By Ashley Peters, Communications Associate, National Audubon Society
In May, a group of more than 30 volunteers gathered at the Grand Isle Community Center to learn about issues facing Louisiana’s beach-nesting birds and how people can help. Cute, fuzzy chicks of birds such as Least Terns and Wilson’s Plovers need our help during each spring and summer to protect them from human disturbance and other threats.
“There are many ways birds and people can share the beach, it’s just a matter of awareness,” says Erik Johnson, Audubon Louisiana’s Director of Bird Conservation. “We need help informing beach-goers about what beach-nesting birds need to successfully raise their little ones. These threatened birds need safe, open, sandy areas and we hope folks will respect the birds by keeping their distance.”
The volunteer training included information on how to identify shorebirds, how to interpret bird behavior, and ways to help beach-nesting birds succeed. The training was followed by a crawfish boil celebration to show appreciation for new and current volunteers, as well as program partners.
Least Tern and Wilson’s Plover chicks are camouflaged to avoid predation and nests are also hard to see because the birds lay their eggs in shallow depressions, or “scrapes,” in the sand. Audubon Louisiana marks sensitive beach areas with signs and symbolic fencing to prevent people from accidentally entering nesting sites. This reduces the chances of eggs and chicks being inadvertently trampled, run over, or harmed in other ways if parent birds are flushed (or chased away) from nests.
In addition to ensuring there is suitable habitat for birds through the implementation of Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan and other initiatives, Audubon organizes the Coastal Bird Stewardship Program as well as the Coastal Bird Survey to monitor and encourage birds to successfully live and breed on beaches.
Next time you’re on the beach, remember the following:
- Keep your distance: Sensitive nesting areas are posted with signs. When an adult bird is flushed or chased away, chicks and eggs are vulnerable to predators and overheating.
- Keep pets leashed: Nesting birds are very sensitive – even good pets are perceived as predators and will disturb nesting activities.
- Take your trash with you and dispose of fishing line properly: Birds can become easily entangled in loose line, plastic bags, and other unsightly garbage.
- Please do not feed the wildlife: This will attract predators, like gulls, crows, and other animals that will eat bird eggs and chicks.
- Get involved: Volunteer stewards help teach beachgoers how to help protect these vulnerable birds. Join our mailing list to receive updates, news, and notifications about volunteer opportunities.
To learn more about how you can help birds, visit La.Audubon.org/coastalstewardship or email Louisiana@Audubon.org. To learn more about Audubon’s Coastal Stewardship Programs, watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D-7O2vfEIG8
By Amanda Moore, Deputy Director, National Wildlife Federation, Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition
Over the coming months as we approach the 10th anniversaries of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition will publish a series of blog posts that examine issues and topics relevant to these events, particularly as they relate to coastal restoration. Below, is an update on the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO).
Even before the storm, locals dubbed the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) a “hurricane surge super-highway”. Since its construction in the 1950s, MRGO has impacted over 600,000 acres of coastal ecosystems surrounding the Greater New Orleans area and destroyed over 27,000 acres of wetlands that once served as important buffer from storm surge.
Indeed, ten years ago, MRGO lived up to its name and intensified the impact of Hurricane Katrina, creating a funnel that channeled its surge into the heart of communities. The result? Catastrophic destruction. After Katrina, it was clearer than ever that “Mr. Go” had to go.
Ten years later, we examine what has been accomplished, what work remains and how you can help.
- MRGO was finally closed: Following the storm, in 2006, renowned Louisiana coastal scientists released a report detailing the impacts of the channel and recommending its closure. In this same year the MRGO Must Go Coalition – a group of 17 local and national NGOs and community organizations – was formed to advocate for the closure of MRGO and restoration of the ecosystem. Congress passed the Water Resources and Development Act in 2007, mandating the channel be closed to navigation and the Army Corps develop a plan for ecosystem restoration. By 2009, the channel was closed with a rock dam near Bayou La Loutre and a $1.1 billion surge barrier across the MRGO funnel was officially completed in 2013. These closures have moderated surface water salinity, setting the stage for large-scale ecosystem restoration.
- Advocacy resulting in impact: The MRGO Must Go Coalition worked closely with the Corps to watchdog the drafting of their congressionally-mandated ecosystem restoration plan. The groups helped define the size of the impact area, brought community concerns to the forefront and helped prioritize projects. The coalition, whose positions are captured in these 2010 and 2011 papers, successfully extended public comment period timelines and increased the number of scheduled public hearings. A record 75,000 public comments were sent to the Army Corps in support of MRGO Must Go recommendations. Some of the coalition’s recommendations were included in the Army Corps plan and others, notably, the Violet Diversion, were not.
- Restoration planning in earnest: In 2012, the final $3 billion Army Corps MRGO ecosystem restoration plan was approved and sent to the Assistant Secretary of the Army and a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement was completed. Assistant Secretary Darcy then recommended $1.325 billion of projects to Congress for appropriations. This was an unusual move and speaks to strong public activism on the issue, since the Corps has no local sponsor for the MRGO project due to a dispute with the State of Louisiana about who is responsible for paying for these restoration projects. Despite strong public support and heavy activism, no wetland restoration projects in the plan have been funded by the Army Corps to date. Around the same time in 2012, the State of Louisiana released their 2012 Coastal Master Plan, which recognized the impacts of MRGO and touted the benefits of proposed projects. The plan also reflected the important role played by the NGO community and included the vast majority of the MRGO Must Go Coalition’s ecosystem restoration recommendations, including many of those in the Army Corps’ plan.
What still needs to happen?
