Archive for Science

What We Know Now About the BP Oil Disaster

November 16, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in 5 Years Later, BP Oil Disaster, Science, Seafood, Wildlife

By Ryan Fikes, Staff Scientist, National Wildlife Federation, Gulf Restoration Campaign

This post has been cross-posted from the National Wildlife Federation's Wildlife Promise blog.

It’s been more than five years since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded. Since that time, a council of federal and state Trustees have been extensively investigating the impacts of the disaster on wildlife and habitats, but that information has been kept under wraps—for use in litigation against BP. Now that the case has settled, this research has finally been made public in a draft Programmatic Damage Assessment and Restoration Plan.

The impacts to wildlife and their habitats are shocking and far reaching. Despite clean-up efforts and the natural weathering processes over the five years since the spill, oil persists in some habitats where it continues to expose resources in the northern Gulf of Mexico. In many cases, the damage to wildlife and habitats was more severe than previously understood. The ecological linkages of these habitats and communities and their connectivity to the larger Gulf of Mexico ecosystem can result in cascading impacts, influencing the overall health and productivity of the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem.

Together, the National Wildlife Federation and Ocean Conservancy scientists have worked to dig in to the massive report and digest its findings. Here is a snapshot of the types and severity of impacts outlined in the draft report.


1. Birds

While the Trustees acknowledge that this is a very conservative estimate, the total number of birds killed by the BP oil disaster is from 56,100 to 102,400 birds. At least 93 species of birds across all five Gulf Coast states were exposed to oil.

2. Beach & Dune Habitat

BP oil covered at least 1,300 miles of the Gulf coastline, including 600 miles of beach, dune and barrier island habitat.

3. Lost Human Use

The public lost 16,857,116 days of boating, fishing and beach-going experiences. The total loss of recreational use of the Gulf due to the disaster is worth $528 million to $859 million.

4. Oysters

Between 4 and 8.3 billion oysters are estimated to have been lost. Over three generations (minimum recovery time), the dead oysters would have produced a total of 240 to 508 million pounds of fresh oyster meat.

5. Salt Marsh

Louisiana lost up to 53 percent of its salt marsh plants across 350-721 miles of shoreline. In Louisiana wetlands, erosion rates approximately doubled along at least 108 miles of shoreline. The effect lasted for at least 3 years.

6. Sargassum

Sargassum, a floating seaweed that provides habitat for young fish and sea turtles, was exposed to oil, which may have caused the loss of up to 23 percent of this important habitat.

7. Seagrass Habitat

Seagrass beds covering a total area roughly the size of 206 football fields (272 acres) were lost from the time of the disaster through 2012.

8. Larval Fish

The Trustees estimated that 2-5 trillion larval fish were killed. The loss of larval fish likely translated into millions to billions of fish that would have reached a year old had they not been killed by the BP oil disaster.

9. Sea Trout

Several of species of sea trout, including the spotted (or speckled) sea trout, were severely impacted by the disaster. An estimated 20-100 billion sea trout larvae were killed as a result of the disaster.

10. Shrimp

The growth of young white, pink and brown shrimp was dramatically affected by oil. The total loss of shrimp production over 2010 and 2011 due to oiling is estimated at more than 2,300 tons.

11. Red Drum

The growth of young red drum fell by up to 47 percent along marsh shorelines in Louisiana that were persistently oiled since 2010, and an estimated 700 tons of red drum were lost. Reduced red drum production persisted through 2013 and is expected to continue.

12. Whales

While nearly all of the species of whales in the footprint of the oil have demonstrable, quantifiable injuries, the most hard-hit was the Bryde’s whale. With only about 50 Bryde’s whales left in the Gulf, roughly half of these animals were exposed to oil—and nearly a quarter were killed. It is unclear if Bryde’s whales will be able to recover.

13. Bottlenose Dolphins

The number of bottlenose dolphins in Barataria Bay and Mississippi Sound—two areas particularly affected by the disaster—is projected to decline by half. The populations are expected to take 40-50 years to recover. In the 5 years after the oil disaster, more than 75 percent of pregnant dolphins observed within the oil footprint failed to give birth to a viable calf.

14. Coral Reefs

The footprint of injury to mid-depth coral reefs is just over 4 square miles. These areas along the continental shelf edge, known as the Pinnacles, showed extensive damage to both the coral colonies and the reef fish associated with them. The larger ecological functions of this habitat were very likely impaired.

15. Sea Turtles

All five of the Gulf’s sea turtles are either threatened or endangered. It is estimated that somewhere between 61,000 and 173,000 sea turtles—of all ages—were killed during the disaster. For the endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, this equals 10-20 percent of the average number of nesting females each year, which would have laid approximately 65,000 – 95,000 additional hatchlings.

16. Deep Seafloor

The footprint of BP oil on the Gulf seafloor around the wellhead is an area more than 20 times the size of Manhattan (over 770 square miles). An additional 3,300 square miles may have been affected.

