Six Years after the Oil Disaster: Stay the Course on Restoration

April 19, 2016 | Posted by Emily McCalla in BP Oil Disaster

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:

Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation, 225.253.9781, schatzele@nwf.org
Jacques Hebert, National Audubon Society, 504.264.6849, jhebert@audubon.org
Elizabeth Van Cleve, Environmental Defense Fund, 202.553.2543, evancleve@edf.org
Jimmy Frederick, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, 225.317.2046, jimmy.frederick@crcl.org
John Lopez, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, 504.421.7348, jlopez@saveourlake.org

Six Years after the Oil Disaster: Stay the Course on Restoration

With BP Settlement Finalized, Time to Put Funds to Work Restoring Louisiana’s Coast

(New Orleans, LA—April 19, 2016) Tomorrow marks six years since the BP Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, killing 11 men and spewing more than 3.19 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier finalized the historic $20.8 billion settlement with BP – the largest environmental settlement in U.S. history – for the massive damages caused by the spill. Louisiana is poised to receive nearly $8 billion over the next 15 years from the settlement, or about half a billion dollars per year, which it will use to advance the largest environmental restoration program in the state’s history for the benefit of the region and nation.

As we remember April 20, 2010, leading national and local conservation organizations working on Mississippi River Delta and Gulf Coast restoration – Environmental Defense FundNational Audubon SocietyNational Wildlife Federation, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation – released the following statement:

“Six years after the Gulf oil disaster, our region is embarking on the largest environmental restoration program of our time. How these unprecedented funds are spent affects all of us, and we must remain vigilant to make sure decision-makers invest in the best and most powerful ecosystem restoration projects. We must ensure this funding is used effectively and for its intended purpose – to restore the Gulf Coast for the people, industries and wildlife that depend on it.

“In Louisiana, the stage is set for continued progress on restoring the coast. With science-based restoration plans in place, and now dedicated funding to help pay for them, we can make great strides toward countering our land loss crisis. In the last decade, Louisiana has already invested billions of dollars from early settlement money and other funding on restoring the coast, including improving more than 27,000 acres of coastal habitat and constructing 45 miles of barrier islands and berms.

“We applaud Governor Edwards for his recent commitments to safeguard coastal funds for coastal restoration and protection. Moving forward, we must continue to hold our leaders accountable and ensure this money is not used for anything but its intended purpose. The future of Louisiana depends on a sustainable, restored coast.

“Louisiana has made remarkable advancements since the Gulf oil disaster six years ago. We must make sure our decision makers continue to prioritize comprehensive restoration and safeguard coastal funding – we may only have this chance to get it right.”

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Barrier Island Restoration: An Investment in Coastal LA’s Future and for Nesting Seabirds, Part 2

April 19, 2016 | Posted by Emily McCalla in Birds, coastal restoration, Restoration Projects

Our partners at Audubon Louisiana published a series of blog posts that we are cross-posting here. View the original blog post here.

As we mark the sixth anniversary of the BP oil spill this week – an event that significantly and negatively impacted Louisiana’s already disappearing barrier islands and the species that depend on them – we will examine the status of barrier island restoration. Over the coming days, we’ll publish a series of blog posts that detail what work has been done to restore Louisiana’s barrier islands, the importance of these islands to birds and humans alike, as well as Audubon Louisiana’s role before, during and after the restoration process to monitor and improve bird health on these islands and elsewhere.

Part 2: "Barrier Islands: A Critical Investment for Bird Health"

By Erik Johnson, Director of Bird Conservation, Audubon Louisiana, @AudubonErik

As we discussed in the first blog post, coastal Louisiana is rich with bird life, and barrier islands play a central role in the population dynamics of many species. This is particularly true for seabirds that nest on islands, isolated from the mainland and its many mammalian predators. These seabirds live life on the edge of the Earth, and barrier islands are the key to their survival.

So how does the restoration of barrier islands benefit these nesting seabirds? Seabirds, like terns and gulls, as well as some coastal-nesting shorebirds, like Wilson’s Plovers and American Oystercatchers, place their eggs on the ground (although a few species, like Brown Pelicans prefer low shrubs, like mangroves). These nesting birds are not only susceptible to mammalian predators, but also the overwash of storms. As islands and their dune systems erode, nests are inevitably placed closer and closer to the high tide line putting them at greater risk to the overwash of even small storms. Renesting can be possible, but at some point becomes futile. And with fewer and fewer islands available, eventually space runs out, and populations decline. The restoration of these islands increases opportunities and space for placing nests, and helps elevate nests to reduce their chances of overwashing.

Royal Terns, Breton Island Photo: USFWS, Greg Thompson

Royal Terns, Breton Island Photo: USFWS, Greg Thompson

There is another important consideration for barrier island restoration – for seabirds, bigger is not necessarily better. Anyone who has taken an introduction to ecology course might recall “Island Biogeography Theory”. It suggests that the bigger the island and the closer it is to shore, the more species it can support. This sounds great, right? But those additional species can be (and often are) predators. So for a seabird, smaller islands farther from shore are better. Predators like coyotes, raccoons, rats, skunks, foxes, feral cats, fire ants and even nutria, have a harder time getting to those islands and surviving there. This becomes important when thinking about barrier island restoration. Although there is a clear need to build large islands that protect interior shorelines and communities, this may actually serve as an ecological trap for nesting seabirds. Those larger islands can support more predators, and while the habitat looks perfectly suitable to a Black Skimmer, Least Tern, or Sandwich Tern, it could also be full of predators ready to eat their eggs and chicks.

