coalition), Houma, LA

Terrebonne Parish is over 85% wetland and open water. Barataria-Terrebonne Basins continue to suffer the highest land loss rates in the state. There are five bayous stretching to the Gulf of Mexico like fingers of a hand. These bayou communities, most vulnerable to the effects of storm surge flooding, are where TRAC, a community-based, long-term disaster recovery organization, has focused its recovery efforts for the past 23 years.

The double sets of hurricanes that affected our parish in 2002, 2005 and 2008 delivered wind and water repeatedly to these bayou communities. Over 13,000 homes were impacted – homes  flooded with five to seven feet of water and swamp mud, wind ravaged roofs and exterior – not once but six times in a period of six years!

The shift from awareness to sustainable action has been years in the making. However, last decades’ disasters brought unprecedented funding streams from both private and government avenues. Since 2005, 1,037 elevation permits have been issued in Terrebonne Parish. The average elevation height is 10-12 feet costing $80.00 per square foot.  Sustainable replacement housing was developed and constructed, such as TRAC’s LA Lift House. (

However these projects were random, need-based, program-eligibility-based, and funded by the destruction of six hurricanes. Looking to the future, we, the collective community involved in coastal restoration, need to address simultaneously sustainable housing activities with funding, planning and partnerships if we are to preserve the culture and communities that live along our coastlines.

Case is contributing author to Disasters by Design: A Reassessment of Natural Hazards in the United States.  She also served as a panel member for the U.S. Senate’s 103rd Congress Appropriations Sub-Committee hearing on hurricane preparedness and evacuation. She currently serves on LAVOAD Board of Directors.

To contact:

You can show your support for coastal restoration by taking the pledge to urge leaders to be a powerful voice for coastal restoration. Take the pledge at

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Remembering Rita: Ten Years Later

September 22, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in coastal restoration, Community Resiliency, Hurricane Rita, Hurricanes, People, Profiles in Resilience

September 24 marks 10 years since Hurricane Rita – the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Gulf of Mexico – slammed ashore sending a storm surge up to 18 feet in some locations, killing 120 people, damaging areas stretching from Plaquemines to Cameron Parish and into Texas and causing over $10 billion in damages.

 Rita demonstrated that the best offense against future storms is strong “Multiple Lines of Defense” that begins with restoring and preserving the wetlands that buffer wind and waves working in conjunction will structural risk reduction measures and non-structural measures, such as levees and home elevation.

 This week, Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition welcomes guest authors to our “Delta Dispatches” blog to share their perspectives of Rita and where things stand ten years later.

In The Eye of the Storm: A Personal Account of Rita by Windell Curole

September 20, 2005 – In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, a congressional hearing was held concerning improving the way we warn and prepare for hurricanes.  One of the panel members with me is Dr. Max Mayfield, Director of the National Hurricane Center.  We testify to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee’s Disaster Prevention and Prediction Subcommittee.  We both discuss and are concerned about Hurricane Rita and the probability of it following in Hurricane Katrina’s footstep.

After the hearing, we wish each other good luck as he hurries out of Washington to get to the National Hurricane Center in Coral Gables, and I hurry back to South Lafourche.  In the next two days, Rita becomes what everyone fears; another monster hurricane heading for the northern Gulf of Mexico coast.  Like Katrina, it becomes a Category 5 hurricane, and like Katrina, it drops in wind intensity to a Category 3 by landfall on the 23rd of September.

In South Lafourche the tide is already rising on the morning of September 22nd when we have to close the Leon Theriot floodgate, two miles south of Golden Meadow.  The storm is many miles to the south in the middle of the gulf, but pushes a large tide because of its size and power.  We close the Ted Gisclair floodgate in Larose.  We are managing both floodgates trying to allow boats to enter the system while keeping as much water out of Bayou Lafourche as possible.

Hurricane Rita makes landfall on Friday morning on the LA-Texas border and pushes a 17 ft. storm surge near the eye of the storm.  The storm was so big that water kept rising for a day and a half after landfall in southeast Louisiana.  And then it kept rising in the northern part of the South Lafourche levee system.  It came within a foot of the Clovelly levee in Cut Off, but by noon Sunday on Sept. 25th, the 45 mph wind finally fell to a breeze and the water levels began to decrease.  If the storm had made landfall closer to Lafayette, or any place east of Lafayette, we may have had serious flooding in the South Lafourche system.

Aggressively building and raising the levee through the years allowed our area to work successfully with the 8 to 9 ft. of water against the levee.  In fact, the protected area of South Lafourche was one of the only areas to avoid flooding in 2005.  Good levees and good luck, South Lafourche needed both to survive 2005.

Windell A. Curole, General Manager, South Lafourche Levee District

Join us tomorrow September 23 in Houma for an expert panel discussion with state and local leaders on restoration and recovery 10 years after Rita. Details here.

You can also show your support for coastal restoration by taking the pledge to urge leaders to be a powerful voice for coastal restoration. Take the pledge at

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Boil for the Bayou

August 8, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in Climate, coastal restoration, Community Resiliency, People

By Matthew Phillips, Mississippi River Delta Coalition

On August 1st, the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign hosted Boil for the Bayou, a coastal restoration expo at Bayou Barriere Golf Course in Belle Chasse, Louisiana. Our inimitable Plaquemines Parish Outreach Coordinator, Philip Russo, planned and coordinated the event for months.

An attendee speaks with members of the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign about the economic importance of coastal restoration

An attendee speaks with members of the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign about the economic importance of coastal restoration

In a state with the highest rate of land loss in the contiguous U.S., Plaquemines Parish stands out. Louisiana has lost 25% of its coastal wetlands, and Plaquemines has lost the most coastal land of any parish. Wetlands are an economic driver for Plaquemines: commercial fisheries depend heavily on healthy wetlands, and sportsmen and women depend on the land for recreational hunting and fishing, which bring tourists to the parish. The wetlands also buffer communities in Plaquemines, some of the most vulnerable in the state, against flooding from major storms and sea level rise.

With so much at stake, the state has invested heavily in restoring Plaquemines’ coastal land. More coastal restoration projects are planned for Plaquemines than any other parish. With the commitment of parish residents and elected officials to a restored coastline, Plaquemines can push for more extensive coastal restoration projects from the state. Boil for the Bayou was a rare opportunity for parish residents to meet and share ideas with local organizations, government officials, and businesses working to restore the coast. With over 300 pounds of boiled shrimp and jambalaya courtesy of Salvo’s Seafood, we invited residents to learn about what they are losing, how it is being restored, and what they can do.

Brooke Randolph, Office Manager at the Campaign, serves boiled shrimp to guests.

Brooke Randolph, Office Manager at the Campaign, serves boiled shrimp to guests.

Attendees entered the Bayou Barriere clubhouse to the sounds of The Just Right Band, a local New Orleans band playing a mix of pop, funk, and R&B. Exhibitors were stationed around the room with posters, pamphlets, interactive displays, and games for guests to enjoy learning about the coast.

Representatives from Audubon Louisiana, the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority of the State of Louisiana, the Data Center, the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign, the LSU AgCenter, the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, the Preserve Coastal Plaquemines Foundation, Restore or Retreat, the Woodlands Conservancy, the National Wildlife Federation, and the LSU Coastal Sustainability Studio brought a wealth of knowledge to share with Plaquemines residents about the state of the coast and what is being done to protect it. With 12 organizations engaging with attendees over the four hour event, there was plenty to talk about.

By the end of the day over 250 people attended Boil for the Bayou. Parish President Amos Cormier and Plaquemines Parish Council Chair Benny Rouselle stopped by to chat with tablers, event staff, and residents. We also met some dedicated young people who shared their experiences living in coastal Louisiana. They told us how they would build a shoreline to make it safe for their families to continue living on.

Attendees, including Plaquemines Parish Coastal Restoration Director Vincent Frelich (left) and Parish President Amos Cormier (second from left), speak with representatives from the organizations working to restore the coast.

Attendees, including Plaquemines Parish Coastal Restoration Director Vincent Frelich (left) and Parish President Amos Cormier (second from left), speak with representatives from the organizations working to restore the coast.

By the end of the day, full of fresh seafood and a reinvigorated commitment to restoring the coast, the team headed back to New Orleans. Boil for the Bayou was a success, and we were thrilled to have so much interest in coastal restoration from Plaquemines residents, elected officials, and businesses.

Senior Outreach Coordinator Sam Carter helps a young Plaquemines resident build a coastline.

Senior Outreach Coordinator Sam Carter helps a young Plaquemines resident build a coastline.

We would like to thank our sponsors, Bubrig Insurance Agency, the law offices of Cossich, Sumich, Parsiola & Taylor, Daybrook Fisheries, and Whitney Bank, without whom Boil for the Bayou would not have been possible.

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We're Partnering with Dirty Coast to Feature YOUR Coastal Restoration Message!

July 13, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in Community Resiliency, Economics, Economy, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricanes, K10, Meetings/Events, People, Restoration Projects

As we approach the 10th anniversaries of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita – a time when we all learned about the importance of the Louisiana coast as a first line of defense against storms – Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition and Dirty Coast are partnering to feature YOUR coastal restoration messages on t-shirts, bags, posters and other snazzy products that will be sold in Dirty Coast’s New Orleans stores and across the web to help raise awareness and support for Louisiana coastal restoration.

Louisiana continues to lose a football field of land every hour, and our state has lost 1,900 square miles of land since the 1930s. These wetlands are crucial to protecting our homes and communities from the effects of hurricanes and storm surge. Without action, we stand to lose another 1,000 square miles by 2050. We want to engage people locally and nationally to understand just how important our coast is to the long-term resiliency of southern Louisiana and the entire nation that depends on our region.

That’s where YOU come in! We want to hear YOUR ideas for coastal restoration slogans! The creative wizzes at Dirty Coast are looking for slogans to use to create designs they’ll place on products to educate people around the world about how badly we need our coast restored now.

How It’s Going Down:

  • Submit as many ideas or slogans as you like here from now through July 23, 2015.
  • After July 23, we’ll select the best THREE slogans that most closely align with the positive messages of coastal restoration and have the best potential to make rad t-shirt designs.
  • We'll let YOU vote for the slogan you want to see designed into a t-shirt and other products.
  • The first place slogan will be made into a design Dirty Coast will sell year-round on t-shirts and other products to raise funds for restoration efforts. The person who submits the winning design will receive a $200 gift card to Dirty Coast, second place will receive a $100 gift card, and 3rd place a $50 gift card.
  • We’ll announce the winning design at a launch party on August 20 at Dirty Coast’s new Marigny location (2121 Chartres Street).
  • The winning design will be featured and sold in Dirty Coast stores and online over the next year, with a portion of sale proceeds going to the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition to help educate and engage people about the need for coastal restoration.

Some Tips to Help You Out:

  • Keep it positive: Our situation is grave, but we want to feature positive, proactive messages that convey that solutions are possible Some questions to get your creative juices flowing:
    • What does the Louisiana coast mean to you?
    • Why is it important that the Louisiana coast be restored?
    • How would you explain coastal restoration to a kindergartener?
    • Why is it important that we act now to restore the coast?
  • Keep it simple: The message needs to be easily understood, engaging and memorable.
  • Keep it fun: In case you’re not familiar with Dirty Coast designs, they’re clever, fun and captivating. See some of their designs here for inspiration.

What’s In It for You?

  • Prizes: The person who submits the winning design will receive a $200 gift card to Dirty Coast, second place will receive a $100 gift card, and 3rd place a $50 gift card.
  • Glory: Your winning message will be proudly worn by coastal warriors around the country for generations come, to spread the message of Louisiana coastal restoration.
  • Pride: You can tell your grandkids that you had a hand in the fight to save our coast.

What more reasons do you need? Now get to work unleashing your creative genius to save the coast! Submit your ideas here. We can’t wait to see the results.

Questions? Email

About Dirty Coast: Dirty Coast began in 2004 as a response to what was passing for local apparel on Bourbon street; a way to make cool designs for die hard New Orleanians. Small batches of shirts and posters. A fun side project. In 2005, a Category 3 storm made its way through the area without causing too much damage. Then the federal infrastructure meant to protect the city failed and filled New Orleans with water. Soon after, Blake found himself in Lafayette with all his plans placed on hold. While in exile, meditating on this fate of his beloved city, Blake designed a bumper sticker that read, “Be a New Orleanian, Wherever You Are.” He printed 5,000, and placed them all over New Orleans as soon as he could return. The reaction to Blake's design was overwhelming, and developing the Dirty Coast brand became a no-brainer. Why T-shirts? Because they are the great equalizer. You can have a good design. You can have fun, cheeky copy. But to create a shirt that exists on a level beyond your standard laundry, that engages your friends and neighbors in conversation, that starts debates, that elicits laughter, nostalgia, and many “Yea Ya Right!” That’s what we’re trying to do. To be bold and to be real about our dirty, marvelous city. Everything we do, everything we make is a proclamation of our love for New Orleans. And when you truly love something, you want to share it with as many people as possible. So whether you’re born here, a transplant, or simply passing through, you can be a New Orleanian wherever you are.

About Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition: The Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition is working to protect people, wildlife and jobs by reconnecting the river with its wetlands. As our region faces the crisis of threatening land loss, we offer science-based solutions through a comprehensive approach to restoration. Composed of conservation, policy, science and outreach experts from Environmental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, we are located in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Washington, D.C.; and around the United States. Learn more at and connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

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A tradition worth building – Collectively sustaining and stewarding our coast

April 29, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in 5 Years Later, BP Oil Disaster, Community Resiliency, People, Voices of the Delta

By Maura Wood, Partnership Manager, National Wildlife Federation

On April 20, several members of the Restore the Mississippi River Delta campaign gathered with community members in Davant, Louisiana, to commemorate the 5th anniversary since the BP oil spill with testimony and discussion about how the terrible oil unleashed on that day is still affecting us all. Those gathered included representatives from NGOs, fishermen, residents of coastal communities, business leaders, employees of restoration agencies and others.

While there is widespread agreement that restoring our coast is a priority and that BP should pay to repair the damage it created, we sometimes disagree on how best to achieve these goals. Our collective situation is urgent. Unfortunately, our differences sometimes prevent us from making rapid progress. When we let ourselves become attached to one idea or one way of doing things, we may begin to see those with different ideas as one-dimensional opponents – making it less likely we’ll be able to solve our land loss crisis.

To avoid this outcome, I and my colleagues make contact with a variety of people concerned about restoration, in as many ways and as often as possible.  The invitation to the workshop for Plaquemines Parish Fishermen and Fishing Communities five years after the BP oil disaster was a welcome opportunity to learn more from the first-hand experiences of others.  The panels and discussions dealt with how BP had settled – or not – with fishermen, the damage left behind from the oil and the dispersant and how the citizens of lower Plaquemines Parish were coping –or not – with the environmental, financial and cultural losses forced upon them by the oil spill.

Testimony from fishermen, shrimpers, and oystermen clearly spelled out some of the obstacles they still face.  Prior to the spill, many had served as deckhands on oyster boats or as small operators selling sack oysters from the public seed grounds. For some, troubles began even earlier with Hurricane Katrina.  Following the oil spill, producing the necessary proof of loss of income was difficult for many of these fishermen, resulting in their receiving little to no compensation from BP.