Click here to view the PDF of the graphics and impacts data.

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Groups Pleased As Key Sediment Diversions Advance, Coastal Restoration Funds Protected

October 21, 2015 | Posted by Elizabeth Van Cleve in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA), Media Resources, Meetings/Events, Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion, Science


Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation, 225.253.9781,
Jacques Hebert, National Audubon Society, 504.264.6849,
Elizabeth Van Cleve, Environmental Defense Fund, 202.553.2543,
Jimmy Frederick, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, 225.767.4181,
John Lopez, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, 504.421.7348,

Groups Pleased As Key Sediment Diversions Advance, Coastal Restoration Funds Protected

CPRA Board Moves Forward on Two Diversion Projects, Proposes Using GOMESA Funds for Highway Elevation

(October 21, 2015 – Baton Rouge) Today, Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) board announced two major developments. First, CPRA recommended advancing both the Mid Barataria and Mid Breton sediment diversion projects in the Coastal Master Plan, which will reintroduce fresh water and sediment from the Mississippi River into its surrounding, collapsing wetlands and rebuild land over time. Secondly, the CPRA board voted to approve a new proposal to use Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA) money, rather than funds previously committed to projects in the state’s Coastal Master Plan, for elevating Louisiana Highway 1.

The Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition – which includes Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, Environmental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society and National Wildlife Federation – issued the following statement in response:

“We are pleased to see CPRA leverage the most current and best-available science to move forward the Mid Barataria and Mid Breton sediment diversions projects into engineering and design. The urgency and severity of our collapsing delta requires that we use the most powerful tools at our disposal. Sediment diversions provide the best opportunity to restore the coast over time, preserving our communities, industries and entire way of life. We will continue to pursue and understand the science behind diversions, but there is no scientific uncertainty about our physical reality – we live in a landscape built by the river, disappearing because we have cut the delta off from the river.

“This announcement is an important step toward getting sediment diversions up and running. We’re in a race against the clock and forces of nature. We need to move forward at full speed while ensuring efficiency and transparency in the steps ahead.

“Louisiana Highway 1 is a critical corridor for our state and national economic vitality. We believe that the elevation of Highway 1 is eligible for GOMESA funding, and we join with the LA1 Coalition in pursuit of adequate funding for this and other coastal infrastructure projects. We support the development of a prioritization system that would allow for up to 10 percent of GOMESA revenues to be spent on coastal infrastructure projects, with a focus on projects that are directly impacted by coastal wetland loss. This system should reflect the significant role of coastal infrastructure projects such as Highway 1, which contribute to energy security, community resiliency, and the national, state and local economy. This is a long-standing and well-understood aspect of GOMESA and does not veer from any prior commitments to restoration.

“We are gratified that the state has made the right decision in considering an appropriate funding source for this coastal infrastructure improvement project and has not moved forward with using oil spill funds it previously committed to the Coastal Master Plan.”

A recent poll found tremendous statewide support for coastal restoration:

  • 94 percent indicate that a gubernatorial candidate’s commitment to protect and restore coastal Louisiana will be important to them when they vote.
  • 90 percent want the next governor to ensure funds currently dedicated to coastal restoration are not spent on anything but coastal restoration.
  • 87 percent want the next governor to work to identify and secure funding for future projects identified in the state’s Coastal Master Plan.
  • 85 percent believe restoration of coastal Louisiana should be a high priority for the new governor.
  • 95 percent want the new governor to commit to move quickly and get started building coastal restoration projects.
  • 78 percent believe protecting and restoring coastal Louisiana is as important as other issues facing the state.
  • Two-thirds (66 percent) indicate support for river diversions to build new land in Louisiana.


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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Expert Diversion Panel: State has all information needed to make decision on advancing diversions

October 1, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA), coastal restoration, Diversions, Restoration Projects, Science

By: Alisha Renfro, Staff Scientist, Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition, National Wildlife Federation

Diversion Locations

Diversion locations

Sediment diversions are restoration projects that carry sediment and water from the river through a gated structure on the levee into nearby basins, mimicking the way the Mississippi River once built much of southeast Louisiana. This type of project was identified in the 2012 Coastal Master Plan as a vital tool for far-reaching and long-lasting restoration of our coastal wetlands. Four sediment diversion projects from the Coastal Master Plan –Mid-Barataria, Mid-Breton, Lower-Barataria and Lower Breton – are currently moving forward in either planning or engineering and design. This fall, the state is expected to announce which sediment diversion projects they will continue move forward into full engineering and design.

Data collection and modeling efforts allowed the state to study and understand the full benefits that a sediment diversion could provide to our coastal wetlands and to anticipate the influence of the project on water levels, fisheries and salinity distribution in the receiving basins compared to future conditions without sediment diversions. In addition to those studies, an Expert Diversion Panel on Planning and Implementation – an independent group from outside of Louisiana with expertise in natural science, social science and engineering – was convened by the Water Institute of the Gulf to provide advice and guidance to CPRA on plans for sediment diversion projects.

The fifth meeting of this panel, held in August, focused on the state’s approach to using the data and modeling information to decide which sediment diversion projects will move forward. On September 16th, the Expert Panel released its report from that meeting, agreeing that the state had the information it needed to decide which sediment diversion projects to advance. The panel also decided that the socio-economic analysis and the work being done to predict the effect of diversions on the basins are appropriate for this stage of the process.

In the panel’s opinion “no other environmental restoration project in the nation has come so far so quickly.” The state’s decision on which sediment diversion projects to focus its efforts on and move into engineering and design is important, as it is one step forward in a longer process towards full implementation. Using sediment diversions to put the sediment of the river back to work for us is crucial for restoration and one the best tools we have to create a sustainable future for Louisiana.

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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New report quantifies storm reduction benefits of natural infrastructure and nature-based measures

September 29, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, coastal restoration, Community Resiliency, Restoration Projects, Science

By Shannon Cunniff, Deputy Director for Water, Environmental Defense Fund

Coastal zones are the most densely populated areas in the world. In the U.S., they generate more than 42 percent of the nation’s total economic output. These coastal communities, cities and infrastructure are becoming increasingly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Rising seas and increased storms, as well as ongoing coastal development, have stripped these natural environments of their innate resilience to storms and flooding, leaving coastlines and the people who live there especially exposed.

EDF photo beach dune

Beach dune

Protecting coastal areas requires a multipronged approach. Traditional hardened infrastructure, such as levees and floodwalls, should be combined with natural infrastructure, such as dunes and barrier islands, to optimize storm protection. By attenuating wave energy, natural infrastructure measures can enhance the performance of and complement traditional gray infrastructure. And in certain situations, natural coastal infrastructure measures can reverse coastal erosion, help rebuild shorelines and even keep pace with rising sea levels.

Natural coastal infrastructure measures also provide significant co-benefits to communities. In addition to reducing the effects of storm waves and surge, these wetlands and other plant-based means also improve water quality, enhance recreational and commercial fisheries, add to the coastal esthetic and attract tourists. Their installation or restoration can also buy time for communities as they develop long-term strategic plans to cope with sea level rise.

In Louisiana, coastal planners understand the importance of nature-based designs, such as sediment diversions and barrier beach nourishment, when developing coastal restoration and protection plans – the state’s Coastal Master Plan is a combination of restoration, protection and resiliency projects.

But with their myriad of benefits, why aren’t natural infrastructure measures being implemented to a greater degree in other parts of the nation?

In part, the reason is the lack of accepted engineering design guidance – a document that explains the engineering principles, issues, methods, and performance metrics for evaluating, siting and designing features. Lacking such, engineers cannot formally sign off on the designs and risk benefits that will be realized.

How can we quantify the storm risk reduction benefits of nature-based measures, so as to help decision-makers and planners choose the best methods for their needs and find financing to implement these projects? Can we accelerate development of engineering guidance?

Natural Infrastructure Workshop and Report

Mangroves public domain pix


Seeking to answer these questions, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) convened a workshop of 19 coastal engineers, scientists, program managers, and financiers to discuss establishing storm risk reduction performance measures of various natural coastal infrastructure solutions.

After completion, EDF produced the report, “Performance of Natural Infrastructure and Nature-Based Measures as Coastal Risk Reduction Features,” which reviews the state of knowledge on the risk reduction performance of natural and nature-based infrastructure, compiled from existing literature as well as workshop participant input. The report includes findings on a host of nature-based measures, including beach nourishment, vegetated dunes, barrier island restoration, edging and sills (living shorelines), oyster reefs, coral reefs, mangroves, maritime forests and coastal wetlands (non-mangroves).

While the report is a bit technical, the authors hope that city planners, coastal engineers and other decision-makers find it useful when determining which storm protection measures to implement in their communities.

Grand Terre_Abita SOS 2

Grand Terre

For each of the measures, the report summarizes its storm risk reduction attributes (e.g., wave attenuation and storm surge protection); lists its strengths, known weaknesses and uncertainties about utility for risk reduction; and identifies suitable conditions for implementation. The report also indicates where engineering design guidelines already exist (e.g., for beach nourishment and dune building) and whether they can be created by modifying existing guidelines (e.g., oyster and coral reefs function like submerged breakwaters).

For the layperson, Table 1 is a one stop shop for information on how each storm risk reduction measure stacks up next to other methods. The table is a summary of the strategies – natural, nature-based, as well as structural – and how each compares regarding risk reduction performance, costs, climate change mitigation, and adaptability to seal level rise and changing community needs.

NI Performance Summary Table

To guide further research supporting adoption of natural infrastructure into coastal resilience plans, the report provides the most catalytic and pressing research needs and lists other survey needs gathered from the literature or raised during the workgroup discussion.

Workshop participants – and subsequent consultation with other engineering experts – confirm that there is sufficient confidence in the ability of natural coastal infrastructure measures to reduce impacts of storms and sea level rise to coastal communities, such that these approaches should be routinely considered as viable options by decision-makers.

With what we know now, implementation of these approaches can be facilitated by developing detailed engineering guidelines that provide functional and structural design guidance as well as address other design issues. As projects are built and monitored, we can further expand knowledge of the circumstances where these measures work best; learn more about how traditional structural, nonstructural, natural infrastructure and nature-based measures can optimally work together; understand how coastal processes are effected; and track the measures’ life expectancies in our increasingly dynamic coastal environments.

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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It's a Marathon, not a sprint: Small steps build lasting momentum for comprehensive restoration

September 23, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, coastal restoration, Community Resiliency, Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA), Restoration Projects, Science

By Estelle Robichaux, Restoration Project Analyst, Environmental Defense Fund and Gaby Garcia, Science Intern, Environmental Defense Fund

This post is part of a series on early restoration planning in Louisiana. Be sure to check out parts one and two for more information on previous plans.

By the early 1990s, Louisiana’s coastal land loss crisis had been studied and documented for more than two decades. Successful establishment of the state-level Office of Coastal Restoration and Management and the Wetlands Trust Fund in 1989 galvanized support and action for wetlands restoration at the federal-level as well. In 1990, Louisiana U.S. Senator John Breaux co-sponsored and helped pass the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and RestorationCWPPRA Act (CWPPRA), sometimes called the “Breaux Act.”

The Act was one of the first attempts to support a comprehensive approach to restoring Louisiana’s coastal wetlands by establishing a dependable, long-term funding stream for projects. A new federal interagency task force, made up of five federal agencies and the Louisiana state government, was also created by the Act to oversee coastal restoration activities, including the prioritization, planning and implementation of small- to medium-scale projects.

Three years after CWPPRA was enacted, in 1993, the Task Force published their Louisiana Coastal Wetlands Restoration Plan, which recommended changes in management of the lower Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers. The plan focused specifically on increasing the sediment and freshwater supply to coastal wetlands to reestablish natural land-building processes.

The CWPPRA plan only has a 20-year time horizon, as opposed the 50-year perspective taken in other contemporary plans published by the Louisiana Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities, the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (LDNR), Louisiana State University or the 2012 Coastal Master Plan. Despite the shorter outlook of the CWPPRA plan, it relies on similar principles and strategies we see in these other plans. Namely, this plan calls for:

  • Shifting navigational use from the existing bird's foot delta to a new western delta in a neighboring estuary, possibly Breton Sound;
  • Multiple diversions to address land loss in Barataria Basin;
  • Reactivation of old distributary channels;
  • Seasonal changes in the Atchafalaya River’s flow distribution; and
  • Projects to facilitate hydrologic restoration, such as: Nourishing barrier island chains and Controlling tidal flows in large navigation channels.

Small scale tests, important success

Even before the passage of CWPPRA, the LDNR was implementing small-scale diversions by cutting crevasses into banks of the southernmost reach of the Mississippi River. Between 1986 and 1993, 20 crevasses were constructed with a mean discharge rate of less than 4,000 cubic feet per second (cfs). Despite the lower flow rates, these crevasses created nearly 1,400 acres of emergent marsh during this period, an impressive amount of land considering the scale of these projects.

The early results of these experimental projects encouraged the prioritization of sediment diversions in the CWPPRA planning process, many of which have also performed well. The Channel Armor Gap Crevasse, for instance, was constructed in 1997 in one of the most rapidly subsiding areas of the delta. This crevasse created nearly 200 acres of land over 10 years and increased overall sediment elevation by more than three feet.

The West Bay Sediment Diversion, on the other hand, was constructed in 2003 and had formed little subaerial land despite the creation of two small spoil islands in the bay in 2009. Due to this lack of land building, it was considered a complete failure and was in the process of being deauthorized. But after the historic flood of 2011, which delivered large quantities of sediment to coastal Louisiana, dry land had emerged in West Bay by that fall. This combination of spoil islands and pulsing floodwaters has proven successful in building land here and may be translated elsewhere across the coast.


West Bay Sediment Diversion

Scaling up the vision for restoration

CWPPRA has played an important role in funding restoration projects, beyond diversions, across the coast. The program has also been critical in supporting long-term, large-scale undertakings, such as the Coast-wide Reference Monitoring System and planning efforts like the Barrier Island Shoreline Feasibility Study and Coast 2050.

The Barrier Island Shoreline Feasibility Study was the first large-scale feasibility study sponsored through CWPPRA. The technical analysis, completed in 1997, was designed to figure out the most effective barrier island configurations to protect inland areas from saltwater intrusion, wind and wave action, storm surge and other extreme events, such as oil spills. An estimate of the possible quantitative effects of different regional barrier island arrangements on Louisiana’s environmental and economic resources were produced through this work as well.

The scope of the study was limited to the shoreline from the Atchafalaya River east to the Mississippi River and provided two alternatives for restoration. These results ultimately informed the initial Barrier Shoreline Restoration studies conducted as part of the Army Corps’ Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA) Ecosystem Restoration Study, which in turn formed the basis for two of our priority projects, Barataria Pass to Sandy Point and Belle Pass to Caminada Pass Barrier Island Restoration.

While the CWPPRA Plan proposed some forward-thinking solutions at the basin-wide level to mimic natural processes, Coast 2050 took comprehensive planning even further. This initiative, finalized in 1998, was jointly developed by the Louisiana State Wetlands Authority and the CWPRRA Task Force and takes a regional perspective on restoration strategies for long-term ecosystem sustainability. The LCA Ecosystem Restoration Study was largely based on the recommendations and vision of Coast 2050, both of which played a significant part in shaping the 2012 Coastal Master Plan and the way we envision restoration in coastal Louisiana.

Be sure to check out our next post for more details on Coast 2050 and the Louisiana Coastal Area Study!

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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Bold Recommendations & Early Citizen Support for Diversions as a Key to Coastal Restoration

September 16, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, coastal restoration, Diversions, Restoration Projects, Science

By Estelle Robichaux, Restoration Project Analyst, Environmental Defense Fund and Gaby Garcia, Science Intern, Environmental Defense Fund

This post is part of a series on early restoration planning in Louisiana. Be sure to check out part one for a look back to 1973.

In 1988, the Coalition to Restoration Coastal Louisiana (CRCL) released a plan titled Coastal Louisiana: Here today and gone tomorrow? The plan, which was a joint effort by stakeholders and scientists, focuses on the Mississippi River Delta region and is framed as a citizens program for protecting Louisiana’s environment,CRCL1 economy and heritage.

The plan provides nearly 20 recommendations, including a restoration action program, suggestions for how to finance the program, as well as specific institutional and legislative recommendations designed to galvanize restoration.

Among the most notable elements is the assertion that sediment diversions would be the most beneficial method of wetland restoration and that several of them should be constructed along the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers. This was also one of the first plans to advise against any new levee construction.

Many of the plan’s most significant propositions, those focused on restoration action, have yet to be realized, though the science behind sediment diversions is well developed and we continue to advocate for them as a sustainable restoration tool.

A bold but realistic plan of action

CRCL’s plan has two specific resource goals that are still strongly advocated for:

  1. To utilize freshwater and sediment diversions along the Mississippi River and Atchafalaya Rivers to sustain and restore coastal wetlands;
  2. To beneficially use dredged material from channel maintenance and existing spoil banks to backfill canals and nourish created wetlands and barrier islands

Restoring natural processes: Mississippi River water & sediment diversions

The Caernarvon and Davis Pond diversions were still being designed at the time this plan was published. Although there were expectations these structures would help control saltwater intrusion and reduce wetland loss, the plan underscores their limitations in active wetland restoration and land building. Despite the fact these diversions were designed for salinity and flood control, both areas have seen new land growth, though not at the scale or rate anticipated for sediment diversions.

The action program calls for the construction of a suite of freshwater and sediment diversions to restore hydrologic connections and halt wetland loss. The essence of many of these restoration ideas can be found in Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan (CMP). Some of the restoration actions proposed in the 1988 plan include:

  • One or two diversions from the Atchafalaya River into the Lake Verret Basin and Western Terrebonne marshes.
    • 2012 CMP: Two diversions from the Atchafalaya will increase freshwater and sediment flows into Terrebonne marshes from Bayou Penchant westward, including our of our coalition’s 19 priority projects, Increase Atchafalaya Flow into Terrebonne Marshes.
  • Restoration of Bayou Lafourche into a distributary of the Mississippi River, with a diversion into Timbalier Bay.
    • 2012 CMP: Small-scale freshwater diversion from the river into Bayou Lafourche.
  • Freshwater and sediment diversions, at Bayou Manchac and Blind River, to bring Mississippi River water into the degraded swamps south of Lake Maurepas.
    • 2012 CMP: Two freshwater diversions, at Blind River and Hope Canal, and hydrologic restoration of the Amite River to restore freshwater inputs to Lake Maurepas, including one of our priority projects, West Maurepas Diversions.
  • A large-scale sediment diversion of the Mississippi River below New Orleans into Barataria Basin and a navigation channel from the river into Breton Sound in the vicinity of Empire.
    • 2012 CMP: Two sediment diversions into Barataria Basin in the vicinity of Diamond and Myrtle Grove, Lower and Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversions (also two of our coalition’s priority projects).


Beneficial use of dredged material

In addition to the focus on restoring natural processes by using freshwater and sediment diversions, the plan has another major component that concentrate on restoration actions that would provide short-term benefits as well as some regulatory changes. This component focuses on using dredged sediments, taken from the bottoms of canals or by removing spoil banks, for restoration efforts.