Least Tern, Elmers Island, Louisiana Photo: Erik Johnson, Audubon Louisiana

Least Tern, Elmers Island, Louisiana Photo: Erik Johnson, Audubon Louisiana

As far as we know, only the distant Chandeleur Islands and its neighbors are mostly or entirely free of coyotes, and probably most other kinds of mammalian predators. Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries surveys last spring documented that these islands were full of nesting seabirds, although probably not in numbers like during the glory days of Curlew Island, which supported tens of thousands of nesting pairs of Sandwich Terns and Royal Terns in the 1970s. Clearly, the commitment of restoration to Breton Island is tremendously important for the recovery of seabirds in coastal Louisiana, as will be the restoration of other nearshore, small (predator-free) bay islands, like Queen Bess in Barataria Bay.

In the next blog, we’ll talk more about how Audubon Louisiana works to protect birds before, during and after barrier island restoration projects.

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Barrier Island Restoration: An Investment in Coastal LA’s Future and for Nesting Seabirds, Part 1

April 18, 2016 | Posted by Emily McCalla in Birds, coastal restoration, Restoration Projects

Our partners at Audubon Louisiana published a series of blog posts that we are cross-posting here. View the original blog post here.

As we mark the sixth anniversary of the BP oil spill this week – an event that significantly and negatively impacted Louisiana’s already disappearing barrier islands and the species that depend on them – we will examine the status of barrier island restoration. Over the coming days, we’ll publish a series of blog posts that detail what work has been done to restore Louisiana’s barrier islands, the importance of these islands to birds and humans alike, as well as Audubon Louisiana’s role before, during and after the restoration process to monitor and improve bird health on these islands and elsewhere.

Part 1: "Louisiana Barrier Islands: A Coastal Restoration Success Story"

By Erik Johnson, Director of Bird Conservation, Audubon Louisiana, @AudubonErik

As you look out into the Gulf of Mexico, off Louisiana’s coastline, are a string of barrier islands. They are remnants of former deltas – as the Mississippi River has flipped and flopped across the southeastern part of state over the last 6,000 years, marshes were created, and eventually eroded away, only leaving behind these sand berms where the river and sea once met. Today, those ancient headland remnants continue to erode, but now the river no longer serves to rebuild them. Sediment that once flowed down the Mississippi River is now either dammed upstream or falls off the edge of the continental shelf at the mouth of the River. Louisiana is in a fight against nature to keep its barrier islands.

Louisiana’s barrier islands were significantly impacted by the 2010 BP oil disaster – six years ago next week– that enveloped them in oil at the height of nesting season and expedited their rate of disappearance. Remember the $4.5 billion dollars BP had to pay in federal criminal penalties? The State of Louisiana received $1.2 billion of that to use toward coastal restoration, and has dedicated it to the development of river diversions to rebuild marsh, as well as the restoration and reconstruction of barrier islands. Many hundreds of millions of dollars from other sources, like CWPPRA, CIAP, and NRDA (to name a few) also support barrier island protection and restoration.

The continued deterioration of Caminada headland threatens thousands of acres of wetland habitat, as well as critical infrastructure. The project creates 300 acres of back barrier marsh and nourishes 130 acres of emergent marsh behind the Caminada beach using material dredged from the Gulf of Mexico. Photo: Patrick M. Quigley, Gulf Coast Air Photo

The continued deterioration of Caminada headland threatens thousands of acres of wetland habitat, as well as critical infrastructure. The project creates 300 acres of back barrier marsh and nourishes 130 acres of emergent marsh behind the Caminada beach using material dredged from the Gulf of Mexico. Photo: Patrick M. Quigley, Gulf Coast Air Photo

Since the development of the state’s 2007 Master Plan, Louisiana has reconstructed over 45 miles of barrier islands, and for good reason. Barrier islands are an important infrastructure investment in coastal Louisiana. They help protect marshes and human communities from storm surges and hurricanes.

Barrier islands also play a critical role in the life cycle of dozens of migratory shorebirds and breeding seabirds. Louisiana, at the base of the Mississippi Flyway and with the Mississippi River Delta central to the Gulf of Mexico, supports astoundingly high proportions of regional or global populations of many coastal nesting species of conservation concern. Many of these species largely depend on barrier islands for nesting, including Brown Pelicans, Tricolored Herons, Sandwich Terns, Royal Terns and Black Skimmers. Coastal Louisiana’s shorelines and barrier islands also support important stopover and wintering habitat for a substantial proportion of Great Plains Piping Plovers, hendersoni Short-billed Dowitchers and western Willets, as well as many other species of sandpiper and plover.