Other participants expressed concerns about the long-term effects of dispersants sprayed during the oil spill, the failure of oysters to recover on the east side of the river and how the oil spill was still unravelling the economic fabric of the lower parish. The marina, they said, the “heart” of the community, is now silent and without business. Before Katrina and the spill, this was a center for exchange within the community. Families gathered here after school. Young men earned spending money by unloading oysters. Trucks came in and out, loading and shipping seafood. Without this “center”, people feel the heart of their community is gone. “What is the price of a tradition?” one woman asked.

The participants in this workshop provided a glimpse into the real struggles they face in trying to recover from the impact of the BP oil spill.   Sharing individual stories helps us view each other as real people with good intentions seeking to make it right.  When we see each other as people with unique stories and valuable perspectives, we can better empathize with and address each other’s concerns about the uncertainties of coastal restoration.

The reward?  A new tradition of people from different walks of life working towards the same goal – collectively sustaining and stewarding our coast and coastal communities for all Louisianans. That is a tradition worth building.

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Happy Halloween: Beware of the Rougarou!

October 31, 2014 | Posted by edendavis in Meetings/Events, People

This is a rougarou.

On Saturday October 25th, the Restore the Mississippi River Delta field team came together to recruit supporters for coastal restoration at Rougarou Fest in Houma, Louisiana. Rougarou Fest is a family-friendly festival with a spooky flair that celebrates the rich folklore that exists along the bayous of Southeast Louisiana. It is also the primary fundraiser supporting the South Louisiana Wetlands Discovery Center, a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization that is working to educate individuals about Louisiana’s disappearing coast.

If you are not a native to southern Louisiana, you may be wondering, “What is a rougarou?” The rougarou legend has been spread for many generations directly from French settlers. In the Cajun legends, the rougarou is said to prowl the swamps around Acadiana and Greater New Orleans as well as the fields and forests of the regions. The rougarou is a creature with a human body and the head of a wolf or dog, similar to a werewolf!

Restore the Mississippi River Delta tableRougarou Fest was full of fun, along with a few spooky scares. Throughout the day, the field team passed out educational materials and talked to festival goers about the importance of restoring Louisiana wetlands. At the Restore the Mississippi River Delta table, children got temporary tattoos of ghosts and monsters while they colored lively graphics of rougarous, spiders and vampire bats that begged for their ecosystems to be protected. The occasional zombie approached the table with a blank stare and slight growl. The zombies seemed confused and angry that their Louisiana was underwater. Their homes gone. They could not believe that Louisiana is now losing a football field of land every hour!

Citizens participating in the Rougarou Parade in Houma, Louisiana on October 25th, 2014.

Citizens participate in the Rougarou Parade in Houma, Louisiana on October 25th, 2014.


At 6 p.m., four brave wetland warriors ran in the Rougarou Zombie Run. They had to dodge dozens of zombies in order to survive the race. Each warrior was given a belt with three flags. Our team of wetland warriors made it out alive but was exhausted from sprinting from the enraged zombies.

At 7 p.m., the Krewe Ga Rou parade rolled with over thirty floats rolling through downtown Houma. Children and adults alike lined the streets with jack-o-lanterns waiting for candy and the occasional spook. The Restore the Mississippi River Delta campaign marched in the parade handing out nearly twenty pounds of candy and over 300 pledge cards, which asked individuals to pledge to vote and to urge candidates to support coastal restoration. Costumes were essential! The Restore the Mississippi River Delta campaign marched as zombie football fans with signs reading “Where’s the Game?” “Every Hour Louisiana Loses a Football Field of Land” and “Restore the Coast, Protect Tradition.” These zombie football fans couldn’t believe that one of Louisiana’s greatest traditions, football, was being threatened. The zombies seemed unable to find the Saints game, as the football field had succumbed to the Gulf of Mexico!

Members of the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Campaign participate in the 2014 Rougarou Festival to raise awareness about Louisiana's disappearing wetlands.