It is recommended that all dredged material from channel maintenance work should be used for wetland creation and restoration. Sediment from spoil banks would be used to plug many of the abandoned canals along the coast, which would also provide hydrologic restoration of freshwater flow across the affected marshes.

Looking back, moving forward

As we review these early restoration plans, it becomes clear that using water and sediment from the Mississippi River to restore Louisiana’s coastal wetlands is not a new idea. Diversions have long been a key component in coastal restoration planning, though they are only one of the suite of tools we can use.

Restoration planning has spanned more than four decades in Louisiana, but it is only in the last two that consistent funding became available. Check out our next post for more on funded restoration programs in Louisiana.

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The History of Coastal Restoration in Louisiana: More than 40 years of planning

August 17, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA), coastal restoration, Community Resiliency, Diversions, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricanes, K10, Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA), Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion, Restoration Projects, Science

By Estelle Robichaux, Restoration Project Analyst, Environmental Defense Fund and Gaby Garcia, Science Intern, Environmental Defense Fund

The damage wrought by Hurricane Katrina, which made landfall in Louisiana’s bird’s foot delta nearly 10 years ago, brought regional and national attention to the state’s dramatic and ongoing coastal land loss crisis. But this crisis, as well as innovative and large-scale solutions to reverse wetland loss, had been studied, discussed and planned by scientists and decision-makers for decades.

In a series of blog posts, we will explore a few of Louisiana’s early restoration plans that, in many ways, laid the groundwork for the 2012 Coastal Master Plan.

More than 40 years of restoration ideas & planning

In 1973, Louisiana State University’s Center for Wetland Resources published a multi-volume report titled "Environmental Atlas and Multi-Use Management Plan for South-Central Louisiana. The report provides an overview of the Barataria and Terrebonne Basins and recommendations for natural resource management and restoration.

One of the most notable recommendations is initial discussion of a freshwater and land-building river diversion into Barataria Basin at Myrtle Grove, a project now known as the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion. A number of other natural resource management options are described in the plan, including the engineering of barrier islands, use of salt domes for water management, hydrologic restoration and regulation of development.

But not all the ideas have had as much staying power as the notion of harnessing the muddy Mississippi River to restore and maintain coastal wetlands.

Barrier islands in lakes?

Barrier islands are a coastal area’s first line of defense against storm surge, wave action and tides. These islands not only provide important habitat for many bird species, but they protect natural and built infrastructure upon which Louisiana’s economy depends.

This early management plan suggests constructing barrier islands along the shorelines of large lakes and bays, to help stop erosion in these areas. The authors state that these islands would create new, more diversified habitats as well as enhanced recreational opportunities. While these would be nice benefits to have, it would require building a highly engineered, unnatural feature into the landscape.

Not only is this line of thinking something that ecologists and natural resource managers have moved away from, but these projects would not have done anything to address the root causes of land loss. Therefore, they would have been extremely expensive to maintain due to a lack of natural sediment input and continued saltwater intrusion.

Building out of harm’s way

One of the concepts proposed in the report is the establishment of a network of “development corridors” throughout south-central Louisiana. These corridors would ensure limited development in vulnerable coastal areas while encouraging urbanization in areas that have firmer soils, good drainage and are reasonably safe from flooding. They would have been focused on natural levee ridges for land stability and have access to major and minor waterways for commerce.


Development Corridors

Interestingly, the areas within the proposed network of corridors are the economic and population centers that many Louisianans are most concerned about protecting today. Moreover, the areas outside of this network, where the authors specifically discourage further development, are those that we now recognize as some of the most vulnerable to increased damage from storms and the threat of sea level rise.

A diversion at Myrtle Grove

Certain solutions in the report still maintain a presence in restoration efforts today, specifically the proposal to construct a freshwater diversion at Myrtle Grove. Today, this project is called the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion and has evolved into a plan to pulse high-velocity river water, full of sediment, into deteriorating wetlands in the adjacent Barataria Basin. Unlike the project defined in the 2012 Coastal Master Plan, the 1973 plan focuses on using fresh water to help establish a proper salinity gradient and combat saltwater intrusion and has other, more complex plans for diverted sediment.

myrtle grove 2As with today’s sediment diversions, the plan recommends that water flow from the Mississippi River be regulated by a control structure, through a diversion canal and then into the basin. The authors predict that the diverted water would abruptly loose velocity on the basin-side of the canal and deposit sediment in a “silt fan” near the canal mouth. While some sediment would continue out into adjacent wetlands, recreating more naturally occurring conditions, sediment from the stilling lagoon and silt fan would be removed by a small dredge and conveyed via pipeline for either construction or restoration purposes.

Evolution in natural resource management & restoration

Clearly, the idea behind what is now a crucial component to Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan, diverting fresh water and sediment from the river to build new land, has come a long way from its humble beginnings. And although many of the proposed restoration and management solutions in the 1973 report did not make the cut, the problems they sought to address still threaten the livelihoods and communities of coastal Louisiana.

Check back as we continue to trace this history of restoration planning in Louisiana, which only emphasizes the great need for restoration action now!


Want to get involved? Take the PLEDGE now to vote in the upcoming elections and urge candidates to support the following restoration principles:

1. Be a voice for coastal restoration progress

2. Protect Existing and Secure Future Coastal Restoration Funding

3. Support the Coastal Master Plan

Find out more at

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A Decade after Katrina, Groups Issue Recommendations for Community Protection, Restoration

August 11, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in Community Resiliency, Media Resources, Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, Reports, Restoration Projects, Science

Samantha Carter, National Wildlife Federation, 504.264.6831,
Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation, 225.253.9781,
Raleigh Hoke, Gulf Restoration Network, 573.795.1916,

A Resilient, Sustainable New Orleans

A Decade after Katrina, Groups Issue Recommendations for Community Protection, Restoration

(New Orleans – August 11, 2015) To commemorate the upcoming 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a coalition of local community and conservation advocacy groups working to restore wetlands around the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) released a new report today.

The MRGO Must Go Coalition’s report – titled "10th  Anniversary of Katrina: Making New Orleans a Sustainable Delta City for the Next Century" – reflects on the progress that has been made since Hurricane Katrina and offers recommendations for ensuring the full protection and long-term resiliency of the Greater New Orleans communities, including implementing a “Multiple Lines of Defense Strategy” to protect coastal communities and wetland habitat.

In conjunction with the report release, members of the MRGO Must Go Coalition released the following statement today:

“Hurricane Katrina brought to the forefront the dire need to improve the resilience of New Orleans and its coastal neighbors. Katrina barreled onshore, churned through MRGO, and wreaked havoc in the Greater New Orleans area – showing us that levees alone are not enough to protect our people, natural resources and economy.

“Today, our coastline continues to disappear at the alarming rate of a football field every hour. As coastal wetlands wash away, with them go our natural defenses. Healthy wetlands and barrier islands serve as natural buffers, defending us against storms. Without slowing down this land loss crisis, we will continue to be vulnerable to storms, sea level rise and the growing risks of climate change.

“Ten years later, we have made great strides toward both restoration and protection. The closure of MRGO, the passing of the 2012 Louisiana Coastal Master Plan, the adoption of an Urban Water Plan and major upgrades to structural protections like levees and storm surge barriers are all true marks of progress for our region.

“However, the critical work to achieve protection and resiliency is really just beginning. We must continue to implement a Multiple Lines of Defense Strategy against storms – including community level planning and preparedness, urban storm water management, and protecting and restoring our coastal wetlands. We must build on the momentum of the last decade and continue to work to make New Orleans a model city for restoration, resiliency and sustainability.”

The MRGO Must Go Coalition was founded in 2006 in response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The Co­alition’s mission is to ensure that the wetlands affected by the MRGO are carefully restored in a timely manner. As of August 2015, the MRGO Must Go Coalition included 17 local and national environmental, social justice and community organizations.

Since its inception, the Coalition has served as a liaison between the communities in Orleans and St. Bernard parishes and the US Army Corps of Engineers and other government agencies. The vast orga­nizational resources and expertise provided by the member organizations allow the Coalition to make informed policy and scientific recommendations on the restoration of the ecosystem impacted by the MRGO. More information can be found at


Central Wetlands

Central Wetlands

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Oysters 101

August 5, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in Science, Seafood, Wildlife

By Shannon Hood, Environmental Defense Fund

Today is National Oyster Day, and we’re celebrating the holiday with a post about these useful and tasty bivalves and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s (UMCES) Horn Point Laboratory, which is growing them by the billions.

Previous posts have discussed the ecological and economic importance of oysters, so we won’t spend time on this today. In preparation for a series of other posts on the (r)evolutionary oyster industry, this post will explain their life history and introduce some of the research being conducted to ensure their continued success.

Oysters grow in large colonies that make up reefs. Mature oysters begin to spawn when the water temperature reaches 74-86 degrees Fahrenheit. When the first male or female spawns, others sense it as they filter the water, thus triggering more to spawn.

Oyster Fig1

Intertidal oyster reef

Oyster Fig2

Mature oysters spawning. Males and females can be differentiated based on the way they spawn.

The sperm and eggs join in the water column. The newly formed larvae will swim and feed for approximately two weeks until they reach what’s known as the pediveliger stage and are ready to attach to a substrate, a process known as “setting.” When an oyster sets, it secretes a glue-like substance and will not move from this location for the duration of its life. At this point, the oyster is known as a spat.

Oyster Fig3

Oyster spat on their host shell. These oysters will spend the duration of their lives on this host shell.

In the lab, this process is much the same as in the wild, however, it takes place in a controlled environment. In this environment, staff are able to control variables such as temperature, salinity and food availability – variables which have tremendous effects on oyster spawning and survival rates.