Black Skimmers in Grand Isle, La Photo: Erik Johnson, Audubon Louisiana

Black Skimmers in Grand Isle, La Photo: Erik Johnson, Audubon Louisiana

Up next, we’ll get into the specifics of why barrier islands are so important to birds.

 

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Old Christmas Tree, New Marsh Habitat

April 15, 2016 | Posted by Emily McCalla in coastal restoration, Videos

By Samantha Carter, Senior Outreach Coordinator, Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition

Did you drop your old Christmas tree on the curb in New Orleans on January 7th to 9th?

If so, you’re helping to save the coast!

The New Orleans Christmas Tree Recycling Program collects those old Christmas trees and strategically drops bundles of them into the wetlands in Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge. These trees create wave breaks and trap sediment, producing new marsh habitat that supports growth of native grasses. Over the years, the program has replenished approximately 175 acres of wetlands in Bayou Sauvage.

Blackhawk Helicopter picks up a bundle of Christmas trees.

Blackhawk helicopter picks up a bundle of Christmas trees.

Transporting the bundle to the drop site in Bayou Sauvage.

Transporting the bundle to the drop site in Bayou Sauvage.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service helps position the trees.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service helps position the trees.

A completed row of Christmas tree bundles that will act as a wave break and create new marshlands.

A completed row of Christmas tree bundles that will act as a wave break and create new marshlands.

The program also acts as a training exercise for the Louisiana National Guard who uses UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters to pick up the tree bundles and place them into a grid in the marsh.

Building protective marsh barriers out of recycled Christmas trees with US Fish & Wildlife and the National Guard today!

A video posted by Restore the MS River Delta (@restoredelta) on

 

Louisiana National Guard trains with the Blackhawk Helicopters.

Louisiana National Guard trains with the Blackhawk Helicopters.

The Christmas Tree Recycling Program is a simple way to help rebuild your coastal ecosystem.

Be on the lookout for next year’s collection dates!

As Senior Outreach Coordinator, Samantha Carter works to develop and implement outreach and engagement strategies to advance the priorities of the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Program for the National Wildlife Federation. Focusing on the Greater New Orleans area, she educates and engages community leaders and other key stakeholders, including elected officials and neighborhood associations, to address the alarming loss of coastal wetlands in Louisiana. Additionally, Samantha helps coordinate the MRGO Must Go Coalition – a group of 17 environmental, community, and social justice organizations working to restore the degraded wetland ecosystem that protects the Greater New Orleans area from storm surge.

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EDF Voices: Amid dramatic sea level rise, nature itself can provide a much-needed solution

April 8, 2016 | Posted by Emily McCalla in Climate, coastal restoration, Community Resiliency

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

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Even if we manage to reach our goals for reducing greenhouse gases, the world will experience a dramatic sea level rise by 2100 – the latest study estimates by as much as six feet.

With a water level that much higher than it is today, major coastal cities such as Boston, New York and Miami are sure to be below sea level. So the key question now is, how do we adapt to climate change effects we can no longer avoid?

A single solution to rising oceans won’t fix the problem, but there is a “soft option” that can help protect our coasts when complemented with other measures.

Living shorelines have role to play

Sea level rise means entire regions, not just beachfront towns, will have to adapt.

With coastal areas accounting for 42 percent of America’s economic output, we must make effective climate change and sea level-rise adaptation strategies a priority today.

Soft options, sometimes called living shorelines or natural infrastructure, include features such as sand dunes, barrier islands and maritime forests. They help lessen storm surge and flooding while also providing habitat, water filtration and beautiful places we can all enjoy.

These sand dunes were built to protect homes in Hampton Roads, Virginia.

These and other natural infrastructure measures can be used alone or to complement and enhance hard infrastructure such as levees and floodwalls to create multiple lines of defense.

But natural infrastructure measures also have a distinct advantage over hardened approaches: They can grow.

Beaches, dunes, wetlands, mangroves and oyster reefs can keep pace with sea level rise and provide critical buffers – a first line of defense against waves and floods.

Coastal communities taking action

Communities on every coast are now beginning to think about changes in zoning and building standards to protect themselves from flooding, while also investigating how to restore natural defenses. Such redundant measures can improve their resiliency – and also give them environmental and economic benefits that improve quality of life.

Seabrook, New Hampshire, for example, has a plan to build and strengthen its dunes, and allow them to continue to grow, to protect coastal properties.

Louisiana is also restoring its wetlands, cypress swamps and barrier islands as part of its strategy to cope with sea level rise and storm disasters. And across Hampton Roads, Virginia, living shorelines are sprouting up as alternatives to bulkheads to combat erosion and improve Chesapeake Bay water quality.

Such efforts are taking off in other countries, too. Communities in across Southeast Asia, for example, are now replanting mangroves to reduce impacts from tsunamis and storm surges.

Live with water, fight it, or retreat?

Scientists are expecting sea levels to rise faster and higher than previously predicted. So the truth is, we’ll have to soon make choices about where, when and how we adapt to live with water, defend our coasts, and retreat.

Fortunately, restoring coastal ecosystems can fit nicely with these strategies to provide human communities with benefits not only on stormy days, but year-round.

View the original post on EDF blog.

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