Members of the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Campaign participate in the 2014 Rougarou Fest to raise awareness about Louisiana's disappearing wetlands.

These zombie football players are upset about the disappearing wetlands.

These zombie football players are not happy about the disappearing wetlands.

Rougarou Fest was certainly a fun-filled fall day in Houma! I hope you all have a terrific Halloween, and please, be careful. Avoid essential Rougarou habitat: fields, forests and swamps. Happy Halloween!

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The Beauty of the Louisiana Barrier Islands

September 23, 2014 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in Hurricanes, Meetings/Events, People, Restoration Projects

By Eden Davis, Restore the Mississippi River Delta Campaign

Baby Pelican on Isles DernieresOn September 12, I had the opportunity to travel to Raccoon Island, one of the remaining barrier islands outside of Terrebonne Bay. Raccoon Island was once part of the 25-mile-long barrier island chain called Isles Dernieres or Last Islands. Prior to the Last Island Hurricane of August 10, 1856, Isles Dernieres was a famous resort destination. When the Last Island Hurricane hit, more than 200 people perished in the storm, and the island was left void of vegetation. The hurricane split the island into five smaller islands called East, Trinity, Whiskey, Raccoon and Wine Islands.

On this beautiful summer day, I traveled by boat with 18 other volunteers and employees from the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries 13 miles off the coast of Cocodrie to Raccoon Island. As we left Terrebonne Bay, we passed several shrimping boats and a distinctly large jack-up rig that was heading offshore. These were distinct reminders that Louisiana’s coast is a working coast that provides our nation with oil and gas and some of the best seafood one can sink its teeth into.

Pelicans Isle DernieresUpon reaching the island, we saw hundreds of pelicans. Many were in the air, some were in the water and others were on the island with their young whom were not yet able to fly. As we trekked to the beach side of the island, there were beautiful moon shells scattering the sand. Our task was to install a one-mile-long sand fence. This involved rolling out sections of the fence, standing it up and nailing it to the already placed fence posts.

The sand fence will help to restore and protect 20 acres of the rapidly eroding shoreline of Raccoon Island. The island chain used to be one large barrier island, but years of erosion from hurricanes compounded with a loss of sediment from the Mississippi River have broken the island into the four that exist today. The remaining islands continue to erode and, without intervention like the sand fence project, may wash away completely over the next several years. The sand fence will directly protect critical nesting habitat for the pelicans and other seabirds that call these islands home. The sand fence will also help to mitigate erosion.

Isle Dernieres Sand Fence Building IBarrier islands are our communities’ first line of defense. Storm surge during a hurricane will hit these islands before it hits our marshes and communities. Barrier islands are beautiful, but they are on the front lines of sea level rise and subsidence. If we fail to restore them, our grandchildren may never see their splendor. Moreover, the birds that call these islands home will be forced out of their habitat.

Brown pelicans, the island’s primary residents and our state bird, are at great risk if these islands succumb to the Gulf’s waters. Brown pelicans do not migrate. They stay in the mangroves, the beaches and the shores. As the Louisiana coast sinks into the Gulf, the critical habitat for these beautiful birds is threatened.

Sand Fence Isle DernieresIf you have a Friday or Saturday free, consider volunteering with the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana. They have regular marsh grass plantings, dune restoration projects and other ecosystem protection and restoration projects available for volunteers. Not only will you enjoy a beautiful day outdoors, but you will also be directly restoring and protecting our coast. Check out the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana’s event calendar here:

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Guest Post: Why New Orleanians should care about coastal restoration, by Lynda Woolard

August 4, 2014 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, Hurricane Katrina, Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, People

Guest post by Lynda Woolard (New Orleans)
This post is the first in a two-part guest series.

"The simple truth is, if we fail to restore our coast, we fail to protect our city from future storms." 

I was recently blessed with an opportunity to go along for a boat trip to see the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) and the Central Wetlands of southeast Louisiana with a delegation from the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign. I was initially a little anxious, because despite having lived in New Orleans for 20 years, this was new territory for me. Although these wetlands are less than a 30-minute drive from my home, I had never been out to see them.

Skyline from Central Wetlands

New Orleans skyline from the Central Wetlands. Credit: Lynda Woolard

I felt some relief upon reaching the marina, as others on the boat were residents of St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parishes and had made this trip many times for fishing, work and recreation. My fears were replaced by awe as we traveled into the wetlands. The waterways and surrounding marshes were stunning and peaceful and seemed a world away from the city. Yet amazingly, we could still see the New Orleans skyline throughout much of our trip. While New Orleanians identify ourselves as living in a port city, we don’t often think of ourselves as living in a coastal city. But we do!

Shell Island Memorial II

Memorial to St. Bernard residents who lost their lives during Hurricane Katrina. Credit: Lynda Woolard

Interspersed with the beautiful natural scenery of southeast Louisiana were stark reminders of how precarious our proximity to the coast is. We saw an entire fishing village that had been wiped away by storm and remains a ghost town. We saw the memorial and sculpture at Shell Beach, placed in honor of the 163 St. Bernard residents who lost their lives during Hurricane Katrina. We saw the further peril we have put ourselves in by decades of carving up these coastal marshes and failing to protect them adequately.

The creation of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet navigation channel, which is a straight shot from the Gulf of Mexico to the Port of New Orleans, has put our entire region at greater risk from hurricanes. It’s been called the “Hurricane Highway” because it led a surge of seawater in a direct path to cause catastrophic flooding of St. Bernard Parish and the Lower Ninth Ward during Hurricane Katrina. However, its damage is more far reaching than that. The construction of the MRGO has made our levees and surge barriers, which were not engineered to withstand open water, more vulnerable. Our hurricane protection systems, both manmade and natural, require protection by freshwater wetlands and marsh.

Because of the MRGO, our wetlands are disappearing at a more rapid pace. The channel itself has eroded as well, from a 650-foot wide waterway to 2,000 feet wide. While traveling down the MRGO, we could see cypress tree “tombstones” marking the spots where vibrant wetlands once flourished. Our charter boat captain told stories about how more islands vanish with each passing year. The introduction of salt water into the marshes has been disastrous.

MRGO Boat Tour II

Amanda Moore from the National Wildlife Federation identifies landmarks on a map of southeast Louisiana. Credit: Lynda Woolard

The good news is that steps are being taken to restore the Mississippi River Delta. There is a Coastal Master Plan in place to rebuild the wetlands, barrier islands and marshes that serve as our city’s first lines of defense against hurricanes and to preserve the ecosystems that support our state’s way of life. Massive and impressive projects, like a surge barrier and a rock dam, have already been started that will lessen further damage from the MRGO.

Surge Barrier II

Surge barrier. Credit: Lynda Woolard

But this good news comes with some alarm bells. Progress needs to come at a much faster rate, because our wetlands are disappearing too quickly. While traveling to the Golden Triangle Marsh, it was made very clear that St. Tammany Parish citizens need to be made aware that if we allow wetland deterioration to continue to the point of losing the New Orleans East Land Bridge, the waters of the Gulf will be on their doorstep. The environmental scientists and engineers working on restoration have done the research – they know the solutions and it is imperative, regardless of what we have allowed to happen in the past, that we listen to them now… and act.

The residents of Orleans Parish need to see this as an incredibly urgent issue, because this is as big of a safety issue as having secure, functioning levees. There is a direct correlation between protecting our city – as well as our culture – and restoring our wetlands. The simple truth is, if we fail to restore our coast, we fail to protect our city from future storms. I believe the Gulf Coast, Louisiana’s wetlands and the city of New Orleans are treasures worth saving. If we have the will, we have the power to make it happen.

Lynda Woolard
New Orleans, LA
July 26, 2014

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