Oyster Fig4

Oyster life cycle

Aside from their work in growing oysters, the UMCES Horn Point Hatchery is a hotspot for research on all things oyster, including numerous graduate student researchers looking into how salinity affects setting and growth throughout oysters’ lives. Having a good understanding of optimal salinities and answering these questions, we remove yet another unknown in this industry, allowing greater understanding for how to ensure oysters are able to thrive now and into the future.

Oyster Fig5

UMCES graduate student examines larvae in preparation for experiment

Oyster populations and harvests are on the rise in the Chesapeake Bay for the first time in decades. In 2004, just 26,000 bushels were harvested from Maryland’s waters. In 2014, Chesapeake Bay harvesters reported their best year in three decades, bringing in 900,000 bushels from traditional on-bottom leases.

What’s the cause of this rebounding industry? It’s no miracle cure, but rather a host of federal and state management practices, a booming aquaculture industry, successful hatcheries that provide a reliable source of larvae and new science that is allowing these bivalves to thrive once again.

Oyster Fig6

An oyster aquaculture farm in Maryland's Chesapeake Bay. Photo courtesy of True Chesapeake Oyster Company.

What does this mean for Louisiana? Our coastal waters boast some of the best conditions for oyster growth in the nation. Using funds from the Natural Resources Damages Assessment (NRDA) Early Restoration Program, LSU Sea Grant is operating a new, state of the art hatchery on Grand Isle, a hatchery capable of producing up to one billion oyster larvae per year. This increased capacity can add significantly to the production potential of the state’s public and private oyster grounds. Additionally, off-bottom aquaculture and remote setting are looking more and more like realistic options to increase the industry’s success. Stay tuned for future posts about each of these new tools in the oyster industry’s toolbox.

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Ten Years after Katrina, What the BP Settlement Means for Louisiana Restoration

July 16, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in 19 Priority Projects, 5 Years Later, BP Oil Disaster, Community Resiliency, Diversions, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricanes, K10, Restoration Projects, RESTORE Act, Science

By Steve Cochran, Director, Mississippi River Delta Restoration Program, Environmental Defense Fund

Ten years ago, just after Hurricane Katrina, I was asked to talk to Environmental Defense Fund’s board about the place where I grew up, the New Orleans area that had been hit so hard.

I remember two things about that discussion. One was my voice breaking unexpectedly (and embarrassingly) as we talked through pictures of the Katrina aftermath and came across places I intimately knew.

As an adult, I had developed a love/hate relationship with my home – loving the beauty, the people, the community and the culture, but frustrated by what I saw as the general tolerance of mediocrity and corrupt politics that limited its possibilities. That frustration had pushed the love down, and I had moved away. But there it was again. Sometimes you don’t know how much you care.

The second thing I remember was saying that the Katrina response was a deep test of our governments – local, state and national. As we know now, in that moment, it was a test they failed. But fast forward to July 2, 2015, the day a global settlement was announced in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill case. It was a day when governments rose to the occasion. The result was literally the largest environmental settlement in U.S. history.

The BP Settlement and Louisiana Coastal Restoration

Under the agreement, Louisiana will receive more than a third of the money – $6.8 billion of the $18.7 billion, and $5.8 billion of that is specifically targeted to restoration. The overall restoration total for Louisiana will likely be just under $8 billion, including early restoration dollars and criminal settlements.

These are significant resources at a critical time. Land loss across the coast of Louisiana, exacerbated by the spill, continues at a fearful rate. But we are making progress against that loss, and with the solid state commitment that now exists, and effective plans in place, these resources will allow us to battle back in earnest, with a clear-eyed view toward success.

In particular, the state plans to re-engage the enormous power of the Mississippi River and its sediment through a series of sediment diversions – using the natural land-building capacity of the river by reconnecting it to the delta it originally built. This science-based, innovative approach is the critical piece in our ability to provide solutions at a scale that can match the challenges in the Mississippi River Delta – now the largest restoration effort under way in the world.

Rebuilding Our Coast to Protect Our Communities

About a month after the spill, I was allowed to sit in on a tribal council of the indigenous United Houma Nation. As the oil continued to pour into the Gulf of Mexico, which it would do for another two months, I listened and watched as a man described, through a quiet voice and uncontrolled tears, how he had always looked to the waters of the Gulf and drawn confidence, knowing he could always provide for his family by accepting its gifts. But now all he could feel was fundamental fear.

Money can’t replace that kind of loss any more than it can bring back the 11 loved ones who lost their lives in the accident.

But we must do what we can – and in that context, the BP settlement is a tremendous step forward, because we can restore the Mississippi River Delta, so it can protect this area in the future.

Details matter, of course, and details remain to be decided as the Agreement in Principle is turned into a consent decree. We need to remain involved and vigilant. But it does seem clear that this agreement combines avoiding years of litigation with levels of funding that can truly make a difference.

With these resources, we can go to work to make sure that the largest environmental settlement in our nation’s history also becomes the most meaningful settlement in a place that, well, I love.



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