- Meaningful restoration: The MRGO projects in the 2012 Coastal Master Plan are proving critical guides for current restoration efforts in the New Orleans area. The Master Plan served as a blueprint for the CWPPRA program as two projects in the MRGO impacted area advanced to planning and design in 2014. It will also guide restoration work funded by the RESTORE Act, legislation that brings Clean Water Act penalties generated from the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, which directly impacted the MRGO ecosystem area in 2010, to the Gulf coast for restoration. In 2014, the state put forward three key MRGO projects — Golden Triangle Marsh Creation, Biloxi Marsh Oyster Reef Restoration, and the Maurepas Diversion — as candidates for RESTORE Council The MRGO Must Go Coalition has met with RESTORE Council staff on several occasions to ensure they are fully aware of the need for restoration in the MRGO area. We will soon learn if these state-proposed projects were indeed chosen for funding.
So, what can you do?
- We’ve had many successes over the years with the closure of the channel and developing plans for restoration. However implementing these plans and restoring our critical coastal ecosystem remains. As the RESTORE Act process plays out, more funding will become available for restoration under direction of the RESTORE Council, State of Louisiana, and local parish governments. Those decision-makers will have the opportunity to ensure funds are used for restoration based on the best science and to make sure MRGO is addressed.
- It’s up to everyone who cares about the future resilience of our region to speak up. The loss of wetlands caused by the channel leaves us without our historic, protective wetland buffer – a major line of defense against storm surges and an important factor in the effectiveness of our new $14 billion levee system. We can strategically restore our region’s protective wetlands and sustain a healthy coastal ecosystem, but it’s up to us to be our own champions for resilience and ensure the right projects are funded.
As we approach the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, we have our work cut out for us to ensure that restoration, which is vitally important to our region’s future, moves forward with urgency. Visit restorethebayou.org to learn how you can view the MRGO ecosystem impacts in person, learn more about ongoing ecosystem restoration and how you can get involved. Check out these albums from the MRGO Must Go Facebook page to see photos before and after the outlet’s closure.
By John Lopez, Ph.D., Coastal Sustainability Program Director, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation
The Lake Pontchartain Basin Foundation (LPBF) is releasing a report describing the methodology of its Hydrocoast Maps program, a research effort that began in 2012 and monitors water flow, salinity and other factors to better understand the Mississippi River estuary in the Pontchartrain Basin.
What are the Hydrocoast Maps?
The Hydrocoast Maps monitor the distribution of salinity, changes in water quality, and other pertinent information across the Pontchartrain Basin to provide an ongoing, relevant and accurate assessment of basin conditions. LPBF produces a biweekly map series that displays information on salinity, freshwater discharge, water quality, impairments, fisheries activity and a variety of estuarine-related information.
The Hydrocoast Maps provide a snapshot of the condition of the estuary, such as the distribution of saline to fresh water and other relevant factors. LPBF’s goal is for the maps to be useful to a diverse audience – including the general public, but more specifically commercial and recreational fishers, state and federal agency personnel making restoration decisions, scientists and academics.
The biweekly Hydrocoast Map products, and what they analyze, include:
- Salinity Map – isohalines (lines on maps connecting points of equal salinity) and freshwater inflows
- Biological Map – fisheries fleets and closures
- Habitat Map – wetland classification and soil salinity
- Water Quality Map – water quality impairments and fecal coliform counts
- Weather Map – cumulative rainfall, wind and tide data
Current and archived Hydrocoast Maps can be found here.
The Mississippi River Estuary
On the Louisiana coast, fresh water from rainfall and rivers flows seaward and mixes with salt water from the Gulf of Mexico, resulting in a coastal zone called an estuary. This estuarine system also coincides with the extensive deltaic (wetland) plain of the Mississippi River and gives rise to Louisiana’s valuable and productive “working coast.” There are many factors that affect this estuary, such as pollution, fisheries, hydrologic alterations, wetland loss and freshwater inflows. These influences are dynamic and the estuary is shifting daily, but it is also undergoing long-term changes. For example, since 1932 these wetlands have been converting to open water at an unnatural and alarming rate, giving rise to Louisiana’s coastal wetland crisis.
Understanding all of these natural and manmade influences on the estuary is important for local recreational and commercial fisheries, as well as for restoration scientists who may gain a deeper understanding of how the estuary functions and its trajectory of change. Change is inevitable, but we should use the best available data to work with the deltaic system and bring about comprehensive restoration of the Mississippi River Delta
By Alisha Renfro, Staff Scientist, Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign, National Wildlife Federation
Today, in Plaquemines Parish, sand is being dredged from the Mississippi River and pumped westward through a pipeline into Barataria Bay to build new land. This project is one of the 19 priority projects the MRD Coalition identified as the most urgent to restore the health of the Mississippi River Delta and protect the people businesses, jobs and wildlife in the region. To date, more than 1,000 acres of land have been built through this project and 1,000 more acres are currently under construction.
Project Description: This project is using sand from the Mississippi River build new land, nourish existing marsh, help prevent salt water from the Gulf of Mexico from penetrating into freshwater marshes and swamps in the mid to upper reaches of the Barataria Basin and help protect the nearby coastal community of Lafitte from storm surge and tidal flooding.
Working in Concert with Other Projects: This large marsh creation project can work with our other priority projects in the Barataria Basin – Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion, Lower Barataria Sediment Diversion, Barataria Pass to Sandy Point Barrier Island Restoration and Belle Pass to Caminada Pass Barrier Island Restoration – to protect freshwater wetlands in the upper basin from salt water, enhance storm surge protection and reintroduce fresh water, sediment and nutrients to build new land and sustain existing wetlands.
Project Progress to